Are fad diets that cut out food groups healthy for you?

You are what you eat. That’s a phrase everyone knows. So how do you choose what to eat and what not to eat?

For health reasons, many people are now learning to cook and eat gluten-free, which means avoiding wheat, rye and barley. Restaurants are offering gluten-free, meat-free and dairy-free options.

It seems excluding certain foods from your everyday meals is all the rage.

As a vegetarian, I’ve recently struggled with the development of what people are calling the anti-vegetarian diet: Paleo. It’s been pushed on me as the healthier option.

But which really is the better option? It depends on the person.

Vegetarianismby: POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Vegetarians stick to foods such as grains, fruits and vegetables and proteins like eggs and dairy.

Vegetarianism is one of the most well-known diet choices. Although there is evidence that vegetarians have been enjoying meatless diets for hundreds of years, it became most popular in the early 1960s and 1970s when young people started adopting anti-war and anti-oppression philosophies.

Although vegetarians choose their diet for many different reasons, but the ethical choice is the most popular. Some vegetarians choose not to eat meat as a statement on animal rights.

The other well-known extreme version of vegetarianism is veganism. Vegans choose to strike all animal products from their diet, including eggs, dairy, even honey.

The vegetarian diet most often consists of grains (at the bottom of the food pyramid), fruits and vegetables, dairy, beans and protein foods that exclude meat (tofu, eggs and peanut butter), and nuts and seeds.

Vegetarianism is thought to be quite easy to transition into as well. Vegetarian lifestyle books suggest starting with vegetarian meals you already enjoy, such as pasta, salads and soups, then finding vegetarian cookbooks to get the most nutrition possible.


Paleo is a diet that recently has become popular. Paleo is short for Paleolithic and refers to foods eaten during the era when man was called a “hunter-gatherer.”

The Paleo eating style focuses on eating simply, and stresses the exclusion of processed foods, grains, legumes, sugar and dairy.

A Paleo lifestyle is mostly alcohol free with some gluten-free exceptions on special occasions, such as red wine, potato vodka and rum.

Those who eat Paleo focus on lean meats, seafood, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and naturally occurring healthy fats such as avocados, olives and olive oils.

Those who eat Paleo eat only raw foods, to provide their bodies with simple nutrients to shed excess chemicals and hormones. Some believe that Paleo is the answer to righting most health problems, such as digestive complaints, weight gain and depression.

Paleo suggests that the transition into this lifestyle takes time. Not only do Paleo books suggest resetting your mind before starting, they also propose cleanses to clear your body of that which lingers from a diet of processed food.

Which is better for you?

Neither vegetarianism nor Paleo is presented as a short-term diet. Both stress a lifestyle change in their favor, so learning the health benefits of each is important. by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: NOURISH NORTHWEST - Paula Jahn

Paula Jahn, a registered dietician, works at Nourish Northwest Nutrition and Fitness Center in downtown Portland.

Jahn, who works regularly helping people balance their diets for a healthier future, is skeptical of any diet that bans foods altogether, saying she was happy when the Atkins craze finally settled down (Atkins is a lose-weight-quick diet that excludes carbs.)

“Anytime you eliminate any large food group, you run the risk of a lack of variety and imbalance within each type of diet,” Jahn said.

To Jahn, Paleo represents a new fad diet that shows some promise because of its general push toward whole foods. But research has suggested that a diet high in meat is unhealthy, she said.

The World Health Organization has determined that dietary factors account for at least 30 percent of all cancers in Western countries, according to an article written by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Studies in Europe showed that vegetarians were 40 percent less likely to develop cancer than meat eaters.

But with any diet, there are good methods and bad methods.

“People automatically assume that being vegan is healthy,” Jahn said. “But you could eat nothing but vegan doughnuts and be extremely unhealthy.”

With any diet, Jahn suggests eating as much whole, unprocessed foods as possible, making sure you get plenty of fruit and vegetables and getting into the kitchen to cook more. She also suggests not going too extreme with any diet.

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