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Compare Diets
How do other diets stack up?


Dr. Fuhrman's Nutritarian diet and lifestyle is the gold standard for substantial and permanent weight loss, but how do other conventional diets stack up?

Calorie-Based/Portion Control Diets: Weight Watchers
PROS CONS
  • Encourages eating more vegetables and fruits.
  • All foods are included, even refined and processed foods.
  • Calories or “points” is the focus rather than health and good nutrition.
  • Feelings of deprivation from trying to “eat less” makes these types of diets  unsustainable in the long-term.
This calorie-restricting program is based solely on body weight, rather than the whole picture of health, such as body composition, immune system function, disease reversal and prevention, and longevity potential.

With the Weight Watchers diet, weight loss is achieved by portion control through counting calories (indirectly in the form of “points”) without regard to optimal nutrition and vitamin, mineral, and phytochemical intake. Calories are units of energy, but not all calories are created equally – some, especially those from vegetables, beans, berries, nuts, and seeds are exceptionally heath promoting, with protective, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects and others are disease-promoting like those from sweets and refined carbohydrates, which spike an insulin response and result in inflammation and chronic, yet preventable diseases, like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

The Standard American Diet is already low in micronutrients; by reducing portions, micronutrient intake is reduced further. Although the latest point system, “PointsPlus” encourages eating  vegetables and fruits by assigning most of them zero points, making them unlimited, it does not promote the most nutritious foods in these categories. For example, leafy greens and berries are significantly more health-promoting, compared to other foods in these categories such white potatoes, which are much higher in calories and lower in micronutrients than leafy greens, and bananas, which are significantly higher in sugar and lower in nutrients compared to berries.

Foods that they think promote satiety or fullness (foods high in protein or fiber) are encouraged equivalently, leading to a excessive intake of animal products raising insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) production, which promotes aging and is associated with increased risk of cancer.9,10

Counting calories or points is cumbersome, needless, and most people don’t keep the weight off in the long-term. READ MORE...
High Protein/Low Carbohydrate: Paleo, Atkins, Dukan, South Beach
PROS CONS
  • Avoids refined grains and sugars, resulting in a low glycemic load.
  • High-protein foods are satiating. These diets often produce weight loss in the short-term.1
  • Encourages too high an intake of animal foods which has been linked to increased cancer and premature death in hundreds of highly respected scientific studies.
  • Limits health-promoting carbohydrate-containing foods, such as beans.
  • In the long-term, low-carbohydrate/high-protein diets are associated with higher mortality risk.2,3
These diets have different names and have been popular at different times, but they share the same principle: eat excessive amounts of protein in the forms of animal-derived foods like meat, fish, eggs and dairy products.

This dangerously high animal protein intake promotes heightened IGF-1 production, which is associated with aging and increased risk of cancer.9,10 A high protein diet during middle age has been associated with a quadrupled cancer death risk, with strong evidence that IGF-1 is involved.3 These animal foods promote weight gain and also contain several other harmful or pro-inflammatory substances that are best to minimize.11-19

One positive aspect of high-protein diets is that because they eliminate refined grains and sugars , they have a low glycemic load. Also, because they limit processed foods, these diets  are also low in trans fats, which are heart disease-promoting fats.

These types of diets are often  successful for weight loss in the short-term, but they are not health-promoting in the long-term. Low-carbohydrate/high-protein diets have been linked to increased risk of heart disease,  cancer and premature death.2,3,20

Read more in Chapter 2 of The End of Dieting
High Carbohydrate/Low Fat Diets: Vegan
PROS CONS
  • Avoids oils and animal foods.
  • Encourages vegetables and fruits.
  • High glycemic load due to the focus on grains, bread, pasta and potatoes.
  • Low-fat diets often result in elevated triglycerides, a cardiovascular risk marker.4
  • Diets too low in fat can create health difficulties, including depression and dementia, due to fatty acid insufficiencies.
  • Avoids nuts and seeds, which are beneficial for weight maintenance and cardiovascular health and linked to enhanced longevity in numerous scientific studies.5-8
In observational studies, vegetarians and vegans consistently weigh less, are less likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, or cancer, and generally live longer than those who follow omnivorous diets.6,21-24 In fact, the low-fat, near-vegan diet devised by Dr. Dean Ornish provided the first hard evidence that heart disease could be reversed with diet and lifestyle changes alone.25

