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Trending Diets: What Works and What Doesn’t?

Breaking down the keto, paleo, DASH and Atkins diets, plus intermittent fasting

grilled salmon and veggies dash diet

When it comes to diet trends, what’s old is new again. For proof, chew on this piece of information: A diet developed a century ago ranked as the most searched for eating plan on Google during the pandemic.

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It seems dieters during COVID-19 found comfort in the familiar instead of fads. (The once-popular “taco diet,” for instance, didn’t quite make the list.)

So do these popular diets actually work? And will they make you healthier? Well, maybe.

The Top 5 searched diets of 2020 all offer proven benefits as well as potential reasons for hesitation. What’s ideal for someone else may not be the best option for you based on your health history. A standard rule of thumb is to talk with your healthcare provider before starting a diet or making radical changes to your eating.

Now onto those most-searched-for diets.

Keto diet

A meal plan that focuses on eating foods such as meat, eggs and cheeses? You’re not dreaming: It’s a real thing and – as you might expect given those menu options – it is extremely popular.

The keto diet emphasizes eating high-fat foods instead of those where calorie counts come from protein and carbohydrates. As a weight-loss tool, it is remarkably effective.

How does it work? Well, the diet essentially adjusts what your body uses as fuel. Normally, your system powers itself off of glucose, which comes from eating carbs. The keto diet, however, cuts off that energy source.

That pushes your body toward what’s called ketosis, a process where it burns fat as fuel. This amps up your metabolism, keeps your blood sugar low and lowers your risk of heart disease.

The diet may be ideal for you if you have a BMI > 30 (have obesity) and are trying to shed pounds. It’s also seen as beneficial for those trying to counteract Type 2 diabetes or epilepsy. (The keto diet actually originated a century ago as a treatment for epilepsy.)

Something for you to know, though: The transition into a keto diet can be tough. Side effects could include “keto flu” and “keto breath.” (Each is as delightful as its sounds.)

And despite its popularity, the keto diet draws mixed reviews from medical professionals. Caution is advocated. (Hear what advice a functional medicine expert has to offer about the keto diet.)

Intermittent Fasting

How often do you really need to eat? Various fasting diets put that question to the test.

Intermittent fasting (IF) plans create windows of time where you drastically cut down on your food intake or just don’t eat at all. One of the most popular is the 5:2 diet, which calls for five days of normal chowing and two days of limited eating.

Other versions include:

  • An alternate day plan, where you rotate normal eating and fasting days.
  • Time-restricted eating, which involves splitting the day into eating and non-eating blocks. One example would be the 16:8 method. In this example, you could eat between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. but fast for the remaining hours.
  • The 24-hour fast, which is exactly what it sounds like — no food for a full day.

There are proven benefits and potential drawbacks to fasting, which dates back to ancient times. Read what a cardiologist has to say about the pros and cons of intermittent fasting and how it affects your heart and blood pressure.

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Paleo diet

Are you ready to eat like it’s 2.5 million years ago? If so, the paleo diet is for you.

The meal plan is based on what your hunter-and-gatherer ancestors might have thrown on the table when the kids started whining during the Paleolithic era. It’s big on lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables and nuts.

What’s missing? Basically, food that traces its origins to farming. Think dairy products, whole grains and legumes

Like most diets, the plan sends thumbs pointing both up and down. Pluses include weight loss, blood pressure calming and curbing hunger. Minuses focus on the lack of fiber-rich whole grains and legumes, as well as cost and food accessibility.

DASH diet

Don’t be fooled by the name: The DASH diet has nothing to do with eating fast.

Instead, DASH is an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The eating program focuses on lowering your risk for high blood pressure (aka hypertension).

The DASH diet, in the simplest of descriptions, calls for eating higher amounts of heart-healthy potassium and less artery-damaging sodium. The benefits are well documented, with results often seen within weeks.

The plan is noted for being flexible, too. It doesn’t require special foods and you don’t have to go hungry or eliminate treats.

One look at American health trends shows why this diet attracts so much attention. Nearly half of the adults in the U.S. are dealing with hypertension, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The diet originated in the 1990s, making it a newcomer compared to the rest of the Top 5.

Atkins diet

Carbohydrates serve as the enemy in the Atkins diet, much as they do in the keto diet. The main difference between the two high-fat plans? The Atkins diet is a bit more lenient when it comes to proteins.

Both plans seek to adjust your metabolism to focus on burning fat. The Atkins diet, however, features four phases that start with more restrictive rules and then ease up over time.

Benefits of the Atkins plan center on weight loss and blood sugar control. Drawbacks include its lenient approach to processed meats (which raises the risk of heart disease) and how followers limit fruits and vegetables to stay under the carb limit.

The Atkins plan originated in the 1970s and has undergone slight modifications over the years.

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