What kinds of popular diets are there?

A diet is a diet right? Well not exactly. Your fitness goals, personal preferences and budget might lead you to fall into one of these categories.

Your friend wants to try and new kind of diet. It's got a snazzy new name like "the whole keto-fasted diet" and you're awful skeptical. What kind of diet is that? Let's clear up some of your initial questions in this overview of four major diet archetypes or models of diets.

Where Do the Diet Archetypes Come From?

An archetype is a model or in this case a kind of diet. All credit for these four broad categories goes to Alan Aragon, nutrition researcher and educator. Alan gave a presentation on "Toward Ending The Diet Wars: Which One is Best for Weight Loss and Health". I have decided to take a dive into the subject and will be covering many facets of dieting in a long series to help you problem solve.

Alan's presentation from the 2015 NSCA personal trainers conference can be found here

The Four Diet Archetypes

There are many different kinds of diets. They all have some similar things in common that allow them to be classified as one of the following:

  1. Macro-Nutrient Focused
  2. Food Elimination Focused
  3. Timing Focused
  4. Serving and Food Group Focused

These are not mutually exclusive categories. For instance some serving and food group diets use aspects of timing or elimination and limitation of certain foods.

Macronutrient Focused Diets

These involve a manipulation of one of the three main macronutrients or macros, carbohydrates, fats and protein. Technically there is a fourth macronutrient, alcohol but, for the purposes of nutrition it is not digested the same way or considered essential.

Different kinds of Macro-Nutrient focused diets include:

  • Low-Fat Diets
  • Low-Carb Diets
    • Ketogenic Diets (their own thing but, technically a kind of low carb diet)
  • IIFYM (If it fits your macros)
  • High-Protein Diets

Food Elimination Focused Diets 

Removing a kind of food group from your overall eating plan is the focus here. There are different iterations that attempt to remove or limit one of the "big 8" foods that are known allergens by FDA law;

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Crustacean Shellfish
  • Tree Nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Wheat
  • Soybeans

The claims behind the elimination diets (for those without medical reasons like allergies) can vary and some seem to be contradictory. Some are known for justifying the removal of foods that cause inflammation and allergic reactions. They eliminate some but, not all of the big 8 foods-say 3 like wheat, soy, milk for example and while emphasizing consumption of another food in the big 8. 

Timing Focused Diets

These diets are largely concerned with when and how often you eat meals. There may be proposed times of eating and fasting. There may also be aspects of eating certain kinds of foods at different times. One popular recommendation that would fall into this category is to time your carbohydrates around activity. Another might be a manipulation between many, small meals or larger, less frequent meals.

Serving and Food Group Focused Diets

Diets in this category are considered the least controversial and according to Alan, represent a "semi-current state of the evidence". The food pyramid, now revised to a more user friendly MyPlate program, is the United States Department of Agriculture's example of a program that falls into this group as do;

  • Government Guidelines
  • AND/ADA Exchange System
  • Mediterranean diet

Popular Diets with Other Names

Some of the diets you've heard of may fall within these or be types of these. For example the Atkins diet was very similar to the zone diet which are both kinds of low carbohydrate diets. Once you are able to recognize these diet types, you will be able to determine if a plan is something you already understand.

Stay tuned as we go into a deeper dive on diets!