Eating styles and diets guide

Vegetarianism, veganism, raw food diet, Mediterranean diet, paleo diet, ketogenic diet … bloggers and nutritionists flood us with information about individual diets and often choose one diet to elevate over others and attribute to it only positive effects leading to weight reduction, increased vitality, prevention of many diseases or even their cure. However, these statements are often distorted by the author’s personal experience with the diet and/or his lack of knowledge of the whole issue. This is because each of the above-mentioned eating styles can bring positive results, which is confirmed by numerous studies. However, they often monitor only their short-term impact on the health of the monitored persons, and even only in some parameters. Long-term follow-up of certain diets or eating styles can lead to the lack of some important nutrients (vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fiber, etc.) necessary for the proper functioning of our bodies. Besides, there is the factor of the uniqueness of each person defined by the unique gut microbiota, the current state of health associated with the deficiency of specific nutrients and the specific degree of toxicity, food intolerances, etc. Thus, our individual nutritional needs and the ability to digest individual foods and assimilate nutrients can vary greatly. The question, therefore, remains: “Is there an ideal diet in terms of long-term health and vitality and disease prevention suitable for everyone?” We will take a closer look at the most well-known eating styles/diets and evaluate their pros and cons.
  • Veganism – a high-carbohydrate pure plant diet without any animal products. The basis of the diet consists of raw and cooked vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, rice, nuts, seeds, mushrooms.
  • Veganism on raw food – purely vegetable raw food heated to a maximum of 46 °C. The diet consists of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, sprouts (grains, legumes and seeds), fermented vegetables, cold-pressed oils.
Health benefits:
  • Disease prevention – thanks to the high content of vitamins, minerals, fiber, enzymes and various beneficial phytochemicals, your body will be able to fight oxidative stress, inflammation and infections more effectively. This also significantly reduces the risk of many chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, cancer, etc.
  • Weight loss and better digestion – if you are overweight or obese, it is very likely that a vegan unmodified diet will lead to weight reduction associated with other side benefits such as better control of hypertension, blood sugar, triglycerides and cholesterol levels, improved insulin sensitivity, etc.
  • Stronger immune system and better mood – as the plant diet contains much prebiotics, which are necessary to support our gut microbiome, the vegan diet leads to better conditions for probiotic bacteria, which have a positive effect on our immunity and mood (it is estimated that almost 80% of our immunity resides in the intestines and about 90% of serotonin – a good mood hormone – is formed in the intestines). In addition, the vegan diet also includes fermented foods such as sauerkraut or kimchi, which naturally contain as many as millions to billions of friendly probiotic bacteria.
  • Less impact on the environment – by excluding meat and dairy products from the diet, you can also help our environment, and thus indirectly improve the quality of life for yourself and all the inhabitants of our planet. Indeed, industrial livestock farming and the production of meat and dairy products are responsible for about a quarter of total greenhouse gas emissions associated with deteriorating climatic conditions. Livestock farming is also associated with massive deforestation and the production of toxic waste from industrial livestock farming, which pollutes the environment and enters the groundwater. The use of hormones and antibiotics in livestock farming is also disturbing and their residues can eventually end up on our plate.
Health hazards:
  • Insufficient intake of some nutrients – a vegan diet without supplementation in the form of nutritional supplements may over time lead to health disorders due to the deficiency of some nutrients, whose main source are animal foods. These are mainly some amino acids (building blocks of proteins), B vitamins (mainly B12), vitamin D, zinc, calcium, iron or omega-3 fatty acids. Undesirable consequences can be the loss of muscle mass, weakening of bones and teeth, metabolism, cognitive functions and fertility disorders, weakness, fatigue, palpitations, digestive and nervous issues, immune disorders, etc.
