I decided to dedicate my first entry this year to diets. Actually, when I was creating my website and my YouTube channel I primarily wanted to talk about dieting and the science behind weight loss and metabolic health but somehow I managed to focus on bits and pieces of science such as describing metabolism or macronutrients rather than on diets themselves – I've made a couple of blogs on diets already, but I am still far away from my original goal, so I decided to make 2020 the year of the diet! This blog will serve as an introduction to a long series of reviews and today I would like to talk about the very definition of the term "Diet" and to provide you with an overview of the diets I am planning to cover in this series.
What is a diet?
I know, it might seem to be an odd question as everybody seems to know what a diet is, but as a scientist I want to be precise and to define the terms I operate with in my discourse. The definition I found online is "the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats" or a more scientific one – "a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons". While these definitions are at least decent, it's hard to align some religious diets or intermittent fasting with them. They also don't specify the sources of food – things like having kosher or halal foods would likely not be captured as well as vegetarian and carnivore diets. Well, at least the medical reasons are mentioned.
So, at the end of the day I would like to offer my own definition that I will use from now on: "Diet is a naturally occurring or intentionally created distinct nutritional pattern characterized by a specific set of nutrients, obtained from specific sources, prepared and consumed in a specific fashion during specific time intervals on a regular basis".
I defined diet in such a way that it captures several critical aspects of dieting:
- The origin of the diet – I felt that it would be important to specify whether the diet is a naturally occurring or a historical one (like the Mediterranean diet) as well as whether the diet was intentionally created to achieve certain goals such as weight loss or addressing certain medical issues like seizures with ketogenic diet.
- The specified set of nutrients – this is arguably the most important descriptor of any diet as it covers both macro- and micronutrients as well as the caloric intake.
- The source of nutrients – this will be very important for those who adhere to either plant-based or carnivore diets.
- The way of food preparation and/or consumption – I specifically introduced this notion to accommodate the diets that do not allow specific types of processing, like frying for example, or the diets that direct you to consume certain foods separately.
- The timing of food intake is also important as some diets like intermittent fasting will rely on feeding windows and fasting intervals, which are their key defining features.
- The pattern must occur on a regular basis as if it doesn't, it is not really a pattern anymore, it's just a fluke and it's hard to call it a diet.
So, now, with my definition in mind we can talk about the overview and the scope of the diet review work that lies ahead.
What kinds of diets are there?
Obviously, there are dozens of very well-known diets and likely hundreds of others. I will use my definition and the list of descriptors as the framework for the overview of the diets I anticipate to talk about in my future blogs:
- First of all, we will definitely talk about some historical and naturally occurring diets that are there, such as the Mediterranean diet, Paleo, or a Standard American Diet. I feel that the Standard American Diet will be the one I should start with.
- We will also talk about some medical diets, but I don't expect it to be the major focus as I believe that medical diets should stay in the medical field and I don't want my blog to look like a medical resource (which isn't the case). One notable exception would be the ketogenic diet as it is already in the popular culture and has a huge following of people who use it for all kinds of non-medical purposes.
- We will definitely talk about the diets based on caloric restriction and elimination or restriction of certain nutrients, such as low-carb diet popularized by Dr.Atkins.
- I think that focusing on carnivore diet vs. different kinds of plant-based diets will be very interesting and I will dedicate a lot of time to that.
- Also, I will likely pay at least some attention to the nutritional aspects of various methods of food preparation and consumption.
- The food intake timing and the benefits of intermittent fasting vs. say consumption of multiple meals per day will be of a special focus of my blog and my YouTube channel.
- And finally, there will be all kinds of others – the diets that are hard to classify or are unique in some way, but totally worth spending time on them.
So, that was the overview of what I am going to focus on in the next several months. In addition to that, I would like to emphasize that I will focus on scientific aspects of diets and dieting and I will do my best to back up all my statements with good research evidence. I hope it will be interesting and educational and if you don't want to miss anything, please subscribe to my website and to my YouTube channel, there is a lot to read and to learn. And of course, you can always make your comments and suggestions and ask questions either on YouTube, or here on my website.