Diet Detective: Fad Diet or Fabulous?

It seems like there’s always a diet going around that promotes itself as the best way to lose weight, or to detox for health and more energy, or… something.

Actually, at any given time, there are always several diets claiming to be THE right way to eat. Diet plans like keto, paleo, the alkaline diet, or Whole30 are way more varied than the old school grapefruit-type diets. They are usually based around a single simple guideline, with expected results including anything from fat loss and revved metabolism to decreased inflammation, improved gut health, and overall better health.

Many of these diets can provide health benefits or support weight loss, and providing a single guideline to follow often makes it easier to stick with the plan. But the simplicity can also create complications. Dietary limitations can inadvertently decrease the intake of some essential nutrients, or allow excessive intake of others. Depending on your body’s specific needs, these diets can actually backfire – even if you see short term results.

Keto diet meal of salmon and green onions

Taking a smart approach to a new diet includes figuring out whether it’s a fad or there are established, science-based benefits. If the diet falls into the second category, you also need to figure out whether the diet will be good for you.

Is It A Fad Diet or a Fact?

There are fad diets, and fad diets – some are worse for your health than others. You can generally tell if a new diet is going to be an unhealthy fad if:

It promises dramatic, fast, extraordinary results.

My momma always told me: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The truth is, if there an easy, healthy, surefire way of eating that was sustainable over the long term, no one would need a diet for weight loss or any other health reasons. While it’s tempting to think of quickly reaching your goal weight with either little effort or lots,

It centers on, or cuts out, a single type of food.

Whether suggesting you always eat it or never eat it, any diet that is wholly focused on a single type of food can lead to health problems. This single focus may mean missing out on essential nutrients, or especially if maintained over time:

Low carb diets (Atkins, Keto) focus on higher protein and fat intakes. High levels of some dietary fats are associated with higher levels of heart disease, and high protein diets can be harmful to people with kidney disease, diabetes, and other health conditions (though it’s important to note that for most health people, a high protein diet isn’t harmful).

Cutting out entire food groups can lead to the same problems: missing out on key nutrients. For example, many vegetarians become anemic because they do not eat red meat, one of the highest sources of dietary iron.

It lacks high-quality scientific evidence. Ok, most people aren’t going to go and read the original research – and that’s assuming there is some! Many diets have little or no scientific backing. It’s also not uncommon to find that the existing studies present only weak proof, or have been funded by the companies whose products are being researched. Human nature makes it hard to be impartial in these cases!

Most people will not have access to the majority of research, or may not want to wade through the scientific jargon and statistics. You’re best bet to get simple, straight answers about whether a diet has scientifically been proven effective will be to speak to a registered dietitian.

Boring plate of only vegetables for a diet meal

Dieting For Your Body

The other benefit of discussing a new diet with a registered dietitian is that they can help determine if a given diet will meet your specific needs. This is especially important in certain circumstances:

If you have an ongoing or chronic health condition. Some foods or food types may worsen health conditions. It can also be a good idea to check with your doctor if you are at high risk for a health condition or have a family history.

If you have specific physical needs. The most common example: People who exercise a lot or at high intensities have different dietary needs than those who exercise moderately or not at all. Additionally, some medical conditions require closely controlled diets in order to maintain normal physical function.

If you want to make a significant change to your eating habits. People aren’t always aware of nutrient deficiencies or potential risks caused by a high nutrient intake. Jumping into big dietary changes may inadvertently increase health risks, even if you’re trying to do the right thing by your body. So do the right thing by your body and chat to your doctor before making big changes.

Healthy balanced meal of salmon and vegetables

The Real Winner

In the end, the best diet comes down to the diet that works for you.

That means one that helps you feel and look the way you really want to, and that your body thrives on. Many of the most popular diets may not be harmful over a short period of time, but the existing research has generally shown that they aren’t much more effective than a general plan of healthy eating and most people end up regaining the weight they lost once back into their regular eating patterns.

Given all this, it seems like the real winner might be making fresh choices. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Eat lean proteins (poultry, fish, lean red meat, eggs, and dairy). Eat your healthy fats in small doses (nuts and seeds, avocado, olive and flax oils, just to name a few). Eat less than you think you might need. And enjoy it!

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