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4 Popular Diets: The Pros and Cons of Gluten-Free, Paleo, Detox and Ketogenic

A high-school reunion, New Year’s Eve, the start of summer. Certain times of the year prompt a renewed commitment to getting your health, fitness and nutrition in order. We may want the nutrition part of the solution to lie in a perfect “new” diet, such as the gluten-free, paleo, detox and ketogenic programs that may be on your radar right now.

You may be asking yourself what these words even mean—and if you should be following one of these diet plans. Below is an overview of some of the pros and cons of each, along with a list of foods you are allowed and not allowed to eat.

One note before you dig in: Remember that nutrition is not one-size-fits-all. I fully believe that there is not one right way for all of us to eat. What works for your best friend or brother may not be the best choice for you. If you choose to start a new nutrition plan, I recommend (in addition to consulting with a registered dietician ) you find one that works for your schedule, health (physical and mental), budget, cooking ability and, well, your whole life. Whatever diet plan you choose, you won’t continue with it if it’s not a good fit overall.

Gluten-Free Diet

This diet excludes foods containing the protein gluten, which is found in some plant foods. It is primarily used to treat celiac disease, gluten intolerance and often general irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.

What foods are included?

Foods that do not contain gluten, such as:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Most dairy products
  • Meat, fish and poultry
  • Beans
  • Nuts and seeds (including flaxseed)
  • Grains that don’t contain gluten protein, such as amaranth, cornmeal and rice

What foods are avoided?

Any grain-based product containing gluten protein, including:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Triticale
  • Any foods made in a factory with these grains

What are the pros?

  • Relieves symptoms and complications for those with related health conditions
  • Could decrease intake of refined/processed foods

What are the cons?

  • Difficult to follow
  • Restricts people from healthy foods
  • Gluten-free substitutions may be higher in calories.
  • Could increase heart attack risk in people who do not have celiac disease

Paleo (Caveman) Diet

This diet is based on foods that our ancient ancestors consumed, primarily ones that could be hunted or gathered.

What foods are included?

  • Meat, chicken, turkey and pork
  • Fish
  • Fresh fruit
  • Non-starchy vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Eggs
  • Plant-based oils, such as coconut, grapeseed, olive and walnut

What foods are avoided?

  • Grains, including oats, wheat and barley
  • Starchy vegetables (like potatoes)
  • Beans and legumes
  • Dairy products
  • Sugar
  • Processed foods
  • Salt

What are the pros?

  • Could increase fruit and vegetable intake
  • Could decrease intake of processed, high-sugar and high-sodium foods
  • Could lead to weight loss primarily due to limited food choices

What are the cons?

  • Low in carbohydrates, which is dangerous for athletes and negatively impacts performance
  • May result in nutrient deficiencies
  • High in fat, which could lead to weight gain

Detox Diet

This diet’s intention is to eliminate toxins from the body. (Note: The body naturally detoxifies itself via the kidneys, liver and spleen, and it eliminates them through perspiration and waste.)

What foods are included?

  • Fruit and vegetable juices and water
  • Some detoxes allow fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables

What foods are avoided?

  • Few allow whole grains and flaxseed
  • Solid foods

What are the pros?

  • Could reduce alcohol and caffeine intake
  • Decreased intake of high-fat and highly processed foods
  • Encourages eating more plant-based foods

What are the cons?

  • Weight loss is from fluid and potentially muscle mass
  • Weight regain is rapid when diet is discontinued
  • Metabolism slows down, making it more difficult to keep weight off
  • May result in nutrient deficiencies

Ketogenic Diet

This diet is a low-carb, high-fat program that uses fat for fuel. It was originally designed to treat epilepsy. It is being looked at as part of a treatment plan for certain cancerous tumors and for blood sugar control and now as a weight-loss method. The ketogenic diet, just as the paleo diet, has been moving through the athlete population, especially with endurance athletes.

What foods are included?

  • Meat and fatty fish
  • Eggs
  • Full-fat dairy products, such as butter, cream and cheese
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Oils
  • Avocados
  • Low-carb vegetables, such as leafy greens, asparagus, cucumbers and celery

What foods are avoided?

  • Added sugar and foods that contain it, such as ice cream, pudding and sugary drinks
  • Grains
  • Fruit
  • Beans and legumes
  • Alcohol
  • Milk

What are the pros?

  • Lowers blood glucose levels
  • May decrease inflammation
  • Rapid weight loss

What are the cons?

  • May result in nutrient deficiencies
  • May result in electrolyte abnormalities
  • May increase risk of heart disease
  • May cause lack of energy

Now that you are armed with a bit more information regarding some of the trending fad diets, make an informed decision and know that the greatest success comes from what you can incorporate into your life. If you choose any eating style or exercise program, be sure that you can adjust it for your life and maintain the changes for the long term.

One of the best ways of empowering yourself regarding your health, nutrition or fitness is seeking knowledge. Do your research and be informed. Invest some time researching before investing in the next fad. Please also consult with a physician and a registered dietitian.

Looking to help your clients with their eating habits? Become a Certified Nutrition Coach with NASM. 


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (Academy). 2014. The gluten-free diet: Building the grocery list. Accessed July 22, 2017.

Academy. 2017. 2014. Grains to avoid if you have celiac disease. Accessed July 22, 2017.

Academy. 2015. Should we eat like our caveman ancestors? Accessed July 22, 2017.

Academy. Staying away from fad diets. Accessed July 22, 2017.

Academy. 2017. What’s the deal with detox diets? Accessed July 22, 2017.

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The Author

Emily Bailey

Emily Bailey

Emily is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian since 2003, as well as a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics 2014, completing her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics and Dietetic Internship at Saint Louis University. She is dually certified as a personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and has spent the past 12 years as Director of Nutrition at NutriFormance and Athletic Republic, LLC in St. Louis. Emily also holds memberships to the Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition Practice Group, the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association, and National Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention MOEDA.

Outside of work Emily can be found practicing what she preaches, enjoying a run. She has completed the GO! St. Louis half marathon, Marine Corp Marathon, and MO’Cowbell half marathon. She grew up as a competitive dancer and wishes she had the knowledge of “train to eat, just as you train to compete” then. Emily believes that all foods fit in a healthy and active lifestyle. She strives to educate all athletes to fuel for their performance. She also works with eating disorders/disordered eating and weight management. It is her personal goal to eradicate negative body image one person at a time!

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