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Vegan, gluten-free, paleo & keto diets, explained

By Katie Kwok 31 October 2020

Header image courtesy of @ivector (via Shutterstock)

With the rising awareness of healthy lifestyles, several kinds of “fad diets” are gaining in popularity globally. People are quick to adopt the ones that they consider good for their health. Among the mentioned diet styles, gluten-free, paleo, keto, and vegan have become more and more common around the world, and it is not difficult to spot how eateries are beginning to adapt to this change in people’s diets. That said, what are the principles of these so-called “fad diets”? Let’s reveal their faces.

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Photo credit: @ivector (via Shutterstock)


Over the years, the vegetarian diet has become so well-adopted and popular that even airlines are providing meat-free food as one of their meal options during long flights. While there are many streams and diet styles of vegetarianism, veganism is the strictest among them, consisting only of plant-derived food. This means cutting out all animal meat and its by-products, such as eggs, dairy, and all other animal-derived ingredients. Because of its association, some who follow the vegan diet also refrain from consuming food that is processed using animal products, such as honey and some wines.

However, since veganism is gaining in popularity—one research cited that veganism has increased in the US by 600 percent in the last three years!—individuals and companies are putting effort into recreating animal products in a plant-based form, such as vegan cheese, vegan milk, and even vegan meat! A balanced vegan diet is composed of the following four food groups: legumes, nuts, and seeds; grains; vegetables; and fruits.

Photo credit: @ivector (via Shutterstock)


We’ve all heard the term thrown around a lot in the last 10 years or so, but what is the truth behind a gluten-free diet? Gluten is a controversial family of proteins found in grains, such as wheat, rye, spelt, and barley. When it comes to food, gluten is what gives bread its chewy and satisfying texture and lends dough the ability to rise during baking. This means that foods like bread, cakes, pies, cereals, French fries, pasta, and cookies are generally off-limits for those following a gluten-free diet unless they are specifically labelled as made with gluten-free grain.

Most people can tolerate gluten but for those suffering from a condition called celiac disease, it can cause serious trouble with their digestion. Celiac disease is an immune disorder in which the immune system treats gluten as a foreign invader and attacks the substance when it is digested. Digestive discomfort, bloating, diarrhoea, or headaches are some common symptoms of celiac disease. While not all people who adopt a gluten-free diet actually suffer from celiac disease, many have chosen to cut out gluten due to the rising popularity of low-carb diets and also due to the fact that a lot of gluten-rich foods are processed, making them less tolerable consumers with sensitivities or food allergies and less healthy than whole foods.

A well-balanced gluten-free diet consists of fruits and vegetables; natural and unprocessed beans, seeds, legumes, and nuts; eggs and most low-fat dairy products; lean meats, fish, and poultry; and rice and rice products.

Photo credit: @ivector (via Shutterstock)


If the term “paleo” sounds like it’s ancient, that’s because it is. The Paleolithic diet is also known as the “caveman diet,” so-called because it consists of foods chosen to mirror those eaten by our ancestors during the Paleolithic era. It focuses on lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, which are commonly thought to have been hunted or gathered during the Paleolithic era. The goal of a paleo diet is to adopt eating habits more akin to what our forebears ate, believing that the contemporary diet that emerged with modern farming practices is misaligned with what the human body can process, causing a host of problems like the prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Dairy products, legumes, and grains are considered off-limits, as they were planted en-masse during the Agricultural Revolution, and hence are not paleo-friendly. Paleo dieters believe that the consumption of raw and unprocessed foods can boost health and help lose weight. A balanced paleo diet consists of meat and vegetables and fruits, and some meal plan companies in Hong Kong have even started offering recipes suitable for paleo diets, too.

Keep scrolling for the rest of the list 👇

Photo credit: @ivector (via Shutterstock)


Last but not least, the ketogenic diet. Another recent “fad diet” that has made its rounds in the active community, keto is a low-carb, high-fat diet that a lot of fitness professionals have adopted. We have long been schooled with the fact that “fat is bad for our health,” but research in recent years has uncovered that following a ketogenic diet could offer a wealth of health benefits against diabetes, cancer, epilepsy, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

Of course, that does not mean that all fats are good, and researches are quick to point out that it is vital to consume only good fats, which means the fats that contain Omega-3 fatty acids. A reduction in carbs puts the human body into a metabolic state called ketosis and it is believed that the body becomes incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy, possibly enabling the human body to speed up muscle recovery and enhance endurance. It also turns fat into ketones in the liver, which can supply energy for the brain. On the other hand, some researches have suggested that it could also reduce energy levels and even impair muscle growth, especially during high-intensity workouts. A balanced keto diet should consist of good fats; meat; raw, pickled, and fresh vegetables; dairy products; and nuts and seeds.

After learning more about all these different diets, you may feel compelled to try one of them that fits your personal health and fitness goals. However, as with any diet, a poorly planned one could prove dangerous or unhealthful. Be mindful to start a new diet in a well-planned and well-recorded manner and be aware of the way your body reacts towards it at the same time. When in doubt, consult with a doctor or nutritionist for advice on how to plan out a more balanced diet that is suitable for you.

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Katie Kwok


Katie Kwok is a health-conscious foodie who can always be found around new dining spots in the city. With an interest in cooking, she spends her free time conducting taste experiments in her home laboratory with her cute companies—three cats and one dog!