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May 4, 2015

Fad Diets: Do They Live Up to the Hype?

We have all seen advertisements for the latest and greatest diet. They promise magic results, such as “Lose 15 pounds in 1 week!” or “Never feel tired again!” These new, popular diets are termed “fad diets.” Their health claims are appealing because they offer immediate results and often show a celebrity who lost weight by following one.

But, are fad diets too good to be true? Most likely, yes.

These diets rarely have staying power. Some people have short-term success, but the diet is usually too restrictive to maintain positive and consistent results. Even though these diets aren’t quick, miracle solutions, some of the characteristics of these diets may be beneficial. Here’s a closer look at some fad diets:

This diet centers around only eating foods that can be hunted or gathered; theoretically what cavemen ate. On this diet, you can eat meat, fish, poultry, eggs, vegetables, and fruit. You cannot have grains, dairy, legumes (beans and peas), sugar, or salt. 

  • PRO: You will likely eat more vegetables and fruit! Vegetables and fruit provide important nutrients, such as vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, and fiber, which you need to maintain your health. You may also reduce your sodium intake by eating less processed foods. Eating less sodium may help keep your blood pressure in the recommended range.
  • CON: By excluding whole grains and dairy, you are missing out on important vitamins and minerals, such as calcium and vitamin D. You may also over consume fat, especially if you do not choose lean meats. Eating an excess amount of saturated fats may increase your cholesterol and predispose you to heart disease. Lastly, weight loss will follow any diet if the amount of calories you eat is less than the amount of calories you burn exercising or are used to keep your organs functioning.

There are many variations of a “detox diet.” Typically you fast or limit the amount you eat at the beginning. Then, you avoid certain food groups, such as grains. Throughout, detox dieters may drink specific juices or smoothies as meal replacements.

  • PRO: Many detox diets encourage smoothies of fresh fruits and vegetables, which everyone should eat more of in their diet. Additionally, by fasting or eating very little, you may identify certain foods that trigger symptoms for you like constipation or diarrhea. Registered Dietitians can help you identify these trigger foods in safer and healthier ways.
  • CON: You will lose weight, but it is because many of these detox diets are dangerously low in calories and protein. You may feel tired and dizzy and experience headaches. Importantly, the premise of many of these diets is flawed. They propose that toxins are widespread in our food supply, and you need periods of “detoxing.” In reality, if a food were full of dangerous chemicals, the United States Department of Agriculture would not allow it on the shelves. Also, you do not need a special diet to “detox.” Your body naturally removes toxins. Your liver breaks down harmful chemicals, and your kidneys get rid of them in your urine.

If you want to follow a healthy diet, you may see these fad diets and be confused or discourage by all the false information portrayed. The Paleo Diet and Detox Diets are just 2 of the many fad diets out there, and there is always a new one around the corner. Luckily, nutrition professionals are looking out for you. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has issued a simple guide to help you spot fad diets that cannot be trusted. They recommend that you ignore a diet if it has any of these characteristics:
  1. Encourages rapid weight loss
  2. Allows unlimited amounts of a certain food
  3. Removes an entire food group
  4. Makes you follow a complicated eating schedule
  5. Says that you do not need to exercise
If you are looking to make your diet healthier, try to make ½ of your plate fruits and vegetables, choose lean proteins like lean meats and legumes, eat low-fat dairy items, substitute whole grain products for refined grains when you can, and use healthy fats like plant oils instead of saturated fats like butter. In your diet, incorporate cultural dishes that you like and flavors that you cannot live without. Keep in mind that a diet you can sustain will help you avoid “yo-yo” weight changes, which occur when you lose weight quickly only to gain it back later. The healthiest and most realistic way to lose weight is gradually, ½ to 1 pound per week.

For even more tips on how to create a personalized healthy diet, schedule a meeting with a local dietitian. Happy eating!

Rachel Kelley, MS
NIH Dietetic Intern

Anna Kinard, RD
Community Dietitian

1 comment:

  1. The point of the Paleo diet is, and I feel some people forget this, to not only diet, but to eat delicious foods at the same time. Paleo is the only diet I've come across that cuts out food groups, yet still focusses on everyone's need to eat great food.

    I'm a real foodie, and would not survive on any other diet, but Paleo has been very good for me. I've written about a couple of my favourite cookbooks here: