The Vertical Diet is Buzzy, but Do Nutritionists Recommend It?

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Each diet has a slightly different goal, whether it’s to help you lose weight, improve your overall health, reduce body inflammation, or do something else. The vertical diet is designed to help improve your body composition, and tends to appeal to people who want to reproduce.

Meet the experts: Scott Keatley, RD, is co-owner of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy; Albert Matheny, RD, CSCS, is co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab and advisor to Promix Nutrition; Jessica Cording, RD, is the author of The Little Book of Game-Changers.

But what is the vertical diet and who can benefit from it? Nutritionists break it down.

What is a vertical diet?

The vertical diet is an eating plan created by professional bodybuilder Stan Efferding. He wrote a book called The Vertical Diet: A Simple, Sensible, and Sustainable Lifestyle Plan to Improve Body Composition for Optimal Health and Performance with Damon McCune, Ph.D., RD ​​The book lays the foundation for an eating program that cuts through the clutter and puts you on the path to weight loss, better performance, and overall better health , according to its Amazon description.

The diet has been promoted by many people, including Hafthor Bjornsson (who played The Mountain in Game of Thrones) and Philadelphia Eagles player Lane Johnson. It focuses on eating nutritious foods that are easy to digest.

The Efferdings website says the diet aims to improve metabolism and overall digestive health. The basic principles of the vertical diet can and should be used to improve and optimize ANY diet program, the website states.

But the diet has many restrictions. The idea behind the vertical diet is to limit the variety of foods to increase the absorption of nutrients, says Scott Keatley, RD, co-owner of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy.

Efferding also has a vertical diet meal delivery service, which includes programs tailored to help followers build muscle, lose weight, or customize their meals based on their goals.

What foods can you eat on the vertical diet?

The vertical diet is heavy on red meat and white rice, along with some vegetables, full-fat dairy, eggs, and some low-FODMAP fruits, Keatley says. (A low FODMAP diet is commonly used to help people figure out their food sensitivities.) It emphasizes foods that are supposed to be easily digestible and nutrient-dense, Keatley says. The main components of the diet include:

  • Protein sources: Red meat, especially lean meats, is highly emphasized.

  • Carbohydrates: White rice is the preferred source of carbohydrate.

  • Vegetables: These are usually low FODMAP options like carrots, cucumbers, and spinach.

  • Fats: Sources are usually things like eggs and full-fat dairy.

  • Fruits: They are limited to low FODMAP choices like oranges and blueberries.

What foods can’t you eat on the vertical diet?

The diet recommends avoiding the following foods, according to Albert Matheny, RD, CSCS, co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab and advisor to Promix Nutrition:

  • brown rice

  • Grains other than white rice

  • Mostly vegetable oils

  • soy

  • Beans

  • nuts

  • Peas

  • Onions

  • Garlic

  • coffee

  • Added sugar

  • Sugar alcohols

  • High-FODMAP vegetables (like broccoli and cauliflower)

  • High-FODMAP fruits (such as apples, cherries, and pears)

What are the potential health benefits of going on a vertical diet?

The potential benefits are mostly around digestion, says Jessica Cording, RD, author of The Little Book of Game-Changers. If someone has an underlying gastrointestinal issue, being on a low FODMAP diet by default gives them a chance to eliminate things that may have caused problems, he says.

Matheny agreed. This diet eliminates many foods that often upset people’s digestion, he says. But people will also have a vegan diet and talk about how they feel. Mostly because they cut out fried chicken and other foods that can make you feel unsatisfied.

The diet is also high in protein, which can support muscle growth, Cording says. Most people don’t get enough protein in their day, Matheny says. For 90% of people in America, this diet will be an improvement over what they currently eat.

Cording also likes that the diet cuts down on added sugar. That can help health in other ways, he says.

What are the potential concerns of the vertical diet?

Experts have some concerns about going on a vertical diet. You’re missing out on a bunch of micronutrients by limiting your starch intake to rice alone, especially trace minerals and some healthy fats, Keatley says.

Both Keatley and Cording are concerned about the low amount of fiber in this diet. That can have consequences on digestive health, says Cording. A limited diet can also cause you to miss out on other nutrients, he adds. High consumption of red meat is also concerning, says Cording: That’s linked to a higher risk of cancer and other health issues.

Matheny says the diet isn’t the healthiest eating plan you can choose. I wouldn’t say that this diet will make your nutrition better, he says.

The lack of variety in the diet also pertains to Cordingit making it less likely that someone will stick with it, he says.

The bottom line

Although experts say you can lose weight on a vertical diet, they don’t recommend trying it. If you want to find ways to get more protein in your diet, Cording suggests talking to a registered dietitian for personalized advice.

Keatley agreed. If you’re looking to improve performance, work with a sports nutrition-focused dietitian, he says. They can take you where you want to go without restriction.

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