  • Higher intake of antinutrients – antinutrients are substances found mainly in grains and legumes. Examples are lectins, phytic acid, oxalates, tannins or trypsin inhibitors, which block digestive enzymes. Phytic acid prevents the absorption of some minerals (zinc, calcium, magnesium, iron). The good news is that their content can be significantly reduced by proper preparation of grains and legumes by soaking, sprouting and fermentation.
  • High carbohydrate intake – Many vegans ingest excessive amounts of carbohydrates and hidden sugars in the form of unhealthy processed foods. This can result in weight gain and concomitant diseases associated with overweight or yeast infections.
Evaluation and recommendation:
Veganism can be a healthy way of eating and can bring the above-mentioned health benefits, provided that the basis of the diet consists of unprocessed high-quality plant foods while avoiding junk food containing harmful additives, added sugar and unhealthy fats as well as processed vegan meat and dairy substitutes, refined oils and high sugar consumption. The supplementation of the above-mentioned nutritional supplements, which will cover possible nutritional deficiencies – especially vitamin B12 – should also be a matter of course. Vegans on a raw diet have an even more limited choice of suitable foods, so the risk of a deficiency of certain vitamins, minerals and amino acids also increases. Also take into account that if you have digestion disorders such as permeable bowel syndrome, you should keep raw food consumption to a minimum.
In my opinion, a purely vegan or raw diet is not the optimal choice for most people in the long run, although there are some very healthy and vital long-living vegans around the world. However, if you want to cleanse your body and lighten your digestive system from long-term and frequent consumption of meat and animal products, a vegan diet with high consumption of raw vegetables can be a beneficial change for a few days or weeks. But if, for any reason, you opt for strict long-term veganism, don’t do it headlong. Study the possible benefits and health risks and do your best when composing your diet plan. If in doubt, ask an expert for help.
  • Ovo-lacto vegetarianism – plant food supplemented with eggs and dairy products. The diet consists of raw and cooked vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, rice, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, eggs and dairy products.
  • Pescetarianism – a plant-based diet supplemented with fish and seafood. The diet consists of raw and cooked vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, rice, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, fish and seafood, often also eggs and dairy products.
Health benefits:
  • In the case of a high-quality diet with a high proportion of fresh multi-colored vegetables and excluding processed white flour products, refined oils and technologically modified foods containing harmful additives and sugar, the vegetarian diet includes all the health benefits listed above at the vegan diet.
  • Moreover, thanks to the consumption of eggs, dairy products, and in the case of pescatarians also fish and seafood, the diet is much more complex and many health risks resulting from the lack of certain nutrients are thus reduced to a minimum or eliminated.
Health hazards:
  • Insufficient intake of some nutrients – although the vegetarian diet is enriched with eggs and dairy products, if these are not consumed regularly and in sufficient quantities, there is still a certain risk of the deficiency of some nutrients that need to be supplemented in the form of nutritional supplements. In the case of healthy eating pescatarians with a balanced diet, this risk is minimal.
  • Higher intake of antinutrients – similarly like it is with vegans, also vegetarians consuming many legumes and grains ingest a higher intake of lectins, phytic acid, oxalates, etc. To ensure trouble-free absorption of nutrients, remember to prepare the grains and legumes properly by soaking, sprouting and/or fermenting.
  • High carbohydrate intake – similar to vegans, many vegetarians ingest excessive carbohydrates and hidden sugars in the form of unhealthy processed products. The result can be weight gain and concomitant diseases associated with overweight or yeast infections.
Evaluation and recommendation:
Since plant food (especially raw) is rich in micronutrients and phytochemicals, vegetarianism can be a very healthy eating style. According to the research published in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, vegetarian diets are usually rich in carbohydrates, omega-6 fatty acids, fiber, carotenoids, folic acid, vitamins C and E and magnesium, while being relatively poor in protein, saturated fat, omega-3 long-chain fatty acids, retinol, vitamin B12 and zinc. Of course, a balanced diet and the quality of food are indeed essential to achieve health benefits. So ultimately it depends on the choice of specific foods and how the food is prepared. Eggs will be most nutritious from free-range hens grazing on grassy terrain, dairy products from pasture-raised goats, sheep and cows, and fish are best wild-caught mainly in cold waters. You also need to care about the right ratio of raw and cooked food. While the raw diet contains the most vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytonutrients in unchanged form, gentle heat treatment can increase the bioavailability of certain nutrients in certain foods. For example, gentle cooking of plants containing beta-carotene and lycopene (pumpkin, sweet potatoes, tomatoes) helps to release these carotenoids and increases their absorption.
