Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
There are dozens of dietary programs for various allergies and conditions, tastes and health goals. Here, we do a deep dive on 8 of the most popular diet styles today. (Note that we say “diet style” and not “diet” because these are healthy, long-term nutrition lifestyles, with the exception of two that can be utilized in the shorter term, for specific outcomes like identifying food sensitivities). None of the eating styles in this article are deprivation diets for short-term weight loss that may come to mind when you hear the word “diet”.
Save time trying various eating styles that aren’t for you with this primer on the most popular eating plans of the moment. Peruse what’s on the menu – and what’s not – their pros and cons, pro tips for success and which supplements are dietitian recommended to round each out for your best health.Section divider
The clean eating diet
Similar to the Mediterranean diet, this is more of a lifestyle than a diet. It is more than just the food you eat, but how you eat, being environmentally-conscious, encouraging regular movement, choosing local and seasonal foods, and mindfulness regarding hunger and fullness as well as portion sizes. There are no particular macro rules – you can pick how much protein, carbs and fat you want to eat based on what you feel works for you. It can be keto, Paleo, or high carb, as long as the carbs are not from sugar or refined and heavily processed grains.
What to Eat: Organic fruits and vegetables when possible (especially the “Dirty Dozen” as defined by the Environmental Working Group ewg.org), grass-fed meats, organic poultry, pasture-raised eggs, wild-caught, omega-3-rich fish like wild Alaskan salmon and wild Pacific halibut, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, legumes and whole grains.
What to Avoid: Sugar, refined grains (white flour products), trans-fats, junk food, soda, preservatives, fillers, added colors, binders, emulsifiers, fat replacers, and stabilizers.
Supplement Your Diet: With a multivitamin and curcumin. This is probably the diet with the broadest variety of food, but there’s no perfect diet to ensure you get all of your micronutrients, so taking a multivitamin is like an insurance policy to fill in any nutritional gaps. Adding in a superfood spice like turmeric ensures bonus immune-supporting compounds. We would make sure to recommend that curcumin be taken with a meal that contains both fat and black pepper for improved absorption.Section divider
The Paleo diet
The paleo diet is here to stay – so what’s the healthiest way to do it?
Considered a lower carbohydrate, higher protein diet, the Paleo or Primal diet encourages us to get back to the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. If you could pick it, pull it, kill it, or it had a mother, then you can eat it. There’s nothing from a box, a bag, a jar or a can.
What to Eat: Fruit, vegetables, grass-fed/grass-finished meat, organic poultry, pasture-raised eggs, wild-caught fish, raw nuts and seeds, healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, ghee), gluten-free spirits, low-sugar wine, low-sugar hard cider.
What to Avoid: Sugar, grains, dairy, legumes, peanuts, beer, oats, corn, quinoa, potatoes, processed and refined foods, trans fats, most alcohol.
Pros: Cutting processed and refined food, sugar and junk food is good for overall health, helps control blood sugar, reduces your risk for heart disease, and is very satiating so you may eat less, which can help with weight loss. Lowered levels of systemic inflammation can be achieved on this “real food” diet of our Paleolithic ancestors.
Cons: People tend to go too heavy on meat and fruit and not consume enough vegetables. High meat diets are linked to an increased risk for colon cancer. While fruit is healthy and filled with fiber and antioxidants, too much at one time can cause elevated blood sugar levels. Also, the lack of whole grains and legumes removes important sources of fiber and B vitamins.
Pro Tip: Consume twice the amount of vegetables as fruit. Soak or sprout nuts and seeds to improve digestibility and absorption of nutrients.
Supplement Your Diet: with ubiquinol and acacia Fiber. Paleo diets are often low in fiber as most people turn to copious amounts of animal protein for their meals. Acacia fiber is an excellent prebiotic, which feeds the probiotics living inside the gut. This will help to contribute to a healthier gut microbiome, which ultimately helps to maintain a healthy immune system balance in the body. Ubiquinol (the active form of CoQ10) is used for energy production by every cell in the body and helps to scavenge free radicals that can get produced from too much meat consumption.Section divider
Is a plant-based diet for you? Here’s how to thrive on a nutrient-dense veg diet.
What to Eat: Beans, nuts, seeds, fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, eggs, soy.
What to Avoid: Beef, chicken, fish, shellfish, pork, lamb, turkey, game meat, any animal protein product.
