Diet can be described as the sum of food eaten by a person (Dispirito 4). Every individual or society can therefore have a different diet. A proper diet should contain all required nutrients, including energy, vitamins and minerals, and it should be easy to ingest, digest and absorb. The diet should also be easy to maintain. The diet adopted by a person or a society can have important impact on health and disease.
The choice of the diet can be influenced by various factors including tradition, culture, religion and an individual’s economic status. Diet plans adopted by an individual can also be due to health concerns, like in cases of diets adopted for weight management (Dispirito 6). Issues to do with morality also come in as some people avoid animal products on moral grounds (Dispirito 14-17).
Native populations are the ones who have traditional diets. These diets include food from organic farming as well as seasonal food. The diet therefore varies with the different available resources. Fish was a popular diet in coastal and lakeside towns while in farming regions, cereals were a common diet. Most of these traditional foods have been replaced in the modern world but there have been some attempts to preserve them (Desai).
In some religions and cultures, certain foods are labeled as taboos or unacceptable in the diet. This narrows the dietary choices of the members of these religions and cultures. The financial status of a person also influences their diet since he/she may not be able to afford some foods like meat. Poverty is associated with poor diet and malnutrition (Dispirito).
Individuals can choose diets to control their weight. There are specific foods which have been suggested and recommended for weight loss (Desai). However, these diets can be harmful to the individual’s health as it may restrict intake of crucial nutrient required by the body. People with negative body image, as seen in obesity, can develop eating disorders which interfere with their dietary habits (Desai). This has a negative impact on their health.
Each human being should ideally adopt a diet that has appropriate amounts of all nutrients required by the human body. This is called a healthy diet. However, there are two impediments to the healthy diet (Desai). First, the poor people in developing countries cannot get access to all that is needed for a healthy diet and therefore end up with malnutrition. On the other hand, the rich people, especially in developed countries, can afford the food but poor dietary choices interfere with achievement of a healthy diet. There are special diets recommended for specific groups of people with conditions that require diet modification, like in the case of diabetes (Desai).
This report discusses three kinds of popular diets with respect to their benefits and concerns as well as specific facts and statistics of these diets. Each diet has its own strengths and weaknesses and these are also looked at in this paper as benefits and concerns.
The three popular diets to be discussed in this report are:-
- The Atkins diet (Brown 10.6)
- The Vegetarian diet (Puskar-Pasewicz 534-535)
- Mediterranean (Alexandrotos 111-117)
The Atkins Diet
This is a nutritional approach designed by Dr. Robert Atkins in the 1960’s. It involves restricting total calorie intake by reducing the amount of carbohydrates eaten per day. It is a diet adopted mostly by those who want to solve overweight or obesity problems as it provides a fast rate of weight loss, at least in the initial stages (Johnson). This diet does not concentrate on eliminating from an individual’s diet all saturated fats, but it only focuses on Trans fats which are found in animal products such as meat, cheese and other dairy products. Trans fats can as well be found as unintended products in foods that are processed in industries thus it is very important to avoid such foods in this diet. According to Atkins, diets that focus extensively on eliminating fats lead to obesity instead of preventing it (Atkins).
The Atkins diet focuses on decreasing carbohydrate intake, but not fats as other diets do. If the body is robed of carbohydrates, it swings to stored fat for energy provision. Burning of stored fats has the net effect of weight loss. In this diet, the blood sugar level is regulated by avoiding carbohydrates that increase it. Unprocessed foods and particular whole grains have no negative effect on body sugar levels and are usually recommended in the Atkins diet (Johnson).
This diet is typically executed in four parts and these include; a stage of initiation pursued by a continuing weight pasting. Pre-maintenance stage follows and lastly lifetime continuation of the acquired routines. The food consumption of the dieter changes in amount and content as he/she progresses through the first three phases the acquired dietary habits are retained in the final stage. An individual should go through these phases for the effects of the Atkins diet to be fully realized (Atkins).
