Newly engaged movie star Chris Pratt recently announced he is following the Daniel diet for three weeks. That’s a fast where one may consume water and food grown from seeds. It’s based on the biblical account of Daniel, who shunned meat and alcohol to focus on God.
Pratt’s pronouncement, combined with all the typical New Year’s resolutions about new diets and the growing number of allergies to gluten, dairy, and nuts, made me wonder what other diets are out there right now and how one can possibly entertain avid dieters while respecting their current food preferences and needs. So here’s a list of current diet trends, which might be right for you, and if you like entertaining, how to keep everyone satisfied. Bon appetit!
While sitting at Panera Bread recently, I observed two women sit down together for lunch. With salads and sandwiches nearby, for at least 90 minutes they discussed using Weight Watchers. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but they were right next to me.
One of the friends was clearly following the diet, while the other kept saying, “I just eat a lot. I need to eat less. I should probably do what you’re doing.” I didn’t even know people still did Weight Watchers.
On WW, a person is given a certain amount of “food points” she can eat in one day, based on her current weight, activity level, and whether she wants to lose or maintain weight. Then she must simply eat foods within that range. Exercise is also given a point allotment, which is factored into foods as well.
The company has been around for a long time, and is mostly geared toward women, although men do it too. Famous folks still shill for the brand, including America’s beloved Oprah. Its methods are simple and it’s tried and true. There is a fee to attend meetings and get started with the company’s supplies, which describe food recommendations.
You should do WW if: It’s easier for you to look at food not in terms of fat, calories, or protein, but a point system. Once you learn the point system, it’s easy to master your meals. Many veggies are free. An apple, for example, is one point; chicken breast is two, and so on.
I did Weight Watchers when my oldest child was born 11 years ago. It worked, and I liked it. It’s also good for people who like or need to cheat a little and don’t necessarily care about eating clean.
Presumably, you could eat nothing but veggies all day (zero) and a giant cake for dinner and still be “within your points.” Weight Watchers wouldn’t recommend this, of course, but you could.
How to entertain guests on WW: If you’re entertaining folks and only a few are on this program, I’d suggest having plenty of protein, fruits, and veggies available. This Sesame Chicken has less than 7 points, as do these pork chops. Perhaps a fruit-based dessert or this Baked Alaska would work well for a finishing touch.
If the entire crowd coming over for dinner happens to be WW, perhaps maybe a whole family or group of friends, go full-board. It would probably mean a lot to them. I’d let them know how many “points” they’re consuming if they’re the type of people really staying on track.
This particular diet is popular now although the concepts have been around quite some time. It’s similar to Atkins in the way that it emphasizes consuming a low amount of carbohydrates, but it’s less protein-heavy.
Many dedicated Keto dieters track their “macros.” With various free apps, a person can enter his or her current weight, activity level, and whether he or she wants to lose or maintain weight. This is then converted into a suggested amount of protein, carbs, and fat to eat. On Keto, one must eat a low amount of carbohydrates (around 20 grams), a moderate amount of protein (around 50-70 grams), and a high amount of fat (around 100 or more grams).
In eating a drastic reduction of carbs daily and replacing it with fat, in a relatively short period of time, this diet promises your body will move into a metabolic state called ketosis and use fat as fuel instead of carbs. This supposedly leads to dropping excess fat, stabilizing insulin levels, and even lowering cholesterol.
While generally gluten is avoided on this diet, simply because it’s so high in carbohydrates (one small flour tortilla shell has around 17-20 grams), it’s not necessarily restricted. It just has to be factored into the daily macro count.
You should do Keto if: Your body tends to gain or hold weight after eating carbs (whose doesn’t?). If you are tired of feeling bloated after you eat and want to increase mental clarity without starving yourself.
I love sweets and always have, which is why I decided to commit to eating keto for a while. I find a lot of men try keto because so many enjoy meat or savory and umami flavors and don’t necessarily have a sweet tooth. While copious amounts of gluten or carbs would not be recommended on this diet, technically it’s “allowed.”