Pros: If done correctly, a lacto-ovo (meaning eats eggs and milk) vegetarian diet is high in fiber (from vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds) and provides sufficient protein and healthy fat.
Cons: The absence of fatty fish makes this diet very low in omega-3 fats. This diet can also be low in protein, especially collagen, if very grain-heavy. Many people who follow this type of diet follow the “mac & cheese” or “pizza” style diet, which is high in refined carbohydrate grains and dairy and insufficient in vegetables.
Pro tip: A plant-based diet that focuses on vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains (not refined grains) is very healthy and anti-inflammatory. Aim to get more servings of vegetables and legumes than grains. Consider sprouting whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds to help with digestibility and absorption of nutrients.
Supplement your diet: with flax oil and iron (18mg). Lacto-ovo vegetarian diets do not include any fish or land animals for protein and can be very low in both omega-3 (yes you can get the plant form ALA, but the conversion to EPA and DHA is low) and iron. Supplementing with omega-3 will have the necessary omega-3s to help improve the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, lowering it to a more ideal ratio of 4:1. Supplementing with iron is important for iron stores and energy levels. Planned correctly, this diet is high in vitamin-C-rich fruits and vegetables, which will help iron absorption.Section divider
The Mediterranean diet
Similar to a clean diet, the Mediterranean diet isn’t really a diet but a lifestyle. Hailing from the regions that border the Mediterranean Sea, it’s a combination of food, exercise, and community. There’s a wide array of produce, proteins, and healthy fat.
What to Eat: Fruit, vegetables, whole grains, extra virgin olive oil (number one fat choice), meatless meals, fish, beans, nuts, legumes, one glass red wine.
What to Eat in Moderation: Cheese, poultry, eggs, yogurt.
What to Eat Rarely: Red meat.
What to Avoid: Sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meat, refined grains, refined oils and other highly processed foods.
Pros: Though there is not one defined Mediterranean diet, this way of eating is generally rich in healthy plant foods and relatively lower in animal foods, with a focus on omega-3-rich fish and seafood. The Mediterranean lifestyle also involves regular physical activity, sharing meals with other people, and enjoying life.
Cons: Named one of the top diets to follow to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, there’s not much to criticize. It’s very well balanced as
Pro Tip: Each meal should have a protein, fat, and variety of colorful produce to ensure balance and a diverse intake of vitamins and minerals. Wild-caught fish should be consumed at least twice a week. Focus on trying to maximize intake of anti-inflammatory compounds.
Supplement Your Diet: Vitamin D3/K2 liposomal spray and EGCg. As this diet contains one of the broadest variety of foods, the chosen supplements are for an improved variety of foods with a wide range of polyphenolic compounds. EGCg is a powerful free radical scavenger extract found in green tea.Section divider
The Whole30 diet
This is a pretty strict elimination diet that lasts for 30 days. By eliminating top inflammatory foods, you help decrease inflammation in the body and reset cravings for sugar and junk food. You also do not weigh yourself for the entire month.
What to Eat: Vegetables, fruit, meat, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, shellfish, eggs, natural fat, seeds, herbs, spices, coffee, tea, sparkling water, juices, kombucha.
What to Avoid: Grains, dairy, alcohol, sugar, legumes, soy, MSG, carrageenan, sulfates. Also, no “healthified” baked goods, like pancakes made with almond flour or Paleo banana bread.
After 30 days, you reintroduce one new food from the “avoid” list to see if you have an inflammatory reaction and decide if you can safely consume it or are better off without it.
Pros: No weighing yourself. Learn to get in touch with your hunger and fullness signals. No calorie counting.
Cons: Excluding whole grains and legumes can keep fiber content low. Planning and food preparation can be time consuming. Dining out is difficult.
Pro Tip: It’s a 30-day plan that can act like a jump start. But most people return to their previous diet after the 30 days and the aches and pains and inflammatory symptoms return. What’s your plan once the 30 days is over? We think it can be particularly useful as a reboot or a great way to identify food sensitivities or allergies.
Supplement Your Diet: with calcium and timed-release B-100. Because this diet contains no dairy or grains, it will be much lower in dietary calcium and multiple B vitamins. As grains are excellent sources of B1, B2, B3, and folate, which are important for energy metabolism, we recommend a broad-spectrum B-complex to help with energy metabolism.Section divider
Plant-based keto diet
Discover a healthier way to adopt a ketotarian diet: keto 2.0, a plant-based keto.