In my opinion, a reasonably designed vegetarian diet plan can be very beneficial to health also in the long run, it can lead to weight loss, reduced risk of many diseases, better digestion and stronger immunity. It is important to find the right balance between a quality and varied plant component of the diet and quality animal food. Domestic eggs are an excellent source of amino acids, healthy fats and choline. From the dairy products, I recommend mainly those made from goat’s milk and containing probiotics (unpasteurized kefir, yogurt and cheese). If you have access to quality fish with a low content of heavy metals (such as salmon and sardines), I definitely recommend enriching your diet with this unique source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Food that formed the basis of the diet of our ancestors, hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic age. Thus, all man-made foods, grains, legumes and dairy products fall out of the menu. The modern paleo diet consists mainly of fruits, vegetables, meat, nuts, seeds, fish, eggs and cold-pressed unrefined oils. Compared to vegetarian and vegan diets, it is a diet with a significantly lower proportion of carbohydrates, but rich in protein and fats.
Health benefits:
  • Reduction of inflammation – the paleo diet is rich in anti-inflammatory foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish, spices) containing antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. Because chronic inflammation is the cause of many diseases (including cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes), a balanced and high-quality paleo diet can reduce the risk of developing them and contribute to overall health.
  • Possible weight loss – a high proportion of protein and healthy fats will ensure a longer feeling of satiety due to slower digestion and fewer fluctuations in blood sugar levels compared to high-carbohydrate diets. In addition, thanks to vegetables and fruits, the paleo diet is also rich in micronutrients, enzymes and fiber, which further enhances the feeling of satiety with its volume.
  • Bigger muscle mass and more energy – sufficient protein intake is essential for overall health. Proteins are involved in the renewal and structure of tissues (including muscle mass), form enzymes necessary for biochemical processes in our body (for example, they also participate in energy production and digestion), are important for the proper functioning of the immune system, have a transport function (blood carriers of vitamins, minerals, sugar, cholesterol, oxygen, etc.)
  • Better glycemic control – thanks to the lower proportion of carbohydrates and the higher proportion of protein and fat in energy intake, blood sugar levels are more stable, which can lead to the restoration of cellular receptor sensitivity to insulin.
Health hazards:
  • Excessive consumption of meat – meat is one of the basic foods of the paleo diet. Excessive intake of red meat is associated with colon cancer and a higher risk of mortality. Pork carries a higher risk of infection by parasites, shrimp are among the most toxic seafood and often contain harmful additives. By treating meat at high temperatures, the protein structure is changed and heterocyclic amines are formed, which are carcinogens. Carcinogens are also contained in many processed meat products.
Evaluation and recommendation:
The basic idea of ​​the paleo diet is to avoid all man-made foods that often contain harmful additives, refined fats and oils, added sugar, or are degraded by technological treatment and heating and lose their nutritional value. With the high proportion of quality proteins and fats, as well as the complete range of vitamins and minerals, the paleo diet ranks among the eating styles very rich in nutrients. Unlike veganism and vegetarianism, the paleo diet with sufficient consumption of vegetables is complex and it is not necessary to supplement vitamins, minerals or amino acids in the form of nutritional supplements. So at first glance, it seems like an ideal diet. However, its disadvantage may be excessive consumption of meat with the above-mentioned health risks. Besides, today’s conventional meat cannot be compared to the quality of meat from paleolithic times, which was more nutritious, contained much less fat, and was not degraded by the use of antibiotics and hormones. Some may also blame the paleo diet for the exclusion of certain high-nutrient food groups, such as legumes, dairy products, or whole grains.
