The concept of a healthy lifestyle extends to more than just a good fitness regimen that incorporates both weight training and cardiovascular exercise. It also includes diet, which for the purposes of this article means the types of food habitually eaten rather than a calorie-restrictive plan aimed at weight loss.
Not too long ago, a majority of Americans fell into one of two camps: they were either carnivores/omnivores who ate a variety of meat, dairy, nuts, fruits, and vegetables or they were vegetarians who eliminated meat and some or all dairy products. These days, however, many other types of diets have become more mainstream. Here’s a brief overview as well as a few pros and cons of some of the more popular ones.
Strict vegans eat a plant-based diet that excludes all animal products and byproducts. Some even go so far as to avoid honey, cochineal dye (a type of red food coloring), and similar substances derived from insects.
Although most vegan diets are generally considered healthy and may lower the risk of obesity and heart disease, it might be necessary to use supplements to ensure adequate intake of B12, zinc, and vitamin D.
The Paleo diet, also referred to as the caveman diet, is based on the principle that people should eat only what was available to early Paleolithic humans before widespread agriculture and animal domestication. A typical Paleo menu includes eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, grass-fed meat products, and seafood while excluding such items as processed food, dairy, cereal grains, and refined sugar.
Proponents of the Paleo diet cite its “clean” eating factor as its biggest benefit; however, critics point out that some of the diet’s off limits foods are actually healthy in moderation and the lack of dairy could possibly result in a calcium deficiency.
Unlike the other diets listed here, the gluten-free diet is typically (but not always) followed by people that have a medical reason—such as gluten intolerance, gluten sensitivity, or Celiac disease—for doing so. Gluten is a protein found in a wide variety of foods ranging from cereal and pasta to luncheon meats, salad dressings, and prepackaged cookies, crackers, and cakes, which severely limits the choices available to adherents. Fortunately, many food manufacturers are now producing “gluten-free” versions of popular products.
The benefits of going gluten-free include consumption of fewer processed foods and a lowered risk of heart disease, IBS, and related health or digestive problems. Drawbacks include a possible lack of nutrients from fortified foods and weight gain due to replacement of gluten products with unhealthy alternatives.
Find something that works for you
These are just a few of the myriad dietary options available to health-conscious individuals today. Not every type of diet will fit every lifestyle, so it’s important to choose one that works best for you and your goals. And remember to consult your doctor before embarking on a radical diet or exercise regimen to ensure you can proceed safely.