This diet is a plant-based version of the popular ketogenic diet. The conventional ketogenic diet is meat and dairy heavy, both of which can be inflammatory. Since it is low-carb, moderate protein, and high fat, you’re able to transition your body from being a sugar burner to becoming a fat burner and put your body into a state of ketosis—just like a conventional ketogenic diet but with a plant-based twist. Intermittent fasting can help get into ketosis faster.
Macro breakdown: Fat 70-80%, Protein 10-20%, Carbohydrate 5-10% (no more than 60 net grams of carbs).
What to Eat: This diet leverages the best of a plant-heavy vegetarian diet, getting its fats from coconut, avocado, olive oil, nuts (esp. macadamia nuts), and seeds, protein from nuts, seeds, occasional wild-caught (omega-3 fat-rich) fish, pasture-raised eggs, carbohydrates from non-starchy veggies and some low-sugar fruit, like berries.
What to Avoid: Grains, meat, poultry, dairy, sugar, beans, and soy.
Pros: This diet contains lots of anti-inflammatory, fiber-rich vegetables. Switching from being a sugar-burner to a fat-burner will promote the loss of excess body fat, which can lead to weight loss. Consuming fewer carbohydrates helps with blood sugar control and insulin production, reducing insulin resistance. Higher fat and fiber diets can keep you fuller for longer, which will lead to overall reduced calorie intake, resulting in weight loss.
Cons: The “Keto flu” can happen in the first week of transitioning to a low-carb, high-fat diet, as the body is excreting excess water and along with that, electrolytes. During this time, it’s very important to stay hydrated and add additional salt to the diet as well as supplement with magnesium or take Epsom salt baths.
Supplement Your Diet: with selenium and vitamin C. Ketotarian diets rely on nuts and seeds for protein and fat, many of which are high in vitamin E. Vitamin E needs vitamin C for its antioxidant properties to prevent excess vitamin E from oxidizing and becoming pro-inflammatory. Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that fights oxidative stress. It is also an essential mineral that is important for thyroid health.Section divider
People who follow the Flexitarian diet consider themselves vegetarians “most of the time.” This diet focuses not so much on restricting foods but on replacing your usual intake of butcher’s favorites with non-meat protein sources such – as tofu, legumes, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.
Pros: Research has found that vegetarian diets are generally heart-healthy thanks to lower intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol and more fiber and plant proteins.
Cons: This diet is easy to follow. Some of its followers simply skip beef, poultry and pork most of the time. That being said, this diet may be too flexible for some dieters accustomed to setting calorie or macronutrients levels and food journaling.
Supplement your diet: with a quality probiotic and zinc. A flexitarian diet is a broad diet that doesn’t make specific recommendations about macronutrient intake but does promote a plant-based diet with most of protein coming from plants and treating animal protein more as a condiment or just consumed few times a week. This type of diet would benefit from probiotics, as it doesn’t make specific recommendations about consuming fermented foods, like kimchi, kombucha, kefir, and miso. This diet is low in animal protein, a good source of zinc, which is important for a healthy immune function, normal healing, fertility, correctly synthesizing DNA, and proper growth during childhood.Section divider
The pescatarian diet
Love veggies and seafood? The pescatarian life might be for you. The Pescatarian diet is a mostly vegetarian diet with fish and shellfish as the only animal protein foods. High in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids (provided the fish that is chosen is wild, fatty fish).
What to Eat: Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, shellfish (shrimp, lobster, crab), and mollusks (clams, oysters, mussels).
What to Avoid: Beef, pork, chicken, turkey, lamb, game meat, possibly dairy and eggs.
Pros: Plant-based diets are high in fiber and anti-inflammatory antioxidants and phytochemicals, which are associated with reduced risk for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Wild-caught, oily fish, like wild Alaskan salmon, wild Pacific halibut, tuna, and small, oily fish like herring, sardines, and mackerel are rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA) as well as zinc, selenium, and B12. It eliminates refined and processed foods.
Cons: Eliminating all land animals may lead to some nutritional deficiencies, such as iron, B12, zinc, and calcium. Some fish may be high in mercury and PCBs, such as tilefish, king mackerel, shark, and large species of tuna, and should be avoided if pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant.
Supplement Your Diet: Methyl B12. B12 is important for nervous system function and best sources are red meat and poultry. The methylated form of B-12 is a preferred form for the body to use.