How to entertain guests on Keto: Contrary to how it is often portrayed, Keto dieters don’t just dine on bacon and butter (although that sounds amazing). A balanced keto diet includes high fat content (from coconut oil, avocados, nuts, or olive oil), a moderate amount of protein, and a good amount of cruciferous veggies.
Recently fitness expert Jillian Michaels said the Keto diet was awful because it left out entire food groups like carbohydrates. While she’s entitled to her opinion, it sounds like it was based on false perceptions of Keto.
In reality, Keto meals are simple and include a protein, fat, and plenty of high-fiber vegetables. This Creamy Tuscan Garlic Chicken would be a great meal for guests on Keto. This Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon sounds like a hit too. For dessert, Keto cheesecake is easy and budget-friendly (and three of my kids like this) and doesn’t feel like a “diet” dessert. I also enjoy this Keto chocolate mousse, particularly in the summer.
Paleo is Keto’s sibling, although one could definitely argue this kid came first. Created in the 1970’s by gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin, it was adopted from the idea that eating like our Paleolithic ancestors could make humans healthier.
This is mostly because paleo advocates staying away from processed foods, like refined sugar, and eating food as humans did a long time ago when they were hunters and gatherers—think meat, veggies, fruit, and nuts. In essence: if it had a heartbeat or came from the ground, it’s on the paleo diet, with a few exceptions like legumes and wheat, which need a lot of processing to become edible.
Not-so-distant second cousins of paleo are: Mediterranean, South Beach, and just “clean eating.” Dairy, like gluten, are a big no-no on paleo, as both must be highly processed in order to be consumed, and thus can be extremely inflammatory.
You should do Paleo if: You’re addicted to processed foods like fast-food, chips, desserts, breads, pasta, or have high cholesterol or blood sugar. This might help those cravings die down. If something like Weight Watchers seems like too much tracking and Keto seems too “fatty,” Paleo might be a nice middle ground for you, particularly if you enjoy fruit as a dessert substitute.
Typically, folks who have had success with Paleo advocate nearly unlimited vegetables, moderate fruit, protein, and fat. This is also claimed to be good for folks with autoimmune issues, celiac disease, or other issues where gluten consumption causes digestive or other problems.
How to entertain guests on Paleo: One of my favorite ways to entertain for folks eating a Paleo diet is to purchase fresh, seasonal foods, and prepare them in a simple fashion. For example, this Chicken Sheet Pan Fajitas with Avocado Crema is delicious, laid-back, and great for a casual crowd that includes kids. Pair it with rice, corn, or flour tortillas (for those who eat gluten), different salsas and styles of chips, and dinner is served.
This Instant Pot Cowboy Chili is also great for entertaining a bigger crowd, comforting in the winter, and can be made in a slow cooker if you don’t have an Instant Pot. Paleo desserts can be tricky to offer because they, like Keto, often require ingredients someone not following these diets won’t have on hand (like almond or coconut flour, or sugar like Swerve). This flourless chocolate cake looks amazing and requires ingredients most home cooks have on hand. These chocolate-covered strawberries are a simple way to end a Paleo meal.
Like Weight Watchers, Whole 30 is a specific program, although many people still follow the general guidelines after doing their first full bout of Whole 30. Created in 2009 by a woman named Melissa Hartwig, these dieters drop anything processed from one’s diet, including sugar (real or artificial, and not even honey), alcohol, coffee creamer, grains, dairy, legumes, MSG, and any kind of processed food. After 30 days, she says, “It will restore a healthy emotional relationship with food, and with your body.”
For 30 days, Whole 30 participants “Eat moderate portions of meat, seafood, and eggs; lots of vegetables; some fruit; plenty of natural fats; and herbs, spices, and seasonings. Eat foods with very few ingredients, all pronounceable ingredients, or better yet, no ingredients listed at all because they’re whole and unprocessed.”