In my opinion, the paleo diet is not the optimal choice for most of us. Although it can cover all the nutritional requirements of our body when optimally composed, it also allows several unhealthy foods of animal origin, which can have a negative impact on our health. Prefer game or meat from organic farms where the animals graze freely in the meadow to conventional meat. Replace fish from the supermarket with wild-caught fish from cold waters and choose fish lower in the food chain, such as salmon or sardines (they contain less heavy metals). I think that a modified paleo diet with the consumption of quality meat at a reasonable rate (1 to 3 times a week), a balanced intake of individual types of fatty acids and the strengthening of the plant’s share in the total intake can be for many a promising diet leading to good health.
Ketogenic diet
  • An extremely low-carbohydrate and high-fat diet originally created for patients with epilepsy. Carbohydrate intake is severely limited, glucose stores in the muscles and liver are depleted and blood sugar levels are stabilized at a relatively low level, so the body is forced to stop relying on glucose as its primary energy source and enters a state of ketosis, which is a metabolic state using the so-called ketones as the main source of energy. Thus, the body transitions from carbohydrate glycolytic metabolism to fat metabolism and uses exogenous (dietary) and endogenous (own) fats as a source of energy. The energy intake of a standard ketogenic diet consists of 75% healthy fats, 20% protein and carbohydrates contribute to its coverage of only the remaining 5%. The modified ketogenic diet is milder in terms of carbohydrate restriction, and therefore more realistic for many – the main goal is to reduce carbohydrate intake to about 50 grams per day and less, thus creating conditions for the transition to ketosis.
  • The ketogenic diet is based on healthy forms of fats such as olive, coconut and linseed oil, butter, ghee and meat from grass-fed animals (including organ meat), naturally fed free-range poultry and eggs, game, wild-caught fish, above ground non-starchy vegetables with a high proportion of leafy vegetables, fermented vegetables, fermented unpasteurized dairy products, low-carbohydrate fruits (mainly avocados, moderately berry fruits), chicken and bone broth, nuts and seeds.
Health benefits:
  • Weight loss and prevention and alleviation of the symptoms of type 2 diabetes – in several studies, the ketogenic diet has achieved faster and more pronounced results in weight reduction than low-fat diets. There may be several reasons. One is the lower level of insulin – a hormone that is released after consuming carbohydrate-containing foods and whose job is to incorporate sugar from the blood into the cells. However, insulin also contributes to the storage of unused energy in the form of fat. Fewer carbohydrates in the diet mean lower insulin production, which means that the body has less tendency to store energy and a greater tendency to use existing adipose tissue as an energy source. Due to smaller fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin levels and their stabilization at low levels, the sensitivity of cellular insulin receptors can be increased again, and this helps to reverse the main cause of type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance. Another reason for the success of the ketogenic diet in reducing overweight may be the fact that a diet rich in fats and proteins causes a faster onset and a longer feeling of satiety, so overeating is less likely than with a high-carbohydrate diet containing sweets and other empty calories with minimal nutritional value.
  • Lower risk of neurodegenerative diseases – the ketogenic diet was originally designed for patients with epilepsy in the 1920s. The result was a significant reduction in the frequency and intensity of seizures. Since then, its positive and therapeutic effect has been proven on many other neurological disorders and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, brain tumors, autism, multiple sclerosis and others. According to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the ketogenic diet is so effective in this area due to its neuroprotective effect, which is probably related to the correction of abnormalities in cell energy metabolism, which is a common feature of many neurological disorders.
  • Possible prevention and supportive therapy of cancer – this theory is based on the research by Dr. Thomas N. Seyfried, who claims that cancer is a metabolic disease, and by eliminating its only source of energy – sugar, cancer cells begin to starve and degenerate. According to some research, unlike healthy cells in our body, cancer cells are unable to undergo fat metabolism. Positive results have been observed mainly with brain tumors.
