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Top 10 Most Popular Alternative Dietary Lifestyles

Many people think of “diet” as a dirty word, as it has come to mean depriving oneself, usually for the sake of weight loss or as a means of nutritionally correcting a body imbalance such as high cholesterol or diabetes. But the word “diet” means “the kind of food you eat;” it is a synonym of “nourishment,” and health experts agree that there is a science to taking care of your body through nutrition. An alternative dietary lifestyle is a more appropriate way to think of eating plans of deprivation, because by definition they identify what is and isn’t okay to eat. It’s important to avoid fad diets, which are usually based more on hype than science.

One thing is certain: The “Western diet” — which describes the “normal” American diet loaded with processed foods, high-fat dairy products, red meat, and sugar — is a quick way to an early grave, or at least loads of nutritionally based health problems. Here are the top ten most popular alternative dietary lifestyles.

#1: Mediterranean Diet

The inhabitants around the Mediterranean Sea are vaunted for their long life spans and low rates of cancer and cardiovascular ailments. Their diet — really it’s more of an eating pattern than a structured diet — is low in red meat, sugar, and saturated fat. They instead eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil, and flavorful herbs and spices. Seafood is preferred over other types of meat, and a moderate enjoyment of eggs, cheese, and yogurt is encouraged. Sweets and red meat are reserved for special occasions, but red wine and exercise are daily components.

#2: Weight Watchers

The name brand in structured, weight loss-oriented diets, Weight Watchers has been around since the 1960s and boasts a legion of enthusiastic followers. The cornerstone is the points system, in which every food is allotted a certain number of points, and you’re allowed to eat a certain number of points a day. The system is designed to achieve a calorie deficit of 1,000 calories a day, meaning you’ll lose two pounds a week if you are faithful and stick with the somewhat tedious points tallying. No foods are off-limits, and the Weight Watchers website catalogs 40,000 foods and their point values (no points for fiber-loaded fruits and veggies, high points for things like candy). But the biggest benefit of Weight Watchers is the support network; members are encouraged to attend in-person meetings at least a few times a month. Of course, this is how the company makes money: A monthly pass to unlimited in-person meetings is $39.95, which also includes access to eTools. Or you can pay as you go; meetings are $12 to $15 per week, with a one-time $20 registration fee. To follow online only, a three-month plan is $65. Long-term lessons that stick with you after the program include the ability to choose between nutritionally dense foods and those with little value. Exercise is encouraged, and you get bonus points (to eat more) for enough activity.

#3: Mayo Clinic Diet

This diet, developed by one of the country’s leading medical groups, is focused on breaking bad habits and picking up good ones. You follow the Mayo Clinic Diet book; the first two weeks, you focus on the 15 key habits that are outlined by the authors, which restricts certain foods but allows unlimited snacking on fruits and vegetables; after two weeks, it becomes a calorie-counting and learning exercise, and nothing is off-limits — but you’re supposed to develop a pattern of healthy eating consisting of fruits, vegetables, lean meat, high-fiber whole grains, and low-fat dairy. Alcohol is somewhat restricted, and exercise is part of the plan. The book costs about $20.

#4: Vegetarianism

It’s pretty simple: Stop eating meat, and you’ll likely lose weight and fend off chronic diseases. Of course, some non-healthy items — like French fries and birthday cake ice cream — are perfectly compatible with a vegetarian diet, so it’s really up to you to make good choices. This may be a hard switch for hardcore carnivores, but if you’re already not putting meat at the center of every meal, going veggie shouldn’t be too stressful. These days, most every restaurant and wedding reception has a vegetarian option, and hundreds of cookbooks and websites exist to support vegetarian lifestyles. Exercise isn’t an inherent element of a vegetarian diet, but it’s encouraged for everyone.

Veganism — skipping all animal products, namely meat, eggs, and dairy — is touted as the more hardcore version of the vegetarian diet. It’s more of a philosophy than a diet; vegans are often animal rights activists. It’s very restrictive; beyond the obvious, vegans can’t eat any items made with lard (refried beans), whey (margarine), or Jell-O (gelatin, which is made from animal bones and hooves). True veganism requires serious planning and commitment, so it can be hard to stick with.

#5: Volumetrics

The theory behind volumetrics is that people tend to eat the same weight — like, literal poundage — of food each day, regardless of the number of calories. For example, a pound of low-density carrots contains as many calories as an ounce of high-density peanuts. So if you fill your plate with foods that are less energy dense, meaning they have fewer calories per gram, then you’ll be eating fewer calories without eating less food. It’s about making smart swaps; sweet potatoes for white potatoes, Again, this is more of an eating pattern than a structured diet, but The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet book is a good guide, developed by the diet’s original pioneer, Penn State University nutrition professor Barbara Rolls. The plan focuses on eating, but Roll recommends walking for 30 minutes most days of the week, which can be achieved by parking farther from the store or getting off the bus a few stops early. The book costs about $15.

#6: Jenny Craig

This definitely falls closer to “structured diet” than “alternative dietary lifestyle,” but For ease of use, nothing beats Jenny Craig, which sends you a personalized meal and exercise plan and assigns you a consultant for weekly one-on-one counseling sessions. It can be the most expensive option, with a few hundred dollars for an initial registration fee and each week of prepackaged meals costing at $100 or more. But you get half of your registration fee back if you stay within five pounds of your goal weight for one year, which lends a financial incentive. The portions are small, and some argue that Jenny Craig does all the thinking for you, so as soon as you leave the program, you’re on your own to make the right choices (a fact that causes some to fall flat and gain the weight back). Jenny Craig’s program incorporates the Volumetrics approach, so if you’re motivated to do it yourself, go with that plan. If you want some hand-holding and personal support, Jenny Craig may be right for you.