You should do Whole 30 if: You are also addicted to processed foods, particularly the “sugar dragon,” as they call it, but really need specific rules, guidelines, and accountability, which they offer on blogs, Instagram and other outlets. Whole 30 recommends that if one bite of the “no list” is consumed, you should start over from scratch at day one. Some people need this kind of accountability and a plan with these types of rules can be appealing or helpful.
How to entertain guests on Whole 30: This is a lot like paleo, so as far as main courses go, you can’t go wrong with this Beef Stir Fry which is “Whole 30 approved” or, as they say in the club, “Whole 30 compliant.” This Bacon-Wrapped Tenderloin looks incredible as well.
If you really want to wow Whole 30 guests, whip up a few Mason jars full of one of these magic sauces—sauces, they say, are the key to keeping Whole 30 from being boring—and send them home with your guests. Desserts are a little trickier because sugar isn’t allowed at all, but a simple batch of strawberries and cream should satisfy a sweet tooth nonetheless.
Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) and Gluten-Free Diets
The AIP diet is a very specific, health-related diet that often becomes a lifestyle for many people due to health concerns. Often people who struggle with autoimmune diseases, or think they do, start with AIP and then eat paleo or a version of that for life.
It first became well known outside holistic circles with women like the “Paleo Mom” (Dr. Sarah Ballantyne) and Danielle Walker (“Against All Grain”), who both participated in this extremely strict elimination diet due to extreme health concerns. Walker was actually suffering so much that she was in the hospital, and began to see her health turn around when she adopted AIP as a lifestyle.
She has since written several cookbooks advocating this way of eating. Her newest one, “Eat What You Love,” was just released, and she’s currently promoting it on a book tour.
The way people follow AIP is to eliminate any foods that are typically inflammatory for a strict period of time and slowly, methodically, reintroduce them back into your diet in phases. I have Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism, which is autoimmune-related, and I did this several years ago. It was extremely difficult. It is not for the faint of heart, but it did help my health. I followed Dr. Ballantyne’s guidelines as best I could, and I would recommend something similar if you think you might suffer from an autoimmune disease.
On this diet, all processed foods and a lot of foods people eat that seem healthy—like nuts, seeds, coffee, legumes, all grains, nightshades, dried fruit—and several more items I don’t have the space to list are all eliminated. The entire list can be viewed here.
Essentially, you eat certain meats, a few vegetables, and handful of fruits for 6-8 weeks, sometimes up to three months. I think I lived on bacon, sweet potato, and pears. When I did this, I had a caffeine headache and “carb flu” for several days due to a caffeine and carb addiction I didn’t know I had.
For many people, eliminating gluten is extremely difficult, yet it’s often the thing they find, as they later reintroduce foods into their diet, their bodies cannot handle. The idea is to discover which foods trigger your immune system and disrupt your gut health. Due to this, I know a few people who simply avoid gluten, myself and my mother among them.
Entertaining someone on AIP is extremely difficult. I won’t lie. If you’re certain a friend is following this and you still want to have her over, ask what phase she is in and what she prefers to eat. She may bring her own food (really!). Don’t be offended. If someone is doing this, it’s probably one of the hardest things he or she has done in terms of food, and he or she doesn’t want to lose any progress for one night of entertainment. For people who are in the final phase and have decided to remain gluten free, meat and vegetables are an easy dinner choice.
If a person is actually allergic to gluten, meaning diagnosed as having celiac disease, what you’re cooking has to be sterile, having not touched gluten. Sticking with proteins, fats, and vegetables is wise.
If a person simply has chosen to be gluten free because it feels better, and it’s not an allergy, he might be able to tolerate gluten-free mixes (pizza dough, cookies, etc.). That can be a fun option, although often those include other things people don’t want, like potato starch, so be sure to ask.