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The Fit Five: Today's Most Popular Diets, Explained

Our expert explains the details behind the most talked about diet programs and trends.

With the market for fitness constantly expanding, the nutritionists have also found a niche: fad diets. However, some of these trends have stuck around, and many people are now trying out some of these diets on their own, sometimes haphazardly and with little direction. We asked our expert, Brooke Alpert, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., author of The Sugar Detox and frequent contributor to many health publications, to explain a few diets for us.

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Q1: Everyone I know talks about "paleo." What is that?

"Thought of as the "caveman diet," the paleo diet eliminates any food that our hunter-gatherer ancestors would not have eaten. This diet allows meats, fish, seafood, fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and healthy oils. Eliminated from the diet are dairy, grains, legumes, refined sugars, and processed foods. Proponents of this eating pattern argue that consuming a diet that is high in protein, fruits and vegetables, and low-glycemic carbohydrates prevents  diseases associated with the contemporary Western diet including obesity, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and diabetes." 

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Q2: How would you explain a ketogenic diet?

"The ketogenic diet is high in fat, low in carbohydrates, and adequate in protein. Fat is consumed in a 4-to-1 ratio to combined carbohydrates and protein, and high-carbohydrate foods like bread, pasta, and starchy fruits and vegetables are eliminated from the diet. Carbohydrates are the body's preferred source of energy and when there are not sufficient carbohydrates in the diet, the body will burn fat for fuel." 

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Q3: Ever since Novak Djokovic revealed that he went gluten-free just prior to going on a record-setting tear, gluten-free diets have been all the craze. What’s it all about?

"A gluten-free diet eliminates any food from the diet that contains the protein complex gluten. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, and rye. A gluten-free diet is prescribed to those who suffer from celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that causes an inflammatory reaction to gluten. Symptoms include pain and discomfort in the digestive tract, chronic constipation and diarrhea, fatigue, and vitamin deficiencies due to inability to absorb all necessary nutrients."

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Q4: A friend recently asked me about intermittent fasting, and I didn’t know what to say. What's intermittent fasting?

"Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern characterized by alternating between periods of fasting, consuming only water or low-calorie drinks, and non-fasting. There is no conclusive evidence that this diet is beneficial to one's health, however supporters of the diet suggest that those who eat less and less frequently live longer."

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Q5: I know a lot of people who have done elimination diets. What's the purpose of them?

"Elimination diets remove a food or food group from the diet. This type of diet is often used to help diagnose a food allergy or intolerance. Once the food or food group is excluded from the diet for a period of weeks to months, the client is monitored for symptom relief. If adverse effects persist, then it's likely the suspected food or food group is not responsible for causing the symptoms. When food groups are eliminated from the diet, special attention should be paid for developing vitamin and mineral deficiencies." 

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