This phase is the first one in implementing the Atkins diet and usually, it takes the first two weeks of the diet. It is the least liberal phase with respect to intake of foods and its principal aim is to put the body into a ketosis state. The consumption of carbohydrates is limited at 20 grams a day, with 12-15 grams of these being from certain recommended fruit and vegetable sources (Atkins). These recommended sources are 54 in total and they include spinach, broccoli, tomatoes and cauliflower among others. Legumes are not allowed at this phase because they contain too much starch to allow the development of ketosis.
The individual can also feed on meat as well as poultry and fish. Eggs and semi-soft cheese can also be consumed. The dieter should also take multivitamins every day for provision of minerals to the body. However, these multivitamins should not contain iron. This period necessitates the dieter to ensure water intake at eight or more glasses daily. The amount of food eaten by an individual in the induction phase should at least contain fat of 100 grams (Atkins).
Many people realize the highest weight loss during the phase of induction. The weight loss per week could be between 5-10 pounds, especially if the induction is coupled with exercise. However, the mechanism of this weight loss is not clear as the proponents of this diet claim it is due to decrease in stored fat as the body turns to it for energy provision when there are no carbohydrates. On the other hand, those opposed to this idea say that in this early phase, loss of water from the body is what causes the weight loss as this diet causes diuresis (Hilton and McKinnon 23-4). Some people on Atkins diet use some chemically reactive strips called Ketostix to monitor entry into ketosis. The change of breath as well as a metallic savor in the mouth can be used to examine the inception of ketosis (Johnson).
Ongoing weight loss
The second stage involves the use of carbohydrates in eminent levels although lingering invariable at the level where weight loss is sustained. This stage is meant raise a significant height of carbohydrate expenditure at which weight pasting happens. The dieter takes foods with increasing levels of sugar. The effects of these foods on the dieter’s food cravings are observed. To avoid contradicting the aim of the diet as a whole, all this is done in a controlled manner to ensure low carbohydrate intake. On a weekly basis, five grams of carbohydrates is included to the day by day intake of the preceding week. This is done until weight approaches the indented weight to within 4.5 kilograms (Atkins).
Vegetables that are tolerable in the initial part are appended to the day by day banquet of the dieter through the primary week of this period. The ladder drafted by Dr. Atkins is then used to decide the amount of carbohydrates to be consumed daily in subsequent weeks (Atkins). At this stage, fresh dairy products are added to the dieter’s menu. The steps which are made up of nine stairs should be trailed in the precise order specified and only miss a rung if there is no intent to incorporate the specific food in the stable diet. The tread, should follow each other as follows; bigger quantities of vegetables tolerable in this diet, nuts as well as seeds, fruits, and vegetables which are starchy and grains (Johnson).
The aim of this stage is to establish a safe level of starch that can be consumed without any weight gain. This is the carbohydrate level required for maintenance. This is made by escalating the day after day carbohydrate eating by 10g per week. This amount may be above the level that is required to induce ketosis when tested with a Ketostix thus there is no need to ensure for long term a positive ketosis test. Once the individual finds the ‘critical carbohydrate level for maintenance’ he/she maintains this carbohydrate consumption as it allows for weight loss (Atkins).
Lifetime maintenance phase
As a person goes through the three initial stages of the Atkins diet, he/she acquires certain dietary habits. These habits are carried on in the phase of lifetime maintenance and ideally, the dieter should not gain weight if he/she adheres fully to this diet. However, this is not always the case and therefore if one begins to gain weight, there is room for him/her to drop back to a previous stage and progress from their till he/she reaches the stage of lifetime maintenance again. Such a person can restart from the first phase or just fall back to the second or third phase. (Atkins).
Benefits of the Atkins diet
Studies that have been done show positive effects of the Atkins diet on the health of the dieters. First, it results in weight loss over a short period of time hence decreasing the incidence of obesity. The diet is also associated with a decreased risk of hypertensive heart disease, diabetes and inflammatory conditions as well as a positive effect on the treatment of epilepsy. Another advantage of this diet is that its meal plans are straight forward and therefore it is considerably easy to follow (Johnson).
