Overview of Popular Diets

Looking to go on a diet? We'll provide you with an overview of some of the most popular diets available today.

Sonoma Diet

Developed by a registered dietician, the Sonoma Diet emphasizes healthy eating, whole foods, gourmet cooking, and savoring your meals. It's based on the Mediterranean Diet, but includes somewhat higher levels of protein. Nonetheless, this is not a low carb diet as is sometimes claimed. So, what will you be eating on the Sonoma Diet? Vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, fish and lean meats, eggs, low-fat dairy products, and healthy oils such as extra virgin olive oil. Processed foods, refined flours, added sugar, and saturated as well as hydrogenated fats are strongly discouraged. With delicious recipes (including some yummy deserts) and a daily wine allowance, this is a great diet for people who love to cook.

The Sonoma Diet consists of three "waves." The first wave is the most restrictive, but it lasts only ten days. The second wave is for long-term weight loss, and the third wave is for maintenance. This is truly a diet you can stay on for the rest of your life, which is essential for sustainable weight loss. The Sonoma Diet is also easy to follow because you won't be counting calories, carbs, fat grams, or anything else. You will, however, learn about portion control. There's a lot of focus on phytonutrients, antioxidants, and healthy fats, making this a diet that's as suitable for optimum overall health as it is for weight loss.

South Beach Diet

The South Beach Diet was developed by a cardiologist who found that his patients had trouble sticking to the standard low-fat diet typically recommended in cases of heart disease. Because large amounts of vegetables and fruits by themselves tend to be unsatisfying, many people on low-fat diets load up on processed foods with high sugar content and actually end up gaining weight. The South Beach Diet seeks to correct this by discouraging consumption of carbohydrates with high sugar levels; i.e., those with a high glycemic index. High levels of unhealthy fats, however, are also discouraged. Trans-fats are to be eliminated entirely, and saturated fats are highly restricted, while healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids are encouraged. Essentially, the South Beach Diet seeks to replace "bad" carbs with "good" carbs and "bad" fats with "good" fats.

So, what can you eat on the South Beach Diet? Vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains, nuts and seeds, lean meats, fatty fish, healthy oils, and low-fat or non-fat dairy products. You don't count calories or carbs on the South Beach Diet, but of course portions are limited. There's also a lot of emphasis on snacking to keep your metabolism elevated throughout the day. Like the Sonoma Diet, the South Beach Diet has three phases. The first phase lasts for two weeks and eliminates almost all carbohydrates from the diet. The idea is to get rid of cravings and "carb addictions." Many nutritionists believe this phase is unnecessarily restrictive and recommend avoiding it and starting with the second phase, which is the main part of the diet. The third phase is for maintenance once you've achieved your goal weight. The South Beach Diet meets the criteria for a healthy eating program you can follow for the rest of your life.

The Zone Diet

The author of The Zone Diet claims that by eating a diet that's 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein, and 30% fat, you achieve a "metabolic state in which the body works at peak efficiency." While there are no scientific studies to back up the claim that a 40-30-30 calorie split is superior to other diets, The Zone is very popular with athletes who contend that following this diet boosts their performance. For weight loss purposes, the 40-30-30 split is no better or worse than any other. The Zone Diet works because it's a low calorie diet, not because of some magical food combination formula.

The Zone discourages saturated fats and carbohydrates with a high glycemic index. Like other diets with a negative view of carbohydrates, The Zone is obsessed with how quickly a food releases glucose, often to the exclusion of all other factors. In this simplistic view of nutrition, the glycemic index alone determines whether a food is "good" or "bad." This is how nutritional powerhouses like carrots and papaya end up on the "bad" list, and full-fat ice cream is recommended over low-fat frozen yogurt. To be fair, you can eat vegetables with a higher glycemic index on The Zone Diet, you just have to eat less of them.

The 40-30-30 split applies to every meal you eat on the diet, but getting the balance right can be less complex than you might think. The Zone recommends that you start with a small amount of lean protein (e.g., chicken breast, fish fillet) about the size of your palm, to which you add "favorable" carbohydrates about double the size of the protein portion or less "favorable" carbohydrates about the same size of the protein portion. There are some concerns that The Zone Diet may not provide enough calories if you're reasonably active, so you may need to increase portion sizes somewhat. And while most nutritionists believe that The Zone restricts carbohydrates too much, it's nonetheless a healthy, well-balanced diet.

Paleo Diet

Also known as the Paleolithic Diet, Caveman Diet, Hunter/Gatherer Diet, Primal Diet, Ancestral Diet, and Evolutionary Diet, the Paleo Diet focuses on eating only foods that were around before agriculture and animal husbandry became the norm. Not only must you avoid all processed foods on the Paleo Diet, but whole grains, starchy vegetables such as potatoes, legumes, and dairy products are out too. Some variations of the Paleo Diet also claim that modern fruit bears no semblance to fruit in the Paleolithic era and should be omitted as well. Meats and eggs should come from wild animals or at least grass-fed animals, and fish should be wild-caught.

If you're thinking that the Paleo Diet looks like a more restrictive low carb diet, you're right. There are many variations of this diet, but none of them are appropriate for vegetarians. Unless you eat huge amounts of nuts or fatty meats, you will lose weight on this diet simply because you're cutting calories. There may also be overall health benefits, but those are most likely the result of eliminating processed foods and replacing factory farmed meats with leaner, grass-fed meats that are lower in saturated fats and dietary cholesterol and higher in omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid. You could obtain the same benefits from a less restrictive whole foods diet.

Weight Watchers Diet

The Weight Watchers Diet program has been around for almost fifty years, and it remains one of the most effective methods for achieving permanent weight loss. The program is continuously updated to reflect the latest scientific research and is refreshingly free of fads and gimmicks. The focus of Weight Watchers has always been on permanent weight loss and making the lifestyle changes necessary to achieve such. The program is based on four basic principles: eating smarter (not necessarily less), exercising more, getting support, and developing healthier habits.

There are no lists of allowed and forbidden foods on the Weight Watchers Diet. Every food has a point value based on its calories, fat and fiber content, and dieters are presented with a Target Daily Points Range based on their weight and activity level. Some healthy low calorie foods such as broccoli "cost" 0 points, meaning you can eat as much of them as you want, while high calorie foods have correspondingly high point values. Dieters receive individualized guidance on making healthy eating choices and incorporating the diet into their lifestyle in a way that works for them. There's also a lot of focus on "getting moving," and Weight Watchers emphasizes exercise more than most diet programs. Many people also find the support network--either in-person or online--very helpful and motivating.

If the Weight Watchers Diet deserves any criticism it may be this: Counting calories, carbs, fat grams, or points can certainly make people more conscious of their food choices, but it can also lead to an unhealthy preoccupation with food and calories. Some people find that they're suddenly thinking about food and what they can and can't eat all day long. This is why diets like Sonoma focus on portion control without calorie counting. Of course not everyone responds to keeping track of their "points" in this manner, and Weight Watchers is actually quite effective at changing people's attitudes about food and eating. The fact that this is a balanced diet that emphasizes lifestyle changes and healthy food choices, while allowing you to indulge in less healthy favorites in moderation, makes Weight Watchers a great choice for sustainable weight loss.