Here, anyone can read, write, and share science.

Try it for free. No registration required.

Fad Diets, A Solution?

Selection of vegan diet foods, including fresh fruit and vegetables, olive oil, seeds and pulses, side view chilli, aubergine, pepper, cabbage, pumpkin, apple, orange, potato, plum and berries

Diets are increasing in popularity; everyone seems to be trying them. A few popular ones include the Atkins, Paleo, Gluten-free, and Detox diets. But do they actually deliver? More importantly, are they healthy for us?

THE ATKINS DIET

The Atkins diet, created by well-known cardiologist Dr. Atkins, limits intake of sugar and carbohydrates. The body burns sugar (or carbohydrates, which are broken down into sugar) for energy. This diet is good for quick weight loss (Atkins, 2017).

However, low-carb diets with no restriction on protein and fats are potentially hazardous. It may increase cholesterol levels if the fat consumed is saturated or if dietary cholesterol is high. That, in turn, would increase the risk of heart disease. It may also increase blood uric acid concentration, a condition known as hyperuricemia. If someone with gout also has hyperuricemia it could increase the severity of the disease. Furthermore, increased metabolism of fats and proteins without restrictions may be dangerous for persons with kidney or liver disease. Low-carbohydrate diets could also cause fatigue, lassitude, nausea, and diarrhea (Greger, 2017).

While weight loss does occur on low-carbohydrates diets, there is no evidence that it causes greater weight loss than a well-balanced diet would if the amounts of calories consumed are identical. The pounds lost on low-carbohydrate diets are often regained because inadequate dietary habits are never fixed. A well-balanced diet is preferred because it serves as the foundation of both long-term weight loss and health (Greger, 2017).

THE PALEO DIET

The paleo diet, created by Loren Cordain Ph.D., is high in fat, moderate in animal protein, and low to moderate in carbohydrates. Neither portion control nor calorie counting is encouraged.  It suggests eating generous amounts of saturated fats, animal protein, fresh or frozen vegetables, and low to moderate amounts of fruits and nuts. While on this diet, one should eliminate all cereal grains, legumes, added sugar, dairy (other than butter and heavy cream) and all vegetables, hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils.  The idea behind the diet is that it is similar to what early human hunters/forgers could have found and eaten (Paleo Leap, 2017).

The removal of whole grains, legumes, and dairy (which are nutrient rich foods) can cause deficiencies in minerals and vitamins such as calcium and vitamin D. The typical paleo diet also exceeds dietary guidelines for daily fat and protein intake while falling short on carbohydrate recommendations. Eliminating whole grains and dairy doesn’t lead to automatic weight loss and it doesn’t end disease. Whole grains contain fiber, which reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. In addition, studies suggest that dairy may play a role in weight, and that over-consumption is the issue. Lastly, a paleo diet may be hard to sustain as we live in a society very different from our ancestors. It isn’t possible to eat exactly as our ancestors did (Kohn, 2015).

GLUTEN-FREE DIET

A gluten-free diet excludes the protein gluten. Gluten is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. A gluten-free diet is used to treat celiac disease. Gluten can cause the inflammation of the small intestine for those with celiac disease. Eating a gluten-free diet helps control a patient’s signs and symptoms. Some who do not have celiac disease, called non-celiac gluten sensitivity, can also show symptoms while eating gluten. Those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity may also benefit from a gluten-free diet (Mayo Clinic, 2014). Only about one percent of the American population needs to be gluten-free because of celiac disease (Michaels, 2015).

Those following a gluten-free diet may have a vitamin deficiency because they may not be getting enough of nutrients such as iron, calcium, fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate (Mayo Clinic, 2014). Contrary to popular belief, a gluten-free diet does not help with weight loss. In fact, gluten-free foods are full of extra calories and sugar to make up for taste and texture when products are swapped. Moreover, some gluten-free foods are higher in carbohydrates than their counterparts.

DETOX DIETS

Detox diets are used to eliminate toxins from the body. There are many types of detoxification methods: raw vegetables, fruit and fruit juice, herbs, etc. Detox diets are typically a period of fasting while only eating/drinking certain foods. Some detox diets also call for colon cleansing to empty the intestines. While some people report feeling more focused and energetic after detox diets, there is little evidence suggesting that detox diets actually remove toxins from the body. In fact, the kidney and liver are already very effective in filtering and eliminating most toxins. The reason why people claim to feel better after a cleanse may be because the diet eliminates highly processed foods that contain solid fats and added sugar.  Avoiding these foods for a few days may be why people feel more energized (Zeratsky, 2015).

However, detox diets that severely limit protein or require fasting can result in side effects such as fatigue. Long-term fasting can also result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Colon cleansing can cause cramping, bloating, nausea, vomiting, and possibly dehydration (Zeratsky, 2015). Although detox diets cause weight loss because of their strict diet, the weight loss is only short term.

A fad diet isn’t a long-term solution- it may also be unnecessary. For lasting results, it’s best to eat a healthy diet based on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. However, going forward, a diet could be a starting point in making healthier choices.

“Gluten-free Diet.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 25 Nov. 2014. Web. <http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/gluten-free-diet/art-20048530?pg=1>.

Greger, M.D. Michael. Atkins Facts. American Dietetic Association, n.d. Web. <http://www.atkinsexposed.org/American_Dietetic_Association.htm>.

Kohn, Jill. “Should We Eat Like Our Caveman Ancestors?” Www.eatright.org. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, n.d. Web. <http://www.eatright.org/resource/health/weight-loss/fad-diets/should-we-eat-like-our-caveman-ancestors>.

Michaels, Jillian. “MYTH: If You Want To Slim Down, Go Gluten-Free | Jillian Michaels.”Jillianmichaels.com. Jillian Michaels, n.d. Web. <https://www.jillianmichaels.com/blog/food-and-nutrition/myth-if-you-want-slim-down-go-gluten-free>.

“Paleo Diet 101.” Paleo Leap. Paleo Leap, 04 Feb. 2017. Web. <https://paleoleap.com/paleo-101/>.

“Weight Loss Programs & Benefits.” Atkins. Atkins, n.d. Web. <https://www.atkins.com/how-it-works>.

Zeratsky, Katherine. “Detox Diets: Do They Work?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 17 Mar. 2015. Web. <http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/detox-diets/faq-20058040)>.

Edited by: Karen Yung and Kaylynn Crawford