Many diets have stood the test of time. They became popular a long time ago, but people are still doing them and still getting results. This includes, but is not limited to:
People tend to focus on (and argue about) what sets these diets apart. So far, this “debate” has not been productive. Not by a long shot. Perhaps, instead of arguing, we should be focusing on all the things these diets have in common.
Chances are that these are universal laws that work across the board, and can deliver results no matter what the rest of your diet is composed of.
The truth is, all the diets (or “ways of eating”) mentioned above, and all diets shown to be compatible with long-term health, do have a few important commonalities.
Here are 6 things that all successful “diets” have in common.
1. They Are Low in Added Sugar
Sugar is also “empty” calories, because it supplies a large amount of energy with literally no essential nutrients.
Bottom Line: There is almost universal agreement that a lot of added sugar is unhealthy, and most successful diets recommend limiting it.
2. They Eliminate Refined Carbohydrates
Another ingredient that people agree is unhealthy, is refined carbs.
Refined carbohydrates are usually grains that have had all the beneficial stuff removed.
The most common one is refined wheat flour, which is consumed in massive amounts in Western countries.
Refined grains are made by pulverizing whole grains and removing the bran and endosperm, which are the fibrous and nutritious parts.
For this reason, refined grains contain little more than starch, chains of glucose molecules.
Refined starch provides lots of energy, with almost no essential nutrients (empty calories).
Without the fiber found in the whole grain, starch can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, which leads to cravings and overeating a few hours later when blood sugar comes crashing down (12, 13).
Although some diets (like paleo and low-carb) take things a step further and eliminate grains altogether, all successful diets at least emphasize limiting refined grains and replacing them with their whole, healthier counterparts.
Bottom Line: All successful diets eliminate refined grains like wheat flour, which is very unhealthy. However, some diets take things a step further and eliminate grains altogether.
3. They Eliminate Industrial Vegetable Oils
Industrial vegetable oils entered the human diet only recently.
Until about a 100 years ago, we simply didn’t have the technology to process them.
This includes soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil and a few others.
Whether they actually cause or protect from heart disease is controversial. Some observational studies show them to be protective, but many controlled trials suggest that they may be harmful (27, 28, 29, 30).
Also, the way these oils are manufactured is highly disgusting, and pretty much all of the beneficial nutrients are removed from the oils. Therefore, just like added sugars and refined grains, vegetable oils classify as “empty” calories.
Out of all the diets and dietary patterns shown to be compatible with long-term health, none of them included industrial vegetable oils.
Bottom Line: Industrial vegetable oils are incredibly harmful and contribute to numerous problems at the cellular level. No diet shown to be compatible with long-term health includes vegetable oils.
4. They Eliminate Artificial Trans Fats
Pretty much everyone agrees that artificial trans fats are unhealthy.
Trans fats are usually made by “hydrogenating” vegetable oils, which makes them solid at room temperature and increases shelf life (35).
Trans fats are toxic, unnatural and there is absolutely nothing beneficial about them.
Bottom Line: Trans fats are highly toxic, made by hydrogenating vegetable oils. Many studies show a link to inflammation and diseases like heart disease.
5. They Are High in Vegetables and Fiber
The different diets eliminate all sorts of different foods.
Plant-based diets minimize (or eliminate) animal foods, while low-carb and paleo dietseliminate grains, for example.
However, one of the things that all diets include is vegetables.
Most diets also include fruit. Even low-carb diets allow for berries and small amounts of fruit (a low-carb diet is NOT a no-carb).
Bottom Line: All successful diets emphasize eating plenty of vegetables, and in most cases fruit as well. These foods are high in antioxidants and healthy prebiotic fibers.
6. They Focus on Foods Instead of Calories
One interesting thing that all of these diets have in common, is that none of them emphasize calorie restriction.
Instead, they put the emphasis on eating whole, single ingredient, healthy foods.
Although calories are obviously important for weight management, simply restricting calories without regard to the foods you eat is rarely effective in the long-term.
Most successful diets emphasize a lifestyle change that includes whole foods, and let weight loss follow as a natural side effect.