What you need to know about popular diets

Losing weight can help lower your chances for cancer if you’re overweight or obese.

But not just any weight-loss plan will give your body the nutrients it needs to fight off diseases like cancer.

Below, I’ve separated out the good from the bad among popular diets.

Good nutrition is not a fast fix

Diets that make the “good list” encourage long-term change. They also give you a variety of options from all food groups. Here are some examples of diets that encourage long-term eating changes.

Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean-style diet makes our “good” list because it encourages people to make a life-long commitment to good nutrition.

This diet also meets many of the dietary guidelines used for preventing cancer and heart disease. These include:

  • Making fruits, vegetables, nuts and other plant-based foods a big part of every meal
  • Choosing healthy fats, like olive and canola oils, instead of butter
  • Flavoring foods with herbs and spices instead of salt
  • Limiting red meat and alcohol intake
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week

The whole-body approach

This type of diet focuses on eating six to seven small meals each day, instead of the standard three large meals. It makes the “good” list because it offers these cancer prevention benefits:

  • Adding fruits, vegetables and whole grains into at least half of your daily meals
  • Encouraging eating lean protein
  • Limiting foods high in fat
  • Including daily physical activity

Crash diets lead to crash endings

“Trendy” usually means the latest fad, and fads are temporary. So, if you hear a diet described as “trendy,” that’s usually a red flag.

That’s because “trendy” diets usually don’t provide the nutrients your body needs on a daily basis. Here are some examples of trendy diets that fall short.

Gluten-free

Gluten is a protein found in most whole grain foods, like wheat, rye, barley and oats. Gluten-free diets are becoming a popular trend. When you go gluten-free, you stop eating foods containing whole grains. But, unless you have celiac disease, you shouldn’t go gluten-free.

Here’s why: whole grains are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. They protect our cells from damage that may lead to cancer.

Crash diets

Yes, crash diets promise rapid results. But, rapid results don’t promise long-term health. In fact, losing more than two pounds a week can damage your body. That’s because crash diets cause you to lose muscle mass first instead of fat.

Carbohydrate-free

Don’t follow diet plans that tell you to completely “cut the carbs.” Sure, you should limit your carbohydrates to maintain a healthy weight. But, if you completely cut them out, you also cut out your body’s primary energy source.

Even worse: you deprive your body of some important cancer-fighting carbohydrates — vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans.

Instead of going carb-free, choose your carbohydrates wisely. Pick whole grains rather than cakes, cookies and other foods made with processed or refined grains and sugars.

Moderation is the secret to success

Maintaining a healthy weight requires a life-long commitment. And, the secret to long-term success is moderation.

So, talk to your doctor about a nutrition plan that works for you. And, find ways to fit in at least 30 minutes of activity every day.

Then, stick to it. Your body will thank you.

Daxaben Amin is a senior clinical dietitian in the Department of Clinical Nutrition at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

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