Investigating Diet Fads

When you navigate the internet, open a magazine, or watch late-night television, you are bombarded with ads that tout the latest dieting craze. You might have tried the Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet, and Paleo. Before you decide on a diet that might work for you, you should research the diets and educate yourself about nutrition and health.

WARNING: You should always consult a doctor before making changes to your diet, and have goals to get healthy, not skinny.

This article includes general information and the author’s personal opinion of the following diets that you can use to narrow your research:

The Belly Fat Cure

This diet was created by Jorge Cruise, who claims that carbohydrates (carbs) are the root cause of belly fat. Carbs trigger an insulin response that tells your body to turn the carbs into fat, or to not release existing fat. This diet consists of protein, fats, and vegetables with small amounts of sugar and complex carbs. You are limited to 15 grams of sugar from six servings of “smart,” fiber-rich carbs (one serving of carbs equals 5-20 grams of carbohydrate). Artificial sweeteners are not permitted. Readers are encouraged to eat the foods they love by making substitutions. There is no mention of total calorie consumption.

  • Author’s Pros:  This diet limits your sugar consumption without forbidding sugars entirely. The focus on keeping balanced insulin levels helps with weight loss, energy levels, and could help those with diabetes.
  • Author’s Cons:  This book primarily includes tricky substitutions and recipes for pancakes, sandwiches, and desserts. Ideally, you should eat real, healthy foods. Proteins, fats, and sodium are not limited. This is not a long-term health plan.

Flat Belly Diet

The Flat Belly Diet is a program developed by Prevention Magazine. The “secret” to this diet is the addition of a monounsaturated fat (MUFA), at every meal. MUFAs are found in olives, avocados, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, soybean, flax, and olive and sunflower oils. The diet calls for four, 400-calorie meals spaced every four hours, and each meal includes a MUFA. Before starting on the 28-day plan, dieters go on a 1,200- to 1400-calorie, four-day anti-bloat jump-start period designed to reduce bloating and get dieters in the mind-set of a healthier eating plan. During the jump-start, dieters drink 2 liters of daily “sassy water,” a blend of spices, herbs, citrus, and cucumber.

  • Author’s Pros:  When you choose fats to add to your meal on this diet, you must use healthy fats such as olive oil and nuts rather than fatty dairy and fatty meats.
  • Author’s Cons:  The cleanse feels like a gimmick. On any diet you’re going to lose the water weight up front in the first 2 days. MUFAs are not some “magic” thing that will make you lose belly fat. It’s really the low calories that will help you lose weight.

Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) Diet

This diet, by the self-proclaimed “Diet Doctor” is actually very simple. It claims that you can eat fewer carbohydrates with a higher proportion of fat. The most important point to this diet is to minimize your intake of sugar and starches. That way you can eat other delicious foods until you are satisfied – and still lose weight. On this diet you eat meat, fish, eggs, vegetables growing above ground, and natural fats such as butter. You must avoid sugar and starchy foods like bread, pasta, rice and potatoes. Eat when you’re hungry until you are satisfied. It’s that simple.

  • Author’s Pros:  This diet does not promote eating processed foods. You eat meat, cheese, butter, healthy veggies and some fruits. The diet does prohibit sugars and starchy carbs, which are empty calories.
  • Author’s Cons:  Suggested foods such as butter, heavy cream, fatty cheeses, and fatty meats are high in calories and ultimately, decrease your chances of losing weight. The unstructured meals could lead to overeating, poor choices when you’re hungry, and insulin instability.

Mayo Clinic Diet

The highly-respected Mayo Clinic doctors recommend eating according to the Healthy Weight Pyramid: being more physically active, adopting healthy habits, defining realistic goals, and staying motivated. The diet itself recommends 1,200-1,800 calories per day depending on your sex and starting weight. A sample menu for 1,200-calories includes 4 or more servings of vegetables, 3 or more servings of fruits, 4 servings of complex carbohydrates, 3 servings of lean protein or reduced-fat dairy, and 3 servings of healthy fats. Artificial sweeteners, alcohol, and sweets are not permitted during the initial, quick-start portion of the plan. After that, they are limited.

  • Author’s Pros:  The theory of this diet is ideal. For 2 weeks you cut out the bad stuff entirely. After that, the diet is sound and seems manageable in the long-term.
  • Author’s Cons:  This diet lacks structure and specifics.

Paleo Diet

The theory behind the Paleo Diet is simple. The idea is that our bodies evolved (or were created) to eat the animals that roam the earth and eat the fruits and veggies that grow naturally. It claims that processed and lab-created foods have caused our biggest health problems. On this diet, you can’t eat processed foods, refined sugars, pasta, dairy, beans, or grain. If the caveman didn’t eat it, it’s off the plate, so to speak.