Concerns about the Atkins diet
Opponents of the Atkins diet dispute that the primary weight loss is more often than not owing to water loss instead of fat loss in view of the fact that the diet results in diuresis. Later, there is a decrease in the rate of weight loss due to restoration of water and sodium balance in the body. There are also concerns that the diet endangers those at risk of cardiac disease since it does not restrict intake of foods high in cholesterol as well as saturated fats. The menu for this diet is very expensive hence this diet plan could be a preserve of the rich (Hilton and McKinnon 23-4).
One of the bad effects of the Atkins diet is associated with the state of ketosis. It causes an awful breath since ketones are expelled through breath. Since ketones are also excreted by the kidney through urine, the dieter might be compelled to drink a lot of water to completely remove the ketones from his/her body (Hilton and McKinnon 23-4). At the beginning of the diet, people may experience symptoms such as palpitations, fatigue and sweating as withdrawal symptoms due to addiction to sugars, whose consumption is dropped significantly during induction. When these symptoms become considerably severe and they are present even after three days since their onset, the diet is stopped.
The consumption of high fiber foods is restricted in this diet and this predisposes to constipation. This problem can be solved by eating salads prepared from vegetables allowed in this diet. Cramps are also a concern and they are as a result of mineral deficiency hence supplementation of the necessary minerals is very important (Hilton and McKinnon 23-4).
The vegetarian diet
This is a diet that focuses on food of plant origin, which includes fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds and nuts, with or without the encompassing of eggs or dairy products and with the exclusion of meat, that is, red meat, poultry and seafood (Puskar-Pasewicz 534-535).
This diet can be adopted by an individual due to various reasons including socio-cultural, ethical and economic factors. Morality and religion as well as personal health and concerns over the environment can also play a major part in choosing the vegetarian diet. Some people call themselves vegetarians while attempting to transition to a total or a true vegetarian diet. there are those people who can be described as being flexible vegetarians (flexitarian) since they are in a state of transition to the vegetarian diet and they are trying to reduce the amount of flesh they consume for any of the reasons mentioned above (Puskar-Pasewicz 534-535).
The food Semi-vegetarians is majorly made up of vegetarian foods but rarely includes white meat from fish and poultry as well as red meat occasionally. Such people define ‘meat’ as mammalian flesh and thus they consider themselves vegetarian. A pescetarian diet will be made of fish but not meat. A pollotarian diet will consist of poultry, while a pollo-pescatarian will consume ‘white meat’ only, that is both fish and poultry.
These differences called for a statement to clearly say what the vegetarian diet entails. This was done by the Vegetarian Society who made it clear that animals as well as their products are not allowed in the vegetarian diet thus fish and birds are not included in the menu because they are indeed animals (Puskar-Pasewicz 534-535). Some foods cause concern among vegetarians as they may contain unknown ingredients from animals. These foods include cakes, chocolate, chewing gum, chips and candies. Some people consume these foods without knowing exactly what they contain. Vegetarians keenly examine some animal products like cheeses, gelatine and other ingredients before buying them for consumption (Draper et al, 3-19)
Types of vegetarians
The different types of vegetarians are distinguished by the foods that are included in their diets. Ovo vegetarians typically consume eggs, however not dairy diet. Lacto vegetarians on the other hand allow intake of dairy products, but not eggs. They may also not use any products tested on animals or any clothing made from animal or animal products raw vegans will consume only fresh and uncooked fruit, nuts, seeds and vegetables. On the other hand, their vegetables can simply be fried to a definite temperature. Fruitarians only eat plant produce that can be obtained with no damage to the plant for instance fruit, and seeds. Buddhist/Su vegetarians will keep out all animal products and the allium family vegetables, e.g. onion and garlic. Macrobiotic vegetarians will largely consume whole grains and beans but may include fish at times (Draper et al, 3-19).