Removing animal products from one’s diet has the benefit of keeping IGF-1 levels low, which is an important component of cancer prevention.10 Also, vegan diets tend to be higher in fiber and phytochemicals than the standard American diet.

To keep the fat content low, these diets tend to rely too heavily on grains, breads and pasta, and potatoes. This increases the glycemic load of the diet, often elevates blood triglycerides and can hinder weight loss.4 A high glycemic load – the diet’s ability to elevate blood glucose – is a contributing factor to diabetes and cancer.26-32

There is no nutritional or weight loss advantage to strictly limiting fat. Instead, we should focus on consuming healthful, whole food sources of fat. Nuts and seeds are healthful, low-glycemic foods that are indispensable for cardiovascular health, are associated with longevity and if eating with meals encourage a stable weight.5-8,33,34

Besides the lack of credible science justifying a fear of nuts and seeds, the chief health concern with many low fat vegan advocates is their one-size-fits-all approach leaving many with disappointing results and some people who have low omega-3 conversion and need for DHA and even zinc at risk of depression and later life dementia.
Wheat Belly, Grain Brain Diets
PROS CONS
  • Avoids refined grains and sugars, resulting in a low glycemic load.
  • Avoids processed foods.
  • Encourages green and other non-starchy vegetables.
  • Encourages nuts and seeds, healthful whole food fat sources.
  • Encourages high animal food intake, which elevates IGF-1, and therefore has the negative of the high protein diets above.
  • Encourages oils, which promote weight gain.
  • Limits health-promoting carbohydrate-containing foods, such as beans.
The core principle of these diets is the avoidance of grains. There is no nutritional requirement for grains, and they are not the most healthful carbohydrate sources (beans are superior); however these dietary programs don’t distinguish between disease-promoting and healthful grain-based foods; they do not explain the critical nutritional differences between a slice of white bread to a bowl of cooked wheat berries or steel cut oats.

Along with avoiding all wheat and other grains, these diets recommend avoiding processed foods and refined grains and sugars, which is beneficial for keeping glycemic load low.

These diets do encourage increasing intake of healthful plant foods such as green and non-starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds, however they frequently limit beans, which are low-glycemic carbohydrate foods with substantial benefits for cardiovascular and colon health.35,36

To replace the grain calories, these diets allow large amounts of animal food, oils, butter and cheese. Their view of saturated fat as harmless is inaccurate, and the reliance on animal foods also allows for elevated IGF-1 levels.10,37
Gluten-free Diet
PROS CONS
  • Gluten-containing processed foods are sometimes (though not always) replaced with more healthful foods, such as beans, vegetables and fruit.
  • Gluten is the only substance off-limits; refined grains and processed foods are included, as long as they do not contain gluten.
  • Too one-dimensional as the specific nutritional quality and diversity of the diet-style is not adequately developed. So based on one’s interpretation of gluten free, the diet could be very unhealthy or particularly healthy.
Wheat (and its major protein, gluten) has become the latest scapegoat for the obesity epidemic. Although removing refined wheat products (white bread, sweetened breakfast cereals and baked goods, etc.) from one’s diet is positive, simply eliminating gluten does not define a healthful diet or an effective weight loss diet. Avoiding gluten is important for a small minority of people, but not the main consideration when devising or defining what makes a diet health promoting for the majority of people.
Mediterranean Diet
PROS CONS
  • Encourages vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, and cooked tomatoes.
  • Includes only a small amount of animal products.
  • Plentiful omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Olive oil is emphasized over nuts and seeds as a fat source, which can promote weight gain.
  • Encourages frequent intake of fish; high in omega-3s but a highly contaminated food.
  • Pasta and bread are often eaten rather than intact whole grains or beans.
The Mediterranean region traditionally followed a diet that was lower in animal products and higher in grains, beans, nuts and seeds, olive oil, vegetables and fruits and red wine than other Western countries. Interest in the possible health effects of this diet were prompted by lower rates of heart disease and other diet-related diseases in the Mediterranean region compared to other areas of Europe and North America.38