#7: Biggest Loser Diet

Trading on the popularity of the Biggest Loser television show, a number of books tout various methods to achieve the weight loss and healthy lifestyle of the show’s most successful participants. The diet encourages you to fill up on fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains; practice portion control; use a food journal; and exercise regularly (and with some intensity). The diet doesn’t ban any food groups, and there’s an abundance of recipes, online resources, and community forums to participate in. You’ll likely want to invest in one of the books, like 30-Day Jump Start or 6 Weeks to a Healthier You, which each run around $20. This is the most exercise-essential diet on this list, with the goal of educating you in body-weight training, aerobics, strength and resistance training, and yoga. In today’s television/computer-centric society, getting off the couch/office chair is always a good idea.

#8: Ornish Diet

Health and DietIn his 2007 book The Spectrum, Dean Ornish details a guide to achieve any goal — be it weight loss or reversing chronic disease. Ornish is a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and the founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute; his method advocates responsible food choices, exercise, stress management, and seeking support from loved ones. All of this combines to have a positive impact on your health — and it’s certainly hard to argue with that. The most difficult part of the diet is its restriction of fat, which Ornish insists should be just 10 percent of daily calories. That’s reasonable, but it may be hard to achieve if you’re stepping straight over from a fast food-filled “Western” diet. The book costs about $15.

#9: Atkins Diet

One of the first big names in dieting, Atkins is a well-known and still popular carb-restricting diet. The science is simple: Carbs fuel the body, and if you restrict carbs, then the body will instead feast on stored fat. So feel free to eat a burger dripping with fat and melted cheese, but go bunless. Atkins has been proven to help people lose weight initially, but studies have shown that the effect (as with many quick-fix diets) is diuretic — you’re losing water weight, not fat weight. The actual success of this diet (or any diet) may simply be eating fewer calories, rather than cutting carb intake. The New Atkins for a New You costs around $15. The hardcore might go gluten-free, but it’s harder than veganism to stick with and is only necessary for those with celiac disease or some other gluten intolerance.

#10: Paleo Diet

The Paleo Diet has gained a lot of traction in the last few years as Americans have begun to yearn for the simple lifestyle of the caveman. It’s an easy leap: Processed foods and carb-obsessed eating patterns weren’t things that the health-conscious cave dwellers had to deal with. So Paleo Diet enthusiasts say we should get back to our roots: If a caveman didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t either. No more refined sugar, dairy, legumes, or grains; your entire plate should be filled with meat, fish, poultry, fruits, and vegetables. The diet hasn’t been deeply researched, it’s extremely restrictive, and health experts generally discourage eating so much red meat. Though there’s no set exercise plan, Paleo dieters are encouraged to move as much as their hunter-gatherer ancestors.

Honorable mention:

These two diets were developed by high-level health organizations, and the advice is both sound and free. They didn’t make the list of “most popular” because they’re not as well known, but they’re definitely worth a look.

The DASH Diet was developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and is a simple guide to smart eating: emphasize the foods you know are good for you and cut back on calorie- and fat-laden sweets and red meat, while also keeping an eye on salt consumption (which the majority of Americans consume way too much of).

We’ve saved the best for last: The U.S. government-endorsed TLC Diet was created by the National Institutes of Health’s National Cholesterol Education Program. It stands for Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes, and it’s also been endorsed by the American Heart Association as a heart-healthy regimen to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. In short: Cut back on fat, particularly saturated fat (fatty meat, whole-dairy milk, and fried foods), and eat more fiber. It was developed more to control cholesterol than for weight loss, and the only resource is this online manual, but the advice is certainly sound.

Online Degrees in Nutrition Science

Liberty University
Nutrition and Wellness (MPH)
Benedictine University’s MPH in Nutrition and Wellness program is aimed at students who want to earn their degree online from a school that integrates moral integrity and business ethics into their curriculum. Benedictine is a private Christian school and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
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New York Chiropractic College
Applied Clinical Nutrition (MS)
The New York Chiropractic College is one of the top healthcare schools in the country and was found almost 100 years ago. NYCC has a MS in Applied Clinical Nutrition available online that is designed for students who need to balance their school with a career. NYCC is accredited by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
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Kaplan University
Nutrition Science (BS)
Kaplan University is one of the largest online schools in America, with over 53,000 students currently enrolled. Kaplan University offers a BS in Nutrition Science that can be completed entirely online or at one of Kaplan’s 70 campuses across the US. Kaplan is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is a member of North Central Association.
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Capella University
Training and Performance Improvement (MS)
Training and Performance Improvement (PhD)
If you are looking to begin a career in nutrition science, Capella University offers two graduate programs in Training and Performance Improvement: an MS degree and PhD degree. These programs help prepare you to influence health behaviors, reduce exercise and dieting vacuum, and decrease factors that can lead to several diseases and ailments.
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Ashford University
Health and Wellness
Health Education
While Ashford University does not offer a program specifically for nutrition science, it does offer two programs designed to help students quickly start careers within the healthcare field. The first is a BA in Health and Wellness while the second program focuses on Health Education. Ashford is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, member of the North Central Association.
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