Diet and weight loss is often at the top of our agenda in January. With more diets and health messages than ever before, it can often be difficult to distinguish between the fads. Before you jump on the diet bandwagon, here are a few things you need to know about some popular January diets.
1. Juice cleanse
Juicing has increased in popularity over the last few years, with juice bars popping up all over the country. A juice cleanse consists of only drinking fruit and veg juices whilst abstaining from eating food. It can help you reach your recommended daily dose of fruit and veg and supply your body with a variety of vitamins and minerals. It has been suggested to remove toxins from the body, make your skin glow and reduce cravings for sugary foods and drinks.
However, as fruit is a natural source of sugar, the juices are often very high in sugar and can send your energy levels on an insulin rollercoaster. Some people also find it difficult to do cardio exercise when there on a restrictive diet, as there energy levels are reduced and they may feel dizzy.
The benefits often seen with juice diets are not due to the juices alone but because you have greatly increased your intake of fruit and veg and reduced your intake of processed foods high in fat and sugar. Diets based on ‘cleansing’ or ‘detoxing’ the body have been criticised as they’re based on unsound scientific evidence. Our bodies have their own detox system called the liver, which helps filter through our blood. A juice cleanse is not a solution for long term weight loss, it’s a quick fix that is extremely restrictive and unsustainable, often making you feel lethargic and irritable.
The verdict: foe
There are numerous products claiming to help detox the body including teas, juices (as above) and beauty products. Detoxes claim to rid the body of nasty toxins and give your digestive system a break. However, our bodies naturally detox themselves every day by their own built-in mechanism called the liver. As well as their role in digestion, our livers work day and night to remove infections and harmful substances like alcohol and toxins from our bodies.
Detox products are also very expensive especially if they’re not providing our bodies with any benefit. I would therefore recommend spending your money on fresh and healthy foods such as fruit, veg, pulses, wholegrains and fish, instead of expensive detox products.
The verdict: foe
Veganuary is a charity inspiring people to try vegan for January. Increased awareness in global warming, animal cruelty and the benefits of a more plant based diet, has greatly increased the popularity of the vegan diet. Over half a million people in 2016 were following a plant based diet (three and a half times more than in 2006). A vegan diet excludes all animal foods including meat, fish, dairy, eggs and sometimes honey. It has been shown to offer protection against high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
A vegan diet allows you to try new foods and flavours, especially pulses and vegetables that we need eat more of. However, eliminating large food groups from your diet means that you could be missing out on essential nutrients including amino acids found in proteins (soya, beans, lentils, nuts) vitamin B12 (fortified foods such as dairy-free milks and breakfast cereals), omega 3 (flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, hemp), calcium (beans, tofu, nuts, fortified foods), vitamin D (fortified foods such as cereals and milk-substitutes) and iron (beans, lentils, peas, darky green leafy veg, tofu, wholegrains). It’s important that you include foods rich in these nutrients in your diet and I would consider taking a B12, omega 3 and vitamin D supplement as it can be difficult to get enough of these nutrients in a vegan diet (for more information head to the blog). Sticking to the vegan diet for the whole of January is a great way to try the diet out especially after a busy and indulgent Christmas. However, this may prove difficult to some of you especially when you eat out. I would recommend making bitesize changes to your diet by opting for vegan days of the week or vegan meals.
for more information
4. Dry January
Dry January is a public health campaign urging people to abstain from alcohol for the month of January. Christmas parties and New Year’s Eve celebrations means that a lot of drinking goes on in December. January is therefore the perfect time of year to give up alcohol for the month. Drinking alcohol in moderation as part of a balanced diet is absolutely fine but drinking too much or too often can increase your risk of developing a long list of health conditions including heart disease, cirrhosis of the liver and some types of cancers.
Many of us drink alcohol on a regular occasion, sometimes a glass or two an evening. January allows you to reset your relationship with alcohol and realise you don’t need to drink it as often as you may do. Those giving up alcohol for January have found improvements in their sleep, energy levels, weight and skin health. As alcohol is expensive it also save you money.
The ketogenic diet is an extremely high fat, low-carbohydrate diet that mimics the benefits of fasting. The diet was originally created in the 1920’s to treat patients with epilepsy. It is now used as a medical treatment to help reduce the number or severity of seizures in children with epilepsy. The restriction of glucose pushes the body into what is known as ‘a state of ketosis’. This is where the body begins to burn fat as fuel instead of carbohydrates. The diet has recently become praised as one of the best weight loss strategies and can reduce the risk of a number of diseases.
However, despite its successful use in patients with epilepsy, it is an extremely restrictive diet and should only be followed with the support of a specialist. Getting the body into a state of ketosis is very difficult and requires a very high intake of fat. You can eat large amount of high-fat foods found in coconut, avocado, oils, nuts, bacon, butter and cheese, small amounts of protein found in meat, poulty, fish and eggs, and a very small amount of low-carbohydrate vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, cucumber, asparagus, peppers and mushrooms. As fruit is very high in sugar you're not allowed to eat large fruits such as apples however you can eat a small amount of berries. You also can't eat foods made from grains such as bread, pasta, cereal, rice and corn as they're too high in carbohydrates. Due to the restrictiveness of the diet, nutritional deficiencies in potassium and magnesium can often occur.
The paleo diet is about eating like our ancestors did. The Palaeolithic era was mostly pre-agricultural and therefore many of the foods we eat today are unsuitable for the diet. Followers of the diet believe our digestive systems haven’t changed much since then and therefore certain foods put strain on our digestive systems including legumes, grains, potatoes, salt, dairy, vegetable oils and root vegetables. The diet cuts out most processed foods and has been shown to reduce your risk of certain diseases and improve your gut health.
However, we don’t know a great deal about the way our ancestors ate and this is likely to have differed depending on where they lived. As human we’re also very adaptable to our environments and a recent study has shown that major changes to our genes can occur in just a thousand years1. I therefore believe that the motive for the diet is outdated and not based on hard evidence.
7. Intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting diets such as the popular 5:2 diet have taken off over the last few years. The 5:2 diet for example allows you to eat normally five days of the week and to cut your calories to a quarter of your normal intake (.i.e. 500-600 kcal) for two days of the week. It has been shown to mimic the health benefits of fasting and is effective for sustainable weight loss and improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity. The diet has also been found to increase longevity and in one study mice that lived on a nutritionally rich but calorie-restricted diet were found to live up to 40% longer than normal mice. This is thought to be due to a hormone called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). This hormone keeps our cells constantly active and you need adequate levels of this hormone when you are growing but high levels later in life can lead to accelerated aging.
Fasting has its benefits but is not suitable for everyone especially if you suffer from low blood glucose. Although the 5:2 can be difficult on fasting diets, it appears to be a sustainable diet that allows you to adapt it easily to your lifestyle.
Whatever diet you choose to follow this January, make sure the diet is suitable for you but if you're unsure then seek advice from a health professional. As diet's can often be restrictive and difficult to follow, I would recommend eating a healthy and balanced sustainable diet consisting of lots fruit, vegetables, legumes and wholegrains, a moderate amount of meat, fish and dairy, and a small amount of processed foods such chocolate, cakes and crisps.