Common Diet Myths Explained (part 2)

Which diet should you choose?

Ever suffered from information overload when deciding what diet to try?
What can we believe when the advice seems to change from one day to the next?
Are you confused.com?

In a previous post we looked at the ‘Low Carb’ and the ‘Low Fat’ diets – digging into the merits and flaws of each. In this post we will be looking a little more closely at the ‘Alkaline Diet’, the ‘Paleo Diet’, the ‘Keto Diet’…

The Alkaline Diet

What is it?

This diet makes the odd claim that a diet rich in alkaline foods can reduce the risk of getting Cancer by raising the pH of our bodies.  This diet recommends a high intake of fruit and vegetables, but also severely limits portions of grains, dairy, meat and fish – usually understood to be very healthy.

The Alkaline Diet Myth-Buster

There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that alkaline-rich foods can combat the risk of Cancer. Aside from this, our bodies naturally regulate the pH levels within our body to within a specific range (7.35 – 7.45) regardless of our diet.

The limits put on grains, dairy, meat and fish, could potentially have the effect of increasing your risk of some vitamin deficiencies and may also lead to protein deficiency – particularly if you are someone who exercises at a high intensity regularly. 

This diet would not be suitable for anyone aiming for muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth) – the advice to achieve this training outcome is to eat four to five meals a day, each containing 20 – 30 grams of protein. 


The Ketogenic (‘Keto’) Diet

What is it?

The Keto diet is the ‘ultimate’ low carb diet. In this diet, the amount of carbs allowed is limited to 5 – 10% of total daily intake. For comparison, the average diet in the UK (based on 2,000 calories per day) will comprise an average of 50-60% carbs! Unlike many other diets that we have looked at, The Keto diet also suggests that fats will make up a huge 60 – 70% and the remaining 20 – 30% will be protein.  

Why Keto?

The idea behind this diet is that a very low glucose (carbohydrate) intake will result in a depletion of glycogen (sugar) stores within the body and as a result the body will instead use fat to produce ketones, which can be used for energy. More fat burn = more fat loss!

The Keto Myth-Buster

Whole foods (foods like whole-wheat bread, pasta, potato and grains) are avoided in this diet. These foods provide the majority of our fibre intake, and therefore the lack of fibre in this diet can have negative impacts on the body – it is particularly responsible for the frequent unfortunate side effect of diarrhoea as fibre is what makes sure our poo stays healthy! 

Regardless of the proportion of fats, to carbs, to proteins, this diet will still only be effective in producing weight loss (also known as ‘fat loss’) if the calories expended exceed the calories consumed over the course of the day or week (e.g. calories in vs calories out). Fat loss may be rapid at the start, but this rate is unlikely to be maintained long term and weight regain is common. 

In addition, for those training regularly this diet may not provide enough carbohydrate energy in order to train at your best. A recent study found that the athletic performance of cyclists and runners was reduced after just four days on a ketogenic diet, compared with those on a high carb diet. 


The Paleolithic (‘Paleo’) Diet

What is it?

The Paleo diet priorities lean protein sources, and other foods that would have commonly been available to our ancestors during hunter-gatherer times. This primarily focuses on lots of fruits and vegetables, fish, meat, nuts and seeds. This diet claims that our digestive systems are not well adapted to eating ‘modern day processed foods’ and that the ‘basic diet’ of our ancestors would be better for our health – specifically our gut health. It heavily restricts entire food groups (mostly grains and dairy) which are usually considered to be a healthy part of a balanced diet as they a good sources of fibre, resistant starch, proteins, calcium and vitamin D. 

The Paleo Diet Myth-Buster

Research shows that resistant starch is actually associated with improved markers for bowel health, which disagrees with the ‘science’ behind the Paleo Diet. In addition, research has found raised levels of a particular blood biomarker for heart disease in people following a Paleo diet – likely a result of the fact that the paleo diet is high in saturated fat. 

The Paleo Diet, like all diets, will only work for weight loss (fat loss) if the overall foods consumed in a day, or a week, result in a calorie deficit – so taking this as an oppotrunity to eat steak every day may not get you the results that you desire! Finally, this is an example of another diet that is very carb-lacking, so it is not ideal for individuals who are training regularly, at a high intensity.