Benefits of a vegetarian diet
Vegetarian diets are much higher in fiber which causes an increase in the diet bulk and hence reduces the appetite craving for more foods which are rich in energy leading to a possible weight loss. This is a healthy way for losing weight in people who are trying to do so. This weight loss can also work for people who are overweight or obese and other people as the diet also works to reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.
Groups which do not eat beef end up with lesser body mass index compared to those which consume it. Consequently, they have a reduced risk of developing coronary artery disease which leads to ischemic heart disease. Moreover, their level of cholesterol in blood is low and this is coupled with a low risk of hypertension as well as type 2 diabetes. This diet also has a protective effect on prostate and colon cancers (Anderson, Smith and Gustafson 1242-1247). In general, the vegetarian diet guards against general ailments for instance appendicitis as well as constipation (Key, Davey and Appleby 271-275).
Despite the avoidance of animal products, this diet provides adequate proteins for the human body. Vitamin C present in food and vegetables mostly citrus fruits, leads to improved absorption of iron in the gut. This works to prevent the development of iron deficiency anemia in the dieter (Key, Davey and Appleby 271-275).
There has also been an observed benefit in the control of chronic diseases using vegetarian diet. Studies have shown that the vegetarian diet has beneficial effects in rheumatoid arthritis as it leads to symptom relief such as reducing joint swelling and tenderness as well as decreasing pain and stiffness experienced in the morning and increasing the grip strength in the dieter (Kjeldsen-Kragh et al 899-902). Generally, the vegetarian diet is said to reduce mortality rate and increase life expectancy compared to the average diet (Key, Davey and Appleby 271-275).
The diet of a vegetarian contains higher quantities of antioxidants which include vitamins C and E plus phytochemicals. These antioxidants which are naturally occurring in the foods are compounds that are able to make stable free radicals present in the body. Free radicals are substances which have the potential of being harmful by causing the destruction of body cells. Antioxidants destroy free radicals thus protecting the body cells and tissues. This means that the immune system of vegetarians is better than that of other people who consume meat and its related products. It has also been argued that infections with E. coli are significantly reduced in those who adopt the vegetarian diet as these infections are associated with animal products (Bendich, 2789-2794).
Frassetto (2000) proposes that this relationship may reveal the outcome of animal and vegetable protein supplies on net alkali utilization. This is a possible cause, however scores of strenuous supplies of vegetable protein, for instance soy have a constructive impact on calcium scales, at the same time beef and fish contain a depressing consequence.
Disadvantages of a vegetarian diet
Vegetarians have a higher risk of nutritional deficiencies as most of the required nutrients and minerals are found in greater amounts in animal and animal products than in plant and plant products. The vegetarian diet has low levels of long chain fatty acids and vitamin B12. They also risk being deficient in most of the other members of the vitamin B complex and calcium hence they need to supplement.
The diets of vegetarians contain enough amounts of iron as the other regular meat-containing diets. Unfortunately, this iron is not readily available for absorption and utilization in the body and some other dietary components can also inhibit the absorption of the available iron most notably the high fiber content of the diet. This makes vegetarians more prone to developing iron deficiency anaemia and this deficiency is more pronounced in women who are vegetarians (Ball and Bartlett 353-358).
The vegetarians who exclude all of animals plus animal products have been shown to have considerably lower levels of vitamin B12 (cobalamin). They also have less stored reserves of the same vitamin and hence they are at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency which manifests as cognitive deficits and electroencephalograph abnormalities. Therefore this vitamin has to be supplemented in vegetarians (Antony 3-6).
Bone mineralization can be compromised in vegetarians, most commonly those who do not consume green leafy vegetables in abundance as they may not get enough calcium from their diet. A certain extend of impairment of bone mineralization has been discovered in vegetarians who do not eat foods or vegetables rich in calcium. However, ovo-lacto vegetarians do not experience this problem since their diet provides adequate calcium (Antony 3-6).
When a vegetarian woman is lactating, the lactating infant also lacks on a proper nutritional intake because if care is not given to the mother’s nutritional intake, the mother’s milk is inadequate in the nutritional contents including carbohydrates and minerals. Infants who are fed on a totally vegetarian diet when they are weaned have a higher incidence of nutritional deficiencies. They also show higher rates of growth retardation and multiple infections which are mostly recurrent and persistent (Shinwell and Gorodischer, 582-586).