Modern studies on Mediterranean-style diets have found that they are associated with successful weight loss and a lower risk of heart disease.1,39

In addition to minimal red meat intake and overall low animal product intake (which limits IGF-1), benefits include a large amount of vegetables and cooked tomatoes. High blood lycopene, which reflects tomato intake (cooked tomatoes especially) is associated with reduced risk of heart attack and stroke.40-44,45,46

Mediterranean diets often include frequent fish consumption, which provides beneficial omega-3 fatty acids ; however, fish and other seafood are highly contaminated, and algae-based supplements are a more healthful and sustainable source.

Another potential drawback is the tendency toward pasta and bread rather than intact whole grains and legumes as carbohydrate sources.

Mediterranean diets would be more healthful if they nuts and seeds were preferred over olive oil as a fat source. First, all oils promote weight gain. In addition, a recently published intervention study using a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil vs. walnuts found that both diets reduced cardiovascular disease risk by 30% compared to a low-fat control diet. Importantly, the nut group showed regression of plaque in the carotid artery, but the olive oil group did not. Also, those in the study who ate the largest amount of nuts before and during the intervention had the lowest risk of death.7,39,47
Nutritarian Diet
PROS CONS
  • Emphasis is on eating a variety of the most health-promoting foods.
  • Maximizes disease reversal and longevity. Weight loss is a side effect.
  • Based on nutrient density and anti-cancer potential of foods, with an abundance of vegetables, a variety of fruits, beans, intact whole grains, seeds and nuts.
  • Animal products are minimized, but not off-limits.
  • Offers unlimited portions of many foods and requires no calorie counting and can be easily modified to meet individual differences and needs.
  • It requires a large change in eating habits compared to the standard American Diet (SAD), so most often accepted and utilized by people who take the effort and time to educate themselves more thoroughly about nutritional science.
  • May require learning and adapting new recipes and food preparation techniques to make natural foods as pleasurable as processed foods and fried foods.
  • Healthful foods are not as readily available in all places and during travel and at social engagements.
Each of these popular diets has its potential benefits and drawbacks. The Nutritarian diet style incorporates the three basic, irrefutable facts about diet and health for the greatest likelihood of weight loss success and superior health even in one’s later years of life:
  • Vegetables, beans, fruit, nuts and seeds are good for you.
  • Excessive amounts of meat or other animal products cause disease.
  • Eliminating refined carbohydrates will aid in sustainable weight loss and overall health.
The Nutriatarian diet style is comprised primarily of vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds. A limit of 5%–10 percent of calories is placed on animal product intake, an, high-glycemic refined grains and sugars and processed foods are even more strongly avoided.

 