Do you have questions about something you read in this article? Why not Ask The Instructor!

We are giving you the opportunity to have you health, fitness and nutrition questions answered by an expert member of our Gym Team. To get in touch, email your question to: grp-gymteam@groups.bristol.ac.uk and one of our team will get back to you!


Disclaimer: if you have any pre-existing medical condition, or are pregnant, please seek the advice of your GP before starting any self-administered diet. 

Healthy Minds: Charlotte’s Story

When Charlotte Jones first stepped into her university’s gym two years ago, she had no idea that exercise would be the remedy to the depression and anxiety she’d been living with.


Charlotte and her mentor, Pete Burrows.

Charlotte experienced mental health difficulties following a series of personal issues which coincided with the pressure of her final year at the University of Bristol, where she was studying Neuroscience. 

The 23-year-old is shared her story on World Mental Health Day [10 October] to give hope to others who are going through a tough period, particularly whilst at University.

Charlotte had experienced low-level mental ill-health before coming to university in 2014, but was coping well. This was the case until her final year when her brother fell ill, a family member passed away and her relationship broke down. 

At the same time, Charlotte was having to manage her dissertation project and the looming prospect of her final exams. 

The cruel irony of her course teaching her how the brain works in situations of stress and overwhelm, whilst living the experiences first-hand, was not lost on her. 

Charlotte said: “Everything got on top of me. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and was prescribed medication aimed at helping this about eight weeks into my final year. I was feeling really overwhelmed and behind. 

“I ended up writing my dissertation in four days and then realised I had no time left to revise for my final year exams. By March, I decided to defer my finals so that I could have longer to focus on them.” 

Although she had a whole year to focus on her exams, Charlotte knew she needed to get better first and reached out to the University’s Counselling Service. 

She soon spotted a leaflet for Healthy Minds – a programme run by the University’s Sport Exercise and Health Department (SEH) that provides mentored physical activity opportunities to improve student mental health.

Participants of the programme are guided by a professional fitness mentor and have free access to facilities during their engagement in the initiative, to support them in finding a way of being active that feels right for them. They receive a bespoke user-led activity plan which aims to foster new skills and interests, with the outcome of promoting recovery and better enabling them to stay well in the future.  

Despite never having set foot in a gym before, Charlotte enrolled in the summer of 2017 and has never looked back: “I really didn’t think I would get along with it. I have asthma and had never been sporty in my life, let alone entered a gym. I had to be shown how to use all the equipment. 

“Despite my reservations, I soon came to love it [exercise] and having regular catch-ups [with a mentor] alongside the physical goals was invaluable. I started coming off my medication eight weeks into the programme. I cannot imagine not going to the gym now and feel much more positive about the future.”

Charlotte went on to secure a paid role with SEH as a Student Sport Development Coordinator, helping the team to develop Healthy Minds so more students can benefit.

She was went on to pass her exams confidently and graduated from the university in July 2018 with a high 2.1. 


Charlotte’s advice for students in a similar situation:

  • “As everyone says, do not be afraid to seek support and try new things if one thing isn’t helping. For example, medication can help many people but wasn’t the solution for me. 
  • Try and get into a routine. I found the lack of routine associated with university in general to catalyse my depression, and only set on the road to recovery when the gym helped establish a regular routine. Try and spend nine to five in University, even if it’s just the library – sometimes it’s better to treat it as a full-time job. 
  • Be honest with your doctors and counsellors and the University so they can accommodate you with things like extenuating circumstances to give you extensions etc.
  • Be careful with alcohol and caffeine consumption.
  • Always, always talk to someone – whether it’s your department, counsellor, a family member or housemate.  

Helpful contacts for advice and support:

Student Wellbeing Service

Student Counselling Service

Bristol Nightline – student confidential listening and information service

Off The Record – Mental Health support for people aged 11-25 living in Bristol

Changes Bristol – Peer Support Groups running in Bristol

Bristol MIND – mental health resource for people in Bristol and surrounding areas