There has been observed a higher incidence of children born with hypospadias in women who were vegetarian during pregnancy. The incidence also became higher in women who took iron supplements during pregnancy something which is also more common in vegetarians. This higher occurrence of hypospadias has been attributed to the higher levels of phytochemicals and phytoestrogens present in a vegetarian diet. Pesticide residues found to be contaminating the food was also considered as a possible explanation (North and Golding, 107-113).
The Mediterranean diet
Of the people living in Europe, the ones who live longest are those living in the Mediterranean basin. This has been attributed to their specific diet by researchers. The Mediterranean diet is part of the Heritage of Greece, Spain as well as Morocco and Italy. One of the constant food ingredients that characterize this diet is olive oil (Alexandrotos 111-117).
This diet emphasizes consumption of plenty of plant foods with inclusion of fruit dessert daily, coupled with regular exercise. The chief source of fat is olive oil, while foods like dairy products and white meat, including poultry and fish, are consumed in limited amounts. Eggs are also not encouraged in this diet and a person is only allowed a maximum of four eggs per week. Meat and wine intake is also in low amounts (Alexandrotos 111-117).
The core aspects of this diet therefore emphasize high consumption of olive oil, fruits, vegetables and unrefined cereals while discouraging dairy products and meat. However, fish can be consumed in moderate to high amounts. This diet has 25%-35% of calories as fat (Buckland, Bach and Serra-Majem 582-593).
The French paradox
The Mediterranean diet presents a paradox in the sense that the people of Mediterranean countries who follow it have considerably low rates of heart disease compared to their counterparts in the United States yet the amount of fats consumed by these two populations is similar. This could be so because of the difference in choices of the source of the fat in their diets. The Mediterranean diet gets fats from olive oil while in the United States, animal products and processed foods are the source of fat. The fact that the Mediterranean diet has low levels of saturated fat, but high levels of monounsaturated fat is beneficial to the health of the dieter (Alexandrotos 111-117).
Benefits of the Mediterranean diet
This diet has several beneficial effects on the health of the dieter that have been shown through different studies. Some of these effects are attributed to the diet’s emphasis on small portions of food which is balanced coupled with exercise. The major recognized health effects of this diet are centered on its role in prevention of cardiac disease (Seppa 119).
Coronary heart disease is considered by many as a nutritional disease and thus diet play a part in its causation as well as prevention. Studies show that people who follow the Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of developing cardiac disease (Seppa 119). This is attributed to low intake of saturated fats, but high consumption of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. This results in decreased low density cholesterol (LDL) which is largely responsible for coronary heart disease. Diets with a high content of monounsaturated fats cause better metabolism of glucose and also increase oxidation of fats after feeding. Consumption of oily fish also has protective effects on the heart (Buckland, Bach and Serra-Majem 590).
The Mediterranean diet also has beneficial effects on obesity. It reduces the probability of developing obesity in children and adolescents. It also enhances weight loss in those who are already overweight. This is due to the high content of fiber which gives a feeling of satiety as it is retained in the alimentary canal for long. This results in a decreased caloric intake by the dieter and subsequently weight loss (Buckland, Bach and Serra-Majem 590).
The diet enjoys a high compliance rate. This could be attributed to its high palatability which makes it likeable to the dieters (Buckland, Bach and Serra-Majem 590). Another reason for the high compliance rate is the fact that the diet is relatively cheap compared to other diets like the Atkins diet. This diet has also been associated with beneficial effects in some disorders such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, hypertension, depression and some specific cancers (Seppa 119).
Concerns about the Mediterranean diet
This diet does not give specific instructions to the dieter like most of the other diets do. For example, the daily serving amounts are not given and words like low, moderate and abundant are often used despite the fact that they are nonspecific. This leads to confusion of people adopting this diet. Since this diet advocates for physical exercise in addition to the foods recommended, it should give the specific parameters for the exercise but it does not. Also, the total calories to be consumed in a day are not stated (Alexandrotos 111-117).