References

1. Shai I, Schwarzfuchs D, Henkin Y, et al: Weight loss with a low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or low-fat diet. N Engl J Med 2008, 359:229-241.
2. Lagiou P, Sandin S, Weiderpass E, et al: Low carbohydrate-high protein diet and mortality in a cohort of Swedish women. J Intern Med 2007, 261:366-374.
3. Levine ME, Suarez JA, Brandhorst S, et al: Low Protein Intake Is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population. Cell Metab 2014, 19:407-417.
4. Lichtenstein AH, Van Horn L: Very low fat diets. Circulation 1998, 98:935-939.
5. Kris-Etherton PM, Hu FB, Ros E, et al: The role of tree nuts and peanuts in the prevention of coronary heart disease: multiple potential mechanisms. J Nutr 2008, 138:1746S-1751S.
6. Fraser GE, Shavlik DJ: Ten years of life: Is it a matter of choice? Arch Intern Med 2001, 161:1645-1652.
7. Guasch-Ferre M, Bullo M, Martinez-Gonzalez MA, et al: Frequency of nut consumption and mortality risk in the PREDIMED nutrition intervention trial. BMC Med 2013, 11:164.
8. Mattes RD, Dreher ML: Nuts and healthy body weight maintenance mechanisms. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2010, 19:137-141.
9. Salvioli S, Capri M, Bucci L, et al: Why do centenarians escape or postpone cancer? The role of IGF-1, inflammation and p53. Cancer Immunol Immunother 2009, 58:1909-1917.
10. Kaaks R: Nutrition, insulin, IGF-1 metabolism and cancer risk: a summary of epidemiological evidence. Novartis Found Symp 2004, 262:247-260; discussion 260-268.
11. Vergnaud AC, Norat T, Romaguera D, et al: Meat consumption and prospective weight change in participants of the EPIC-PANACEA study. Am J Clin Nutr 2010, 92:398-407.
12. Brewer GJ: Iron and copper toxicity in diseases of aging, particularly atherosclerosis and Alzheimer's disease. Exp Biol Med 2007, 232:323-335.
13. Brewer GJ: Risks of copper and iron toxicity during aging in humans. Chem Res Toxicol 2010, 23:319-326.
14. Padler-Karavani V, Yu H, Cao H, et al: Diversity in specificity, abundance, and composition of anti-Neu5Gc antibodies in normal humans: potential implications for disease. Glycobiology 2008, 18:818-830.
15. Koeth RA, Wang Z, Levison BS, et al: Intestinal microbiota metabolism of l-carnitine, a nutrient in red meat, promotes atherosclerosis. Nat Med 2013.
16. Tang WH, Wang Z, Levison BS, et al: Intestinal microbial metabolism of phosphatidylcholine and cardiovascular risk. N Engl J Med 2013, 368:1575-1584.
17. de Lorgeril M, Salen P: New insights into the health effects of dietary saturated and omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. BMC Med 2012, 10:50.
18. Lunn JC, Kuhnle G, Mai V, et al: The effect of haem in red and processed meat on the endogenous formation of N-nitroso compounds in the upper gastrointestinal tract. Carcinogenesis 2007, 28:685-690.
19. Zheng W, Lee SA: Well-done meat intake, heterocyclic amine exposure, and cancer risk. Nutr Cancer 2009, 61:437-446.
20. Lagiou P, Sandin S, Lof M, et al: Low carbohydrate-high protein diet and incidence of cardiovascular diseases in Swedish women: prospective cohort study. BMJ 2012, 344:e4026.
21. Key TJ, Fraser GE, Thorogood M, et al: Mortality in vegetarians and nonvegetarians: detailed findings from a collaborative analysis of 5 prospective studies. Am J Clin Nutr 1999, 70:516S-524S.
22. Fraser GE: Vegetarian diets: what do we know of their effects on common chronic diseases? Am J Clin Nutr 2009, 89:1607S-1612S.
23. Orlich MJ, Singh PN, Sabate J, et al: Vegetarian dietary patterns and mortality in Adventist Health Study 2. JAMA Intern Med 2013, 173:1230-1238.
24. Le LT, Sabate J: Beyond meatless, the health effects of vegan diets: findings from the Adventist cohorts. Nutrients 2014, 6:2131-2147.
25. Ornish D, Brown SE, Scherwitz LW, et al: Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? The Lifestyle Heart Trial. Lancet 1990, 336:129-133.
26. Halton TL, Willett WC, Liu S, et al: Low-carbohydrate-diet score and the risk of coronary heart disease in women. N Engl J Med 2006, 355:1991-2002.
