Health & Fitness

A masochist's guide to the latest fad diets

The celebs do it. The question is, should you? And do these three trending diets actually work? We break them down so you can decide if the torture is worth it
 

Photo: 123rf

These are three fad diets that popped up on our radar recently. We speak to an expert to find out what exactly they entail. Are they worth trying? You be the judge.  

1. The keto diet

Photography: Angela Guo; Art direction: Shan and Alice Chua

 

What is it: The diet - developed in the 1920s - practically eliminates carbs, allowing them to make up just 5 per cent of your daily calorie intake. That translates to between 90 to 100 calories from carbs. For perspective, a bowl of white rice is 200 calories. 

If you're new to this, dietitian Bonnie Lau of digital health company Holmusk suggests taking it slow and cutting your carb intake to about a quarter of what you usually eat. That means skipping starches like potatoes, bread, grains and even fruit. Load up on the meat and lots of healthy fat. 

How it works: Because you're consuming fewer carbs to burn as energy, your body burns fat instead. When you're on this diet, fat gets converted into a compound known as ketones to be used as fuel, says Bonnie. 

Be warned though: This diet could backfire on you. You might have trouble concentrating, or suffer from constipation. Without grains and fruit, you might not get enough nutrients and fibre in your diet. To prevent this, Bonnie suggests "carb cycling", which means altering your carb intake according to your needs. So if you're working out that day, up your carbs. 

Even though the type of meat you can eat isn't restricted, go for lean meat. Fatty meat has saturated fat that increases your risk of heart disease. 

Skip this if: You have chronic conditions like diabetes or you're on medication, says Bonnie. Check with your doctor first. 

Torture level: 5 out of 5

At first you feel great because of that free pass to eat meat and fatty foods. But the absence of carbs will haunt you - like when all you want is a big cheeseburger with lots of fries. 

 

2. The lectin-free diet

Photography: Angela Guo; Art direction: Shan and Alice Chua

What it is: Lectin is the protein said to be responsible for causing gut problems. It's found in just about everything. We're talking beans, legumes, quinoa and nuts, spices like peppermint and nutmeg, fruits and vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, berries, watermelons, corn (including corn-fed meat) and even coffee. Legumes and wholegrain foods contain the highest amount of lectin," says Bonnie. This diet was popularised by American heart surgeon Dr Steven Gundry. 

How it works: The theory is that lectin binds to the cells in your gut and blocks the absorption of nutrients. This can affect your immune system and make you sick. But Bonnie says there's no proof that a lectin-free diet helps with weight loss. In fact, soaking legumes and grains and cooking them thoroughly reduces the lectin significantly and prevents potential digestive problems. The diet is easy for people who hate vegetables, but isn't particularly healthy. You don't get much fibre, and have to make up for the lack of nutrients with expensive vitamin supplements. 

Skip this if: You enjoy your food. Despite the hype, Bonnie doesn't encourage anybody to try this diet. 

Torture level: 3 out of 5

Basically, you need a great memory for the laundry list of things you can't eat. 

 

3. The pegan diet

Photography: Angela Guo; Art direction: Shan and Alice Chua

What it is: This one's the new kid on the block, having emerged only in 2014. It's the brainchild of Dr Mark Hyman, director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. Think of the Pegan diet as a mash-up of the Paleo (eating what our hunter-gatherer ancestors did - which means no high-fat, sugary and processed foods) and vegan philosophies. This might sound counter-intuitive, but it's essentially a vegan diet that lets you eat meat. Plant-based food should make up most of your intake, and you should think of meat as a side dish. You'll also have to skip processed foods as well as dairy, whole grains, legumes, and some fruit (like dates and grapes) - all of which are believed to be "harmful to the body", says Bonnie. 

How it works: You're "staple" food group is vegetables. This keeps the calorie count low. You're also encouraged to have healthy fats like avocado nuts and seeds. These fatty foods help you stay full for longer. Apart from offering possible weight loss, the diet also cuts out high-sugar and highly processed foods that can lead to diabetes and other diseases. However, you're at risk of nutritional deficiencies. You might not be getting enough protein. And without dairy, you may not get enough calcium and vitamin D either. Fewer carbs (since gluten and grains are out) might also mean that you end up with low blood sugar, which can cause you to feel dizzy or nauseated. 

Skip this if: You are super active or athletic, and need a protein-rich diet to keep going

Torture level: 2 out of 5. If you like your veggies, you'll be alright. 

ALSO READ: MAKE SMALL LIFESTYLE CHANGES TO SNEAK IN MORE EXERCISE, WITHOUT TRYING TOO HARD

 

This story was originally published in the July 2018 issue of Her World.