Key points:

  • Meal-plan or diet. What’s the difference?
  • Some diets make you more efficient at storing fat over the long term

Which diet will give you the best short term results? Will these results be sustainable over the long term? Can any harm be done in the process?

This topic has received intense debate and no medical condition has generated as many proposed dietary solutions as obesity. Hundreds of different diets are available and opposing opinions are quite common. Not surprisingly, for anyone without a science degree in dietetics, this topic can be become somewhat bewildering.

Basically, the term ‘diet’, ‘meal-plan’ and ‘eating style’ all mean the same thing. Essentially they are all attempts to help you eat in a more structured manner. Whilst many meal plans are based on sound dietetic principles, some are veiled in pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo. To assist you with unravelling the mystery element, we examine the basic principles behind some of the more popular concepts.

Mono food diets
There are many versions, examples being the ‘soup diet’, ‘grape diet’, ‘grapefruit diet’, ‘maple syrup diet’, etc. Besides being painfully boring, they are mostly nutritionally deficient since they often exclude essential food groups. Except for the ‘orange food diet’ that allows you to eat salmon with your carrots, oranges and pumpkin, they are mostly too low in protein. This will cause you to use some of your own muscle as a protein source. Since muscle burns the most energy in your body, this will ultimately lower your metabolic rate.

Our Verdict: – most of these diets can probably be used as a “detox” process by those who are interested in the concept. We do not recommend any.

Very low kilojoule diets (Less than 1000 Calories / 4200 KJ per day)
These are based on the assumption that the less you eat the more you lose. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple, since your body will respond by lowering your metabolic rate, thereby making you lose less. In addition, starvation may also cause your body to ‘burn’ its own muscle.

Our Verdict: – should only be used under extreme conditions, for instance, in the case of a morbidly ill, severely obese patient immobilised by a hip fracture, for example, in urgent need of surgery.

Very low fat diets
These diets are based on the assumption that fat makes you fat and the less fat you eat the more you lose. Not quite, since when fat is burnt in the body’s energy furnace, small quantities of fat are actually required to assist with the process. Taste is also determined by the fat content of food. Numerous taste molecules are only fat soluble and therefore embedded in fat. Without these, food tastes rather bland.

Our Verdict: – extremely health-conscious individuals will take to this diet like a duck to water. We think it’s far too Spartan. In addition, many prior beliefs about fat are now obsolete.

Food combining
This diet is based on a school of thought that for various purported digestive reasons, protein and carbohydrate should not be consumed at the same meal. Most medical scientists do not agree.

Our Verdict: – food combining often works because of a more structured eating pattern and energy restriction, rather than better digestion. This eating style does have the potential to offer relief from digestive ailments such as heartburn and bloating.

Blood group diet
This concept is based on the idea that you should eat according to your blood group, which is determined by the genetic makeup that you inherited from your prehistoric forefathers. It is founded upon the notion that over time, humans slowly became conditioned and therefore dependent on the available food items available in the region where they originally lived in before they started migrating all over the world. This theory is not supported by the larger scientific community.

Our Verdict: – it may be useful if you suffer from a medical condition, such as migraine, for example, that would warrant an explorative process of food elimination in order to identify a possible food allergens or intolerance. Personally, we do not agree with the science and find this diet far too impractical to sustain, especially if you live in a family unit or group with members that all have different blood groups. Imagine you are responsible for meal preparation when each member needs to eat differently?

High protein, low carb diet.
This concept was originally popularised by the late Dr Atkins in the early seventies. At the height of its popularity, it was estimated that almost 10% of Northern American adults were following his diet. Dr Atkins’ influence became so immense that he was singlehandedly blamed for causing a decline in the sales of carbohydrate based food items such as pasta (- 8.2%) and rice (-4.6%) in 2003. Not surprisingly, the financial consequences thereof on the food industry caused quite a backlash, who counter-attacked by funding some of his most vociferous critics.

Actually, the original idea is generally accredited to William Banting (1796 –1878), a prominent English undertaker. Suffering from obesity, Banting decided to remedy his situation by reducing his intake of carbohydrates. Since it worked for him and he was well connected to the upper echelon of society, the concept started to spread. Since the 18th century, numerous versions of the same concept, albeit with some variations, have been re-invented, re-interpreted and re-released at regular intervals. Examples are South Beach, Zone, Dukan, Paleo (Caveman diet) and Banting diet.

All these diets restrict carbohydrate intake. Others increase fat intake, often quite considerably. The reason this eating style is effective is because it basically switches your body’s metabolism for various biochemical reasons from ‘sugar (glucose) burning’ to ‘fat burning’ mode. ‘Lipolysis’ is the medical term for ‘fat-breakdown’. During lipolysis small carbon-containing molecules called ‘ketones’ are produced. The process is therefore called ‘ketogenesis’, the reason these diets are collectively often referred to as ‘ketogenic diets’. Ketones contain minute amounts of ‘chemical energy’. These, with their energy, pass through the kidneys and are lost to the body. This is why some of these diets require you to check your urine at regular intervals for the presence of ketones.

Our Verdict: – like so many others, we like many of the basic principles behind this concept. However, we do not agree with the substantial increase in fat that some of these diets recommend. This seems to be in line with the majority of world’s dietetic association who advise that one should control the intake of fat to a certain degree.

MNI’s Insulin-friendly meal plan (C.A.P.E) meal plan:
When we eat certain foods, especially too many refined carbohydrates, we are sending a hormonal message via insulin to the fat cells of the body. That message is “STORE FAT!” In fact, it’s actually a bit worse than that, because increased insulin levels also tell the body “DO NOT RELEASE STORED FAT!” This makes it rather difficult to lose weight and therefore counterproductive.

We therefore designed our own basic meal-plan and tried to keep it as simple as possible so that anyone can get going with minimal effort. The Insulin-friendly meal plan (C.A.P.E meal plan), an acronym for ‘Carbohydrate Adjusted, Protein Enriched’, has been designed to maximise your weight-loss results by helping to optimise your metabolism.

Our Verdict: – we liked the model a lot. After doing our own research, we based the Insulin-friendly meal plan (C.A.P.E meal plan), our own meal-plan, on this concept.