It isn’t difficult to become subjected to the one of the many fad diets that circulate the internet and the media nowadays. It is almost impossible to not be sucked into the promises some diets offer. But are they worth it? There is always controversy within the target audience whether these diets are worth trying or not, or whether they’re all just a way for you to spend more money or join in on a trend. Word of mouth often convinces you that they must work because it worked for someone you know. Within the professional nutrition and dietetics community however, there is not much controversy as such claims are only considered when supported by evidence-based nutrition. That means that nutritionists and dietitians use only scientific evidence to make their claims and guide their practice. This way, unevidenced fad diets, which are often unhealthy and dangerous, can quickly be dismissed. Unfortunately, this does not always reach the general public in a way that will effect change and the media has a way of twisting the advice of nutrition professionals, allowing misinformation to circulate further. In this article, we’re going to address 3 of these fad diets you may have heard of before and what evidence there is behind their claims.
FAD DIETS – Fad diets are restrictive, limiting diets that promote weight loss, often in a short space of time. They are usually inflated by the media and become popular in surges, often leading to yo-yo dieting.
1. Keto Diet
The infamous keto diet, or ketogenic diet, has made its way into many magazines and articles over the past decade. It has been so popular recently that 2020 is now considered the year of keto. It consists of low carbohydrate and high fat intake with a moderate amount of protein consumption, an alteration of the Mediterranean diet. It has gained popularity for its weight loss effects although it was originally developed to improve seizure related disorders. Once its success was recognised for its original purpose, it has been adapted as a common term and method for quick weight loss, proving most popular among middle-aged women.
What evidence is there on the keto diet?
Scientific evidence on the keto diet has shown that it can in fact reap fast weight loss results, even when compared to other diets such as the Mediterranean diet. However, ketogenesis, which relies on carbohydrates and is therefore reduced in the keto diet, is essential to produce energy. Carbohydrates are an essential part of our diet, as one of the macronutrients, it fuels the brain, which uses only carbs for energy. This means that being in a state of constant ketosis isn’t sustainable or desirable for us; it’s how our body responds to a state of starvation.
2. Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting, unlike some fad diets, does not cut out specific food groups. Instead, it plays with meal times and proportions and determines when you eat. For example, it could mean eating only within an eight-hour period and fasting outside of these hours, or maybe eating only one meal a day for a few days a week. The aim of this diet is to lose weight or ‘take control of your life’ by simplifying your eating routine. It can sometimes lead to fasting for whole days at a time or sticking to time-specific meals. It’s important that this kind of diet doesn’t become obsessive and overly restrictive as starvation-mimicking diets severely hinder our health and doesn’t provide us with adequate nutrition.
Unlike some other diets which cut out whole food groups, the less extreme intermittent fasting routine can be tailored for long-term health benefits. It has been suggested that intermittent fasting could encourage weight loss by reducing calories. It is no more effective than cutting our calories when not intermittent fasting, however. A notion that surrounds this diet is that eating at certain times makes you put on weight faster. This is simply not the case. Circadian rhythm does have a role to play when it comes to metabolism, but it does not mean that calories double after 8pm or that carbs turn into fat after 6pm. One theory behind intermittent fasting is that it reduces the likelihood of snacking around meals or at night which in turn decreases our calorie intake. Speaking to a dietitian is the best way to approach intermittent fasting without starving or denying your body.
3. Atkins Diet
The Atkins diet, similar to the ketogenic diet, is a diet with a low carbohydrate framework but one that has been around for a very long time. It is also high in fat but unlike the ketogenic diet, is also high in protein. It was designed to maximise fat oxidation for rapid weight loss. Evidence has shown that this diet is effective for short-term weight loss results and may temporarily improve cholesterol levels. However, it is not a recommended diet by most dietitians as it has its drawbacks and side effects.
Some potential drawbacks of the Atkins diet include:
· increased cholesterol or high saturated fat intake with long-term use
· reduced intake of fruit
· reduced intake of starchy vegetables
· short-term weight loss only
· increased rate of weight gain after diet
· fatigue and headaches
There is little evidence that supports the Atkins diet for sustained weight loss and long-term nutrition adequacy, despite the short-term benefits.
It is not necessary to cut out whole food groups, especially macronutrients, in order to lose weight.
There is no evidence that extreme fad diets are beneficial for long-term health, and in fact, evidence suggests that they are damaging to us. Speak to a weight loss dietitian such as Christine, to maintain a healthy weight while eating all of your favourite foods.
Kindly written by Beth Mulholland