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Everything you need to know about the two most popular diets right now

Thinking about going on a diet? Registered Dietitian, Nishta Saxena, visited the show to give us a breakdown on The Keto Diet and The Dash Diet, two of the hottest diet trends for the New Year. Keep scrolling!

 

THE KETO DIET

What is it?

The current iteration of this diet has many, many versions. There is no one Keto Diet. But, essentially, it is a low-carb, high-fat diet. This is a diet designed to increase the body’s use of fat for energy, compared to glucose, which is our main energy supply. It was originally designed as a medical nutrition therapy for patients, specifically children, with refractory severe epilepsy in the 1920’s and 30’s.

 
How does it work?

You significantly reduce carbohydrates (between 20 and max 50 grams per day for most versions) in your diet until your body is in a state of “ketosis,” meaning it derives fuel from ketone bodies (byproducts of fat metabolism) instead of glucose. You must maintain a state of physiological ketosis to be following the keto diet.

 

What are the main claims?

Weight loss, fat loss, improved athletic performance, improved glycemic (glucose) management in the body, improved insulin sensitivity, mental clarity and improved cognition.

 
What can you eat?

Mainly high-fat foods: full-fat meats, poultry, dairy products, avocados, high fats nuts and nut oils, oils, low-carb or no-carb recipes. Avocados are the ONLY fruit allowed on this diet.

 

Is it effective for weight loss?

There is not currently a good body of evidence that shows long-term weight loss is improved with keto diets. As they approach ketosis, people will have a huge loss of water (you will be peeing a lot!) and that can feel like weight loss, but it is largely water and sodium shifts. Most of the studies are very short or short term. We would need ongoing long-term studies (more than 2 years of following people) to prove that this is effective as a long-term strategy.

 

Who should NOT participate in this type of diet?

There are 9 out of 10 Canadians with chronic disease risk factors at this point in history. That could mean people with diabetes, heart conditions, kidney disease or a combination. It can also include a variety of cancers. If you are in this group, diets and management of life with medications, treatments and food can already be complex. Specific meds, such as insulin, OHA’s, many drugs for mental health treatment, can be affected by glucose, so to remove available carbs from your diet to a very low level could be dangerous. Someone with heart conditions, who also has kidney disease, would be an example of where this diet could be dangerous.

As well, those with mental health conditions related to disordered eating, pregnant or breastfeeding women or those trying to conceive this diet could be triggering or tricky. If you are really interested in this diet, work closely with a dietitian to ensure you engage safely. Remember, there are many aspects and variations to a diet such as this.

 

Is this diet safe to do, permanently?

It REALLY depends who asks the question, and HOW you are executing this diet plan. Again, I think it would be great when we have long-term studies showing the benefits for different groups of people. Even in the population it was designed for, those with severe epilepsy, it doesn’t always provide results.

There may be promise for how it could help non-insulin dependent people with diabetes, in terms of improving their fat loss and insulin sensitivity, BUT (AND IT’S A BIG BUT), we need the data to prove it!

 

Final thoughts?

There are benefits to this diet, in that it instantly lowers or eliminates many processed and refined foods that have no real nutritional value but are convenient. It may increase your intake of vegetables if you weren’t eating enough, by default.

Due to the carb restrictions, it really lowers access to fruits and high-soluble fiber foods, and this may be problematic over time, which is why you require vitamin and possible electrolyte supplementation throughout. It is restrictive, and so if most of your circle is also keto, you wouldn’t notice.

However, for example, if you are a parent having young children and a partner/spouse or other family members at home can add extra layer of challenge to eating, both with prep and mindset.  In many cases this may increase foods costs and for some this is a deal-breaker. There is no benefit to being DOGMATIC about what you eat!

Nishta’s ultimate feeling is that aspects of this can be beneficial, but being very strict/restrictive hasn’t proven to be generally beneficial.

 

THE DASH DIET

What is it?

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension, originally a research diet as part of a multi-centre RCT in the U.S. to study hypertension.

 

How does it work?

It is a plant-based diet that not only looks at sodium reduction but also reducing processed foods significantly. There are very high increases in potassium and magnesium in the diet. It’s high-fibre, moderate fat and protein.

 

What are the main claims?

The DASH Diet can help to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension (high-blood pressure).

 
What can you eat?

Whole, intact grains, such as oatmeal, barley, quinoa, rices, all fruits, vegetables, nuts, nut butters, plant oils and fats, fish and seafood, lower-fat dairy.

 

Who should NOT participate in this diet?

It is a very safe diet for almost everyone, however aspects of this won’t work for those with kidney disease; work with a dietitian to get the best parts out of it in that case.

 
Final thoughts?

This diet incorporates many concepts in one: plant-based, whole, unprocessed foods, cooking more food at home, high-fiber, healthy fat, and lots of it! It weaves together much of what we want health dietary patterns to look like – so, Nishta says YES to this diet.

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