27. Barclay AW, Petocz P, McMillan-Price J, et al: Glycemic index, glycemic load, and chronic disease risk--a meta-analysis of observational studies. Am J Clin Nutr 2008, 87:627-637.
28. Mirrahimi A, de Souza RJ, Chiavaroli L, et al: Associations of glycemic index and load with coronary heart disease events: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohorts. J Am Heart Assoc 2012, 1:e000752.
29. Fan J, Song Y, Wang Y, et al: Dietary glycemic index, glycemic load, and risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and stroke mortality: a systematic review with meta-analysis. PLoS One 2012, 7:e52182.
30. Romieu I, Ferrari P, Rinaldi S, et al: Dietary glycemic index and glycemic load and breast cancer risk in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). Am J Clin Nutr 2012, 96:345-355.
31. Gnagnarella P, Gandini S, La Vecchia C, et al: Glycemic index, glycemic load, and cancer risk: a meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr 2008, 87:1793-1801.
32. Salmeron J, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, et al: Dietary fiber, glycemic load, and risk of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in women. JAMA 1997, 277:472-477.
33. Mattes RD, Kris-Etherton PM, Foster GD: Impact of peanuts and tree nuts on body weight and healthy weight loss in adults. J Nutr 2008, 138:1741S-1745S.
34. Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, Banach MS, et al: Nuts as a replacement for carbohydrates in the diabetic diet. Diabetes Care 2011, 34:1706-1711.
35. Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, Augustin LS, et al: Effect of Legumes as Part of a Low Glycemic Index Diet on Glycemic Control and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Arch Intern Med 2012:1-8.
36. Papanikolaou Y, Fulgoni VL, 3rd: Bean consumption is associated with greater nutrient intake, reduced systolic blood pressure, lower body weight, and a smaller waist circumference in adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2002. J Am Coll Nutr 2008, 27:569-576.
37. Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, et al: Saturated fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease: modulation by replacement nutrients. Curr Atheroscler Rep 2010, 12:384-390.
38. Willett WC, Sacks F, Trichopoulou A, et al: Mediterranean diet pyramid: a cultural model for healthy eating. Am J Clin Nutr 1995, 61:1402S-1406S.
39. Estruch R, Ros E, Martinez-Gonzalez MA: Mediterranean diet for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. N Engl J Med 2013, 369:676-677.
40. Rissanen TH, Voutilainen S, Nyyssonen K, et al: Low serum lycopene concentration is associated with an excess incidence of acute coronary events and stroke: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Br J Nutr 2001, 85:749-754.
41. Rissanen T, Voutilainen S, Nyyssonen K, et al: Lycopene, atherosclerosis, and coronary heart disease. Exp Biol Med (Maywood) 2002, 227:900-907.
42. Rissanen TH, Voutilainen S, Nyyssonen K, et al: Serum lycopene concentrations and carotid atherosclerosis: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Am J Clin Nutr 2003, 77:133-138.
43. Sesso HD, Buring JE, Norkus EP, et al: Plasma lycopene, other carotenoids, and retinol and the risk of cardiovascular disease in women. Am J Clin Nutr 2004, 79:47-53.
44. Hak AE, Ma J, Powell CB, et al: Prospective study of plasma carotenoids and tocopherols in relation to risk of ischemic stroke. Stroke 2004, 35:1584-1588.
45. Karppi J, Laukkanen JA, Sivenius J, et al: Serum lycopene decreases the risk of stroke in men: A population-based follow-up study. Neurology 2012, 79:1540-1547.
46. Karppi J, Laukkanen JA, Makikallio TH, et al: Low serum lycopene and beta-carotene increase risk of acute myocardial infarction in men. Eur J Public Health 2011.
47. Sala-Vila A, Romero-Mamani ES, Gilabert R, et al: Changes in ultrasound-assessed carotid intima-media thickness and plaque with a Mediterranean diet: a substudy of the PREDIMED trial. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 2014, 34:439-445.

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