Eat Empowered, Healthy Eating Tips

A Simple Guide to the 10 Most Popular Diets

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Confused about keto? Thinking of going meatless? In our Diets Decoded column, we regularly break down the basic principles of popular diets.

Because while many popular healthy diets—from Paleo to Mediterranean and vegetarian—share many of the same basic principles, it’s helpful to get into the nitty gritty if you’re really going to dive into one in particular.

RELATED: 8 Celeb Diet Secrets That Are Actually Healthy

To help you compare some of the most common diets, we’ve compiled the basics on the top ten, here, for side-by-side evaluation. Get the fast facts and then click through for more details if one way of eating sounds like it might be right for you.

(Featured Photo: Shutterstock)

10 Popular Diets Explained

  • The Ketogenic Diet

    The One Liner

    Atkins amplified. Instead of just low-carb, it’s “almost no carb” and lots of fat.

    The Bottom Line

    Research points to the fact that it could provide real benefits for certain people. The key is to ask yourself: Am I one of those people? If you have health reasons that make you want to try it and eating bacon and eggs and steak salads every day sounds amazing, maybe you could swing it. If nothing makes you happier than a fresh piece of sourdough or beans are one of the protein sources you rely on, there’s no point in trying a diet that’s not going to work. Just focus on minimizing bad carbs like pasta and cereals and focusing on whole grains, veggies, fruit, and legumes to meet your body’s carbohydrate needs. And by all means, eat fat!

    Get the full rundown of what it is, what you eat, what you don’t eat, and the pros and cons, here.

  • The Mediterranean Diet

    The One Liner

    Inspired by the traditional diets of people who live around the Mediterranean sea, it emphasizes plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, plenty of extra-virgin olive oil, and fresh fish.

    The Bottom Line

    The basics of this diet mirror the basic principles of good nutrition: whole foods, tons of veggies, and healthy fats. Its health benefits are also the most well-documented (of ALL diets, seriously ) by research studies. Bonus: the Mediterranean Diet recognizes the importance of enjoying meals (and a really nice bottle of red) with family and friends, which comes with additional mental health benefits.

    Get the full rundown of what it is, what you eat, what you don’t eat, and the pros and cons, here.

  • The Paleo Diet

    The One Liner

    It focuses on mimicking how our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors ate as closely as possible, using foods available now. Followers say it will help minimize your risk of chronic disease (based on the premise that those ancestors didn’t suffer from the ones we now face) and lead to weight loss.

    The Bottom Line

    Eating high-quality meats and fish with tons of veggies and no processed foods is basically a great formula for weight-loss and long-term health. However, too much of anything is…too much…and with all grains, beans, and dairy off the table, Paleo eaters often end up leaning way too heavily on meat.

    Get the full rundown of what it is, what you eat, what you don’t eat, and the pros and cons, here.

  • The Whole30 Diet

    The One Liner

    Originally developed as a 30-day clean eating reset—think Paleo meets the Elimination Diet—the basic premise is that many people are sensitive to certain foods often considered “healthy,” like grains and beans. You cut those food groups out for a while and then take stock of how you feel. When the 30 days are up, you can continue eating this way or gradually add some of the foods back in one by one to see which may have been causing your issues

    The Bottom Line

    If you’re looking for a major diet overhaul and the idea of engaging with a passionate online community while you reset appeals for you, Whole30 may be worth trying. Just know that you can also do a food cleanse that’s shorter or not quite as restrictive if your lifestyle doesn’t quite allow for this kind of month-long protocol or you find it too challenging to stick to.

    Get the full rundown of what it is, what you eat, what you don’t eat, and the pros and cons, here.

  • Weight Watchers Freestyle

    The One Liner

    Weight Watchers’ basic program relies on a point counting system now called SmartPoints that gives subscribers a point budget based on their current weight and goals. Different foods clock in at different points based on their nutritional makeup, and point counting is supplemented by weigh-ins and meetings. Freestyle is a new version designed to give subscribers more flexibility and freedom by offering over 200 zero SmartPoint foods, along with a rollover option.

    The Bottom Line

    When it comes to weight-loss diets, Weight Watchers Freestyle is easy to follow, affordable, and offers community support that other programs may not. It’s a great plan for those looking to eat better without making super drastic changes to their lifestyle. Just remember: While your budget may have room for a slice of pizza every single day, you’ll need to use a bit of common sense if you want to see results. And spending your precious time counting up points could turn into a drag.

    Get the full rundown of what it is, what you eat, what you don’t eat, and the pros and cons, here.

  • The Vegan Diet

    The One Liner

    All foods that come from animals are off limits, including meat, cheese, and honey.

