Skip these six “fad” diets

After Thanksgiving weekend, you might start to think about dieting. But I don’t recommend you start a fad diet (or take a so-called “weight loss” supplement) that promises quick weight loss. It’s just not a healthy, long-term solution. Today, I’ll warn you about six of these notoriously bad “fad” diets.

But first, let’s back up…

Not so long ago, having some “meat on your bones” was a sign of good health. It was widely considered healthy and desirable for thousands of years. In women, it was prized for bearing healthy children.

On the flip side, if you were underweight you were “sickly.” This common sense approach lasted for centuries. And indeed, the research began to bear out this scenario decades ago. In fact, studies link being underweight with higher disease and death rates–versus the happy middle.

But today, it’s “fashionable” to be “skinny.” And somehow, these ridiculous fashion trends actually influence many medical practices (even medical specialties) and health approaches. They also bring about fad diets.

These diets come and go with the wind. But, unfortunately, many come back time and again. They’re like really bad ideas that just keep bouncing back like bad pennies. In fact, these six fad diets are so ridiculous and off base in terms of science and human nutrition, it’s hard to know where to begin. So we’ll take them alphabetically.

  1. The Alkaline Diet

This fad approach bars all meat, dairy, caffeine, and alcohol, as well as sweets and processed foods. It favors fresh fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds. While the diet is half-right about foods, its goals of keeping healthy pH levels (acid-base balance) is ludicrous, unscientific, untested, and unproven.

The body must and does maintain proper pH in order to carry out basic metabolic functions. But the body maintains proper pH based upon a number of factors in addition to diet and digestion, including respiration, liver function, and renal function. In any case, there is scant scientific evidence that shows pH affects body weight.

  1. The Blood-type Diet

I debunked this unproven, untested, unphysiologic diet early on in the Daily Dispatch. It’s based on pure myth and superstition that somehow different foods react chemically with different blood types. Blood types relate to blood cells as one of millions of different genetic variations that normally occur among different humans. But no evidence suggests that people with different blood types should eat different types of food. Or that blood type has any effect on metabolism, nutrition,  weight loss, or maintenance.

  1. The Five-bite Diet

For this diet, you must skip breakfast. Then, you can eat anything you like for lunch and dinner, provided you only take five bites. Lay’s potato chips (“bet you can’t eat just one”) would not be a candidate for this diet. Again, the sensible advice of portion control is taken to a ridiculous, faddish extreme, which is neither sensible nor sustainable. This diet really bites.

  1. The HCG Diet

I consider the HCG diet a near starvation diet. You consume just 500 calories per day while taking human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a powerful hormone that supposedly acts as an appetite suppressant. Of course, severe caloric restriction will guarantee rapid weight loss. And this kind of severe caloric restriction has been shown to reverse diabetes. But we don’t have scientific evidence to back up its long-term safety. You should only attempt severe calorie restriction under doctor supervision on an in-patient basis. And, as with other hormone treatments, skip the HCG.

  1. The Raw Food Diet

This diet starts with some good ideas. It emphasizes fruits and vegetables, and cuts out sugars and processed foods. But it takes things to extremes by banning all cooked foods. Proponents claim cooking destroys nutrients. But humans have been cooking food for about one million years. Research–including my own research with the USDA–shows that cooking does not reduce nutritional quality. Any breakdown in some nutrients due to heat exposure is offset by making it easier to digest the tough, double-walled plant cells in fruits and vegetables that contain the nutrients. In some cases, cooking actually increases the bioavailable nutrients in vegetables. I discovered this fact while researching foods that contain lutein and lycopene.

(And don’t forget about food-borne illnesses in uncooked foods.)

  1. The Shake Diet

This diet requires you to drink specifically formulated shakes that provide very limited numbers of calories through the day. Then, you eat a “normal” dinner. Anyone can lose weight based on the caloric restriction alone, but it’s certainly not a healthy approach. And it reverses the daily order of when calories should be consumed for optimal metabolism and health.

Overall, these six fad diets use unscientific, “half-baked” (literally in one case) approaches that ignore biology, nutrition, and science. So, no matter what you had for Thanksgiving, make sure to avoid these “turkeys” going forward for your health and weight.

Diets that attempt to cut all fats and substitute with carbs deprive you of essential fats like those in meats, seafood, and nuts. Researchers have finally figured out that the real culprits in the nation’s epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases are sugars, high-carb foods, and highly processed foods. The “reduced fat” labels carried by many foods encouraged in some fads should be read as warnings.

There is no substitute for eating healthy foods, controlling portions, and getting some regular physical activity for healthy weight loss and maintenance. More sensible approaches include the “Paleolithic prescription” of our ancestors with animal proteins and essential fats, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. The Mediterranean diet of seafood, fruits, vegetables, and olive oil is another sensible diet. It’s been widely studied for its many health benefits.

But everyone is an individual when it comes to nutrition and metabolism–not to mention tastes. You know you are following the right diet when you maintain a healthy weight. You should also feel mentally alert, happy, and energized.


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