The Mediterranean diet could not be applicable in some cases due to its encouragement of about two to three glasses of wine in a day. Some medications would require that the dieter abandons this practice before they are put on the drug. Those with pancreatitis or high levels of triglycerides do not qualify for the glasses of wine since alcohol can actually worsen these conditions (De et al).
This diet does not produce results as fast some of the other diets therefore it needs patience on the part of the dieter. It is also relies greatly on the dieters’ discipline in following it as there is no accountability needed. (De et al)
Diet is the sum of food eaten by an individual and as such, each person and/or society may have a unique diet (Dispirito 4). Each person needs a proper balanced diet for good health. This healthy diet should provide the body with all the nutrients that it requires. The choice of diet can be influenced by thing such as culture, religion, financial status, morality and health problems such as obesity and diabetes (Desai).
The Atkins diet is a low carbohydrate diet adopted mostly for weight control. It operates on the principal that the body turns to fats for provision of energy when it is deprived of carbohydrates (Johnson). It has several phases. The phase of induction is aimed at creating a state of ketosis in the body and it is when most weight loss is attained (Johnson). During pre-maintenance, the aim is to find the amount of carbohydrate that can be eaten without weight gain. The habits acquired during these stages are upheld in lifetime management (Hilton and McKinnon 23-4).
Several studies that have been done show that the Atkins diet has beneficial effects on the dieter’s health. It decreases the incidence of obesity, hypertensive heart disease, diabetes, inflammatory conditions as well as epilepsy. These benefits can be attributed to, among other factors, weight loss that comes with the Atkins diet as well as the fact that fat consumption is not restricted in this diet (Johnson). On the other hand, there are several concerns about this diet. It is possible that the initial fast weight loss is not due to utilization of fats, but due to water loss. The diet is expensive to maintain. Constipation, withdrawal symptoms due to addiction to sugars, and bad breath also come with this diet (Hilton and McKinnon 23-4).
The Mediterranean diet is part of the heritage of the communities living in the Mediterranean basin. It is characterized by inclusion of olive oil as the major source of fat, with no restriction on fat consumption. In this diet, emphasis is on inclusion of plenty of unprocessed plant foods in the dieter’s menu in addition to physical exercise while discouraging red meat and dairy products (Alexandrotos 111-117).
This diet has preventive effects on heart disease and generally leads to low morbidity (Seppa 119). Avoidance of saturated fats help to achieve decreased levels of low density cholesterol (LDL) and this helps in prevention of heart disease (Buckland, Bach and Serra-Majem 590). Other advantages include low cost of maintaining the diet, high compliance rates, decreased incidence of obesity, and a beneficial effects in disorders such as diabetes, certain cancers, hypertension and metabolic syndrome (Buckland, Bach and Serra-Majem 590).
However, this diet is non-specific and deficient on instructions to dieters and can confuse them due to use of words such as often, low amount of and moderate (Alexandrotos 111-117). It is also not applicable in some cases, like in cases of pancreatitis, due to its encouragement of at least two glasses of wine per day. There are also some religions which prohibit alcohol consumption and hence their followers would find it hard to comply with this requirement (De et al).
The vegetarian diet is made up of plants and plant products and depending on the variant, it can encompass or not fish, dairy products and /or poultry and their products like eggs. There are many benefits attributed to this type of a diet. Many studies have shown an increase in life expectancy and a reduction in mortality from common diseases like ischemic heart disease together with the overall reduction in the incidence of preventable diseases like type (2) diabetes and coronary artery disease (Anderson, Smith and Gustafson 1242-1247).
However, the vegetarian diet has a down side. The diet is associated with multiple nutritional deficiencies which have detrimental effects on the dieters or even their children. Some of these effects could appear as growth retardation and recurrent and persistent infections. There is therefore a need to replace these missing nutrients in a vegetarian’s diet (Antony 3-6).
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