    The Bottom Line

    In a nutshell, it can be as healthy as you make it. Your main food groups should be vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and quality protein sources like legumes and seeds. Not Diet Coke and pretzels (or pasta and french fries!). Think about the same nutritional principles that apply to all diets—protein, carbs, and healthy fat—and work on meeting them via lots of varied, nutrient-dense whole foods. Then, consider supplementing in areas that you may be struggling with, like vitamin B12 and D. One last piece of advice: as a vegan, you have to eat more to fill yourself up. (Hey, a diet that encourages you to eat more…not bad!)

    Get the full rundown of what it is, what you eat, what you don’t eat, and the pros and cons, here.

  • The Raw Food Diet

    The One Liner

    Raw food devotees are generally vegans who believe that plant foods should be consumed in their most natural form—uncooked and unprocessed—because natural enzymes in “living” food make it best for the body. Nothing you eat is cooked over about 115 degrees.

    The Bottom Line

    A healthy diet you can’t follow isn’t a healthy diet at all, so for most people, sticking to raw food one hundred percent of the time is unnecessary and will just make eating well harder. However, if you happen to try raw veganism and feel amazing and find that you LOVE dehydrating kale and blending almonds into butter, by all means, go for it. Just be extra careful about getting in a wide variety of foods in order to avoid nutrient deficiencies.

    Get the full rundown of what it is, what you eat, what you don’t eat, and the pros and cons, here.

  • The Ayurvedic Diet

    The One Liner

    More than a just diet, Ayurveda is a 5,000-year-old medical practice and lifestyle, based on the idea that the body is made of three energy systems. Vata (wind), Pitta (fire), and Kapha (earth), otherwise known as the doshas, are the elements that we have within us (similar to chakras). While everyone has some of each, one tends to be dominant.

    According to Ayurveda, your dominant dosha helps determine the healthiest lifestyle choices and diet for your unique body. By eating foods that cater to your dosha, you can nourish and heal your body, strengthen your digestive power (known as Agni), and create balance among your internal energies.

    The Bottom Line

    There’s no real evidence to prove that eating for your dosha will help you lose weight or feel better overall. And doing so involves lots of unnecessary restrictions that may make it harder for you to follow a healthy eating plan. (As in, if you’re a Kapha who loves to eat peanut butter on the reg, your dosha shouldn’t stop you from scooping up a spoonful or two.)

    That being said, the Ayurvedic Diet is based on principles that can absolutely help you eat healthier. Whole, unprocessed foods should make up the basis of your diet. Focusing on mindful eating can help you avoid overeating and introducing color and variety on your plate (through the six tastes) will help you get a range of important nutrients in. And yes, thinking about what really works for your body—based on listening to cues and thinking about how your body responds to certain foods—is a very good thing.

    Get the full rundown of what it is, what you eat, what you don’t eat, and the pros and cons, here.

  • Carb Cycling

    The One Liner

    Think of carb cycling as keto’s more approachable cousin. Instead of abandoning carbs altogether (which let’s be real, can be really hard for most people) this adapted way of eating involves cycling between periods of low-carb and high-carb intake.

    The Bottom Line

    Until there’s more research to prove the effectiveness of the diet, we can’t definitively say whether or not it works. It’s also tricky to follow and could lead to inconsistency in your eating habits (AKA you might end up feeling like the diet’s all over the place unless you have someone helping you planning your cycles). But if you have a good reason for giving it a try, there’s no real harm in it. The diet emphasizes variety (something we love here at Nutritious Life!), incorporating plenty of good fats, proteins, and on certain days, carbs. Working with a dietitian can help you figure out the best way to plan out your cycle and then hopefully you can work towards tuning into your body’s signals—knowing when it needs that extra fuel and when it doesn’t.

    Get the full rundown of what it is, what you eat, what you don’t eat, and the pros and cons, here.

  • The Macrobiotic Diet

    The One Liner

    The style of eating comes from Japan and emphasizes a mindful, seasonal approach to food. Drawing on Chinese concepts of yin and yang, each plate is balanced: For example, food from the sea should be served alongside food from the land. While that sounds heady, it ends up meaning you basically eat lots of bowls of fresh vegetables and whole grains, with some fish, beans, and seaweed thrown in.

    The Bottom Line

    There’s nothing inherently unhealthy about the macrobiotic diet, so if you think it might work for you, there’s no danger in giving it a shot. Just pay attention to how much protein you’re getting. However, if you love your morning coffee with a hearty scramble, there’s no reason to give either up. This diet takes a lot of healthy (or at least harmless) foods off the table, and that can make it harder for people to stick to the plan, especially without amazing flavors that satisfy your palate.

    Either way, you can easily incorporate some of its best tenets into your personal healthy diet. Buy your veggies at the farmers market, for instance, and establish a mindful eating practice. Oh, and obviously, make an occasional, colorful grain bowl for lunch or dinner—and post it on the ‘gram.

    Get the full rundown of what it is, what you eat, what you don’t eat, and the pros and cons, here.

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