  • Lower risk of cardiovascular disease – although the ketogenic diet is rich in fats (largely saturated fatty acids), whose high intake has long been associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, many studies have shown the opposite. According to them, a quality ketogenic diet leads to the reduction in blood sugar levels, as well as the reduction in triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels and the increase in HDL cholesterol levels. The deciding factor is the quality of the ingested fats and the ratio of fatty acids.
Health hazards:
  • Weakness, fatigue, nausea, mood swings, sleep and digestive issues (e.g. constipation), loss of libido – all of these possible symptoms are associated with a change in metabolism as the body moves from the state of sugar burner to the state of fat burner. Fortunately, these unpleasant symptoms do not manifest in everyone and usually subside within 1 or 2 weeks, as soon as the body adapts to this big change.
  • “Dirty” ketogenic diet – the positive health potential of the ketogenic diet can be fully used only when choosing the healthiest and high-quality foods. If you follow only the proportion of fats, proteins and carbohydrates prescribed by the ketogenic diet, regardless of the quality of individual foods, there are additional health risks associated with excessive consumption of unhealthy fats (refined oils and shortening), meat and conventional animal products (residues of hormones, antibiotics and pesticides) or processed foods with the content of possibly harmful additives (bacon, sausages, soft drinks, etc.).
  • Possible nutritional deficiencies – as the ketogenic diet eliminates several carbohydrate foods with a high nutritional value, it is possible that the body will not get enough fiber (an important prebiotic), some vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals.
  • Contraindications – the ketogenic diet is not recommended for people with pancreatitis, liver failure, disorders of fat metabolism and kidney disease.
Evaluation and recommendation:
Grains, flour products (bread, pastries, pasta, etc.), cereals, quinoa, corn products, potatoes, rice, most fruits, sugar, honey and other sweeteners, sweets, desserts, almost all processed products, juices and sweetened drinks, alcohol … these are the foods you have to give up on the ketogenic diet. Due to the strict restriction of the carbohydrate intake, one has to limit also the intake of other food groups, such as legumes, nuts (mainly cashews), dairy products or underground vegetables and peas. Since carbohydrates form the basis of the diet of the vast majority of us, the transition to fat metabolism is a huge change for the body and it is necessary to prepare for the unpleasant symptoms accompanying the adaptation of the body to fat burning as a primary source of energy. However, there are several modalities of the ketogenic diet, some are stricter, others a little lighter, and especially from the beginning, they allow a slightly higher intake of carbohydrates.
The ketogenic diet appears to be a very good choice, especially if you have goals such as reducing overweight, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes or preventing and supporting the treatment of neurological disorders. If you are being treated for diabetes or other more serious illnesses, I definitely recommend consulting your doctor about your intentions for such a radical change in your diet. It will need careful monitoring and especially in the case of treated diabetes, it will also require dose adjustment of antidiabetics.
Although the ketogenic diet is very effective in achieving the above-mentioned benefits, in my opinion, the consumption of high-nutrient carbohydrate foods (fruits, legumes, quinoa, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, mushrooms, etc.) is important in the long run for the optimal functioning of our bodies. Therefore, I recommend this diet only for about 3 months (maximum 6 months) to achieve the therapeutic benefits confirmed by the studies.
Mediterranean diet
  • The traditional Mediterranean diet consists of quality unprocessed local foods with high fiber content. It is a plant-based diet supplemented with quality proteins of animal origin and healthy fats, mainly in the form of olive oil.
  • The diet consists of fresh fruits and vegetables (mainly leafy green and aboveground low-starch vegetables), olive oil, nuts and seeds, legumes (mainly lentils and chickpeas), whole grains, wild-caught fish and seafood (at least twice a week), quality resources of animal protein in moderation (free-range poultry and its eggs, goat’s milk, cheese, kefir, yogurt), rare consumption of quality red meat (about once a week), herbs and spices.
