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Healthy food in a paper bag

Choose your eating style

With so many diets on the menu, there has never been so much choice when it comes to healthy eating – or so much confusion! In our summer edition of Diabetes Matters magazine, we examine the cream of the crop to separate the food from the fad. Read our other Eating Styles articles here.

What do you feel like eating tonight? Once the options might have been as exotic as pizza, pasta or Chinese takeaway, now you’re more likely to hear Mediterranean, keto, paleo, Atkins or vegan. We are overwhelmed by dietary options like never before, to the extent that it can be hard to sort the genuinely healthy options from the dubious wellness fads.  

Another complication is working out which approach to eating might suit you. Are you low-FODmap, nut-averse or pescetarian? When you take into account health requirements, personal tastes and a daily schedule that might not have much time to hunt for new ingredients, find the right eating style can seem almost impossible. 

This issue, as Christmas approaches, we’re going to try to make that an easier choice. We’re looking at some of the most popular diets and eating styles currently out there, examining the evidence, considering the benefits and helping you decide which approach to food might work for you. 

No one style will suit everyone, but it’s worth thinking about what might work for you. 

Taking the best components out of a few different eating styles might work better for you than trying to stick to any one regime. If you try a different approach, make a note of what did work and what didn’t work for you, even if you didn’t stick with that approach or achieve your desired goal. 

Vegetables

Very low-calorie

The basics?

A very low calorie diet is a clinically supervised medical nutrition therapy that involves eating about 25%-30% of a person’s usual energy intake per day over 12 weeks. The diet usually involves replacing normal food with low-calorie foods that have been medically designed to provide a nutritionally complete diet. This sort of rapid weight loss has been linked to achieving diabetes remission.

Will it work for you?

There are several things that someone should consider before adopting this type of diet. Anyone wanting to adopt this diet should work under the supervision of their GP and dietitian to monitor any potential risks or adverse effects. Social eating or eating out also becomes very difficult on this diet, with some people feeling deprived or socially isolated. Reducing energy intake so drastically may also leave you feeling tired, irritable and more prone to headaches and constipation. 

The Fast-800

The basics?

Popularised by English TV presenter and author Dr Michael Mosley, the Fast-800 diet involves eating lower carb, Mediterranean style fare without restriction for five days, and eating only 800 calories (approximately one-third of usual food intake) on two days. Although the diet claims to be developed from scientific research, there is little evidence around this specific combination of very low calorie eating and fasting. Crucially, it might not provide all the nutrition you need.

Will it work for you?

If you are looking to reduce your overall carbohydrate intake and are willing to reduce your food intake by two-thirds over two days per week, the Fast-800 may work for you. As with any diet that promotes restrictive intake, consult your GP and dietitian before starting.

Keto

The basics?

Although it’s had a lot of press in recent years, the Keto diet is just another low-carb eating style. Unlike the CSIRO low-carb diet, it is not nutritionally complete, so can increase the risk of heatlh issues. Eliminating carb intake means missing out on many nutritious carbohydrate foods such such as legumes, lentils, whole grains and many types of fruits and vegetables. The majority of foods eaten on this diet are high in fat and high in protein. 

Will it work for you?

Very low carbohydrate diets can be less effective than less-restrictive lower carb diets as they can be harder to stick to long-term. They also often lack fibre and other essential nutrients found in carbohydrate rich foods. This can lead to gastrointestinal issues and other nutrient deficiencies. Eating foods high in saturated fats can also increase the risk of developing heart disease. Speak to your GP and dietitian first, especially if you are taking insulin or other medications that can increase the risk of low blood glucose. 

More vegetablesPaleo

The basics?

Wellbeing personalities all over the world over have been spruiking the paleo diet for years now. The idea is pretty simple – eat like a caveman (or, at least, like celebrities imagine cavemen ate!). Avoid processed foods in favour of large slabs of meat and the sort of nuts and fruits our distant ancestors might have grazed upon. This style of eating also eliminates many carbohydrate and fibre- rich foods such as wholegrains (bread, pasta, rice, barley, rye), legumes and lentils in addition to dairy foods (milk, yoghurt, cheese).  

Will it work for you?

There is no evidence of any long-term benefits to going paleo. In fact, eating less high-fibre foods and (potentially) more saturated fats is likely to cause more health issues than it fixes. Some of its benefits, such as the focus on unprocessed foods, can be carried over to diets that are more sustainable and nutritionally adequate.  

Australian Guide to Healthy Eating

The basics?

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGTHE) is a style of eating based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines which has been found to reduce the risk of developing chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and cardiovascular disease. The AGTHE visually represents the proportion of the five food groups recommended for consumption each day including fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, lean protein and dairy or dairy alternatives. It also encourages limited intake of alcohol and discretionary foods high in saturated fat, salt and sugar. 

Will it work for you?

The AGTHE is based on current, good quality evidence and promotes a style of eating that is flexible, varied and nutritionally adequate, however, like any recommended approach to eating, individuals may still find the guidelines confusing and difficult to follow. Dietary advice and recommendations should still be individualised based on income, education, housing, access to healthy food and cooking or storage facilities. People living with diabetes may need to adapt the recommended carb intake. Working with your health professionals will help you to identify an eating pattern that is right for you. 

What works for you

Whatever approach you take, it is important to keep on top of medical or diabetes checkups such as HbA1c, cholesterol, blood pressure, weight and waist, as this will help you to know if you are heading in the right direction. Monitoring your own blood glucose levels  before and 2-hours after eating is another great way to know the impact  your meals are having on your blood glucose levels. 

Diabetes WA dietitian Sheryl Moore says that any decisions around diet should be guided by what will work for you and what your body needs.

“The ultimate goal of any food-related strategy must be to enable an individual to consume a safe, efficacious, healthy, nutritionally adequate, culturally acceptable and economically affordable diet, regardless of their weight status. Otherwise, some eating patterns can do more harm than good – physically, mentally, or even emotionally, especially when related to a chronic disease.” 

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