  • Author’s Pros:  It’s a good idea to remove a lot of processed food from your diet, particularly refined sugar.
  • Author’s Cons:  This diet is not feasible in the long-term. You lose a lot of nutrients by skipping dairy and grains altogether. Carbohydrates provide energy, and this diet is low on carbs. With no dairy, you will need calcium supplements, particularly if you’re a woman.

South Beach Diet

Everyone is pretty familiar with this diet or at least with it’s brother, the Atkins Diet. The plan is tiered. In the first 2-week phase, you are restricted to no carbohydrates. In the second phase, you can add healthy carbs that have a lower Glycemic Index. This diet specifies healthier fats than Atkins. Phase 3 is primarily about portion control.

  • Author’s Pros:  Carbs should be restricted, particularly the sugary and starchy ones. The focus on portion control is key to your long-term success and should be stressed more in the other diets.
  • Author’s Cons:  Quitting carbs completely for 2 weeks sends your body into a dangerous metabolic state called ketosis, which indicates that your body is burning fat instead of glucose for energy. During ketosis, the body forms substances known as ketones, which can cause organs to fail and can result in gout, kidney stones, or kidney failure. Ketones can also dull a person’s appetite, and cause nausea and bad breath. Additionally the diet in general is bad for people with high cholesterol.

The Wall Street Diet

The premise for the Wall Street Diet is that this is a diet plan for busy, professional people. The diet separates foods into categories and limits the amounts of each category that you can eat: Dry Carbs (0/day), Juicy Carbs (4-7/week), Fiber (1-3/day), Fruits (1-3/day), Vegetables (Unlimited), Protein (have at every meal), Beverages (unlimited water or tea), Alcohol (1/day), Fats/Oils (limit), Condiments (choose wisely), Snacks (less than 200 calories). Over time, you learn how many of each category that you can eat. You are supposed to keep a journal of your food to help you learn the system until it becomes a lifestyle change.

  • Author’s Pros:  Although it sounds complicated, it’s not. It’s a easy system to follow. The nutritional theory behind it is sound. The plan separates carbs and veggies into good, limited, and bad categories. The diet works.
  • Author’s Cons:  Because this book was written for the busy professional, a lot of the recommended meals and pretty much all of the snacks are processed foods. It’s written for convenience, but more natural foods would be ideal.

Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers is more like a program than a diet, though dieting is part of the process. Weight Watchers has been around for decades, but has revamped their Points system in the last few years. It’s now called Points Plus. Previously, points were calculated based on calories and fat. Points Plus are more advanced, and include carbs, fats, fiber, and protein. It is worth noting that even when the calories are the same for different food items, protein- and fiber-rich foods get fewer Points Plus to encourage dieters to eat more filling food for their allotted Points Plus. Calorie-dense foods that have more fat and simple carbs are assigned more points.

  • Author’s Pros:  Points Plus are an improvement and are more accurate and complex than the old points system. I did better by tracking my foods on Weight Watchers than by tracking them on Spark People. Weight Watchers does work well for people in the long term. It is simple, easy to use and you don’t have to keep using the Food Tracker after you get used to the Points system.
  • Author’s Cons:  It costs $20 per month. You can’t see your calories for the day because the system is based on points, so it’s hard to know if your calories are on track. Unlimited quantities of fresh fruits and non-starchy vegetables mean that these calories aren’t taken into account.
NOTE: The Weight Watchers information included here is based on a 2012 evaluation, and will be updated when I complete my current 3-month trial.

The Zone Diet

The Zone Diet claims that you can change your metabolism with a diet that is 30% low-fat protein, 30% healthy fat, and 40% low Glycemic Index carbohydrates. It contends that you can turn back encroaching heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Another often-mentioned advantage is better athletic performance. The book gives you a calculation to perform to determine how much protein you should be eating and you only worry about maintaining the 30/30/40 ratio of grams at every meal and snack.

  • Author’s Pros:  The focus of the diet is on macro-nutrients, and that you should think of your food as if was a collection of prescription drugs that you need to manage your health. It supports good nutritional theory like the Mayo Clinic Diet. The system is simple, and this diet has the potential for a lifetime change.
  • Author’s Cons:  The recommended ratio is good for most people, but you might need to adjust your ratio. The recommendation to “eyeball” portions is inaccurate, and the diet requires a lot of advanced meal planning.
(Unmodified Image: grapefruit, CC license by Sophie Jonasson)

Author: Steph

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