Health benefits:
  • Less inflammation and oxidative stress – the Mediterranean diet contains a lot of anti-inflammatory foods with a high proportion of antioxidants. They can be found in fruits and vegetables (vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytonutrients), olive oil (oleic acid, polyphenols), fish and nuts (omega-3 fatty acids), herbs and spices, kefir and yogurt (probiotics), red wine (resveratrol), etc.
  • Healthier cardiovascular system – due to its anti-inflammatory nature with a high content of monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids, the Mediterranean diet has great potential to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Several studies have confirmed its positive effect on lowering blood pressure in hypertension, lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, raising HDL cholesterol, and significantly reducing the risk of death from heart attacks.
  • Helps fight cancer – the Mediterranean diet has many anti-cancer properties: balance in the intake of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, contains a lot of fiber, antioxidants and polyphenols, which have the potential to reduce inflammation, protect DNA from damage and cells from mutations and slow down or stop the growth of any tumor.
  • Reduces the risk of metabolic syndrome – metabolic syndrome is associated with obesity, hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, high triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol. These are diagnoses that everyone wants to avoid, and the Mediterranean diet is an excellent means of preventing them. Thanks to the favorable proportion of nutrients in energy intake (carbohydrates about 40%, healthy fats 30-40% and quality proteins 20-30%), the Mediterranean diet is ideal for maintaining relatively low and stable glycemic values. This will also ensure a lower blood insulin level, so the tendency to store fat is significantly reduced. With a reasonable consumption of fruit (due to the sugar content) and sufficient physical activity, the traditional Mediterranean diet is a very appropriate natural diet for diabetics.
  • It protects cognitive health and leads to a better mood – the anti-inflammatory properties of the Mediterranean diet slow down the aging process and related onset of neurological and cognitive degenerative diseases. Thanks to regular consumption of kefir, yogurt or fermented vegetables with a high content of probiotics, the Mediterranean diet leads to a healthy gut, which contributes significantly to prompt and strong immunity, cognitive functions, good memory and mood.
Health hazards:
  • A balanced traditional Mediterranean diet poses no risk to healthy people.
Evaluation and recommendation:
The Mediterranean diet restricts the consumption of processed products to a minimum or it completely eliminates them from the menu. This protects the body from the negative effects of harmful additives, added sugar and salt, unhealthy refined fats, etc. Also, it is high in naturally anti-inflammatory foods, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber and is a complex diet without the need for supplementation in the form of nutritional supplements.
In my opinion, the traditional Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest choices for most people in the long run. That is, a plant-based diet supplemented with healthy fats and quality animal protein. This diet is very varied and tasty, and has many health benefits.
Final words
There is no such thing as an eating style ideal for everyone. Each of us is an individual with our unique needs, state of health, mental state, physical and mental strain, etc. It is therefore not possible to choose one diet from which everyone would benefit. The food that can help one, can hurt the other. On the way towards health, we should therefore not cling to the latest trends in nutrition, but rather listen to your unique body and follow the basic principles of healthy eating. We should not evaluate the success and health benefits of a given diet based on only one benefit, e.g. weight loss. Perceive your body and realize how much energy you have in a given eating style, whether you sleep well, how your digestion works for you, how your libido works, whether you feel mentally well and how you are able to concentrate. These are real indicators of the benefits to your health and vitality.
Let’s not forget, however, that diet is only part of a jigsaw puzzle called lifestyle, which includes several factors that affect our health. And although it is an essential piece of the puzzle, even the healthiest diet in the world will not ensure a quality life full of energy and vitality. Therefore, we should invest in our health in other areas of life as well and strive for enough exercise, stress reduction, healthy sleep, avoiding contact with harmful substances (e.g. in conventional cosmetics) and strong electromagnetic fields. We can also be inspired by the longest living cultures in the blue zones.
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