Hot topic Fad Diets

It is estimated that over 50 million Americans are currently on a diet. Some succeed in taking weight off, but far fewer—maybe just 5 percent—manage to keep the weight off over the long term. With half the adult population in the United States considered overweight, it's little wonder that consumers are constantly searching for a "magic bullet" to help them lose weight quickly and effortlessly.

There is little scientific research to corroborate the theories expounded in the majority of diet books currently on the market. Many promise weight-loss programs that are easy, allow favorite foods or foods traditionally limited in weight-loss diets without limitations, and do not require a major shift in exercise habits. Authors may simplify or expand upon biochemistry and physiology to help support their theories and provide a plethora of scientific jargon that people do not understand but that seems to make sense. Few, if any, offer solid scientific support for their claims in the form of published research studies. Instead, most evidence is based on anecdotal findings, theories, and testimonials about short-term results.

Some of the most popular diets to hit the news wires these days are those that promote low-carbohydrate and high-protein intakes and promise significant weight loss. Variations of low-carbohydrate diets have been around since the 1960s. These diets are nothing more than low-kcalorie diets in disguise, but with some potentially serious consequences. Following a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet will encourage the body to burn its own fat. Without carbohydrates, however, fat is not burned completely and substances called ketones are formed and released into the bloodstream. Abnormally high ketone levels in the body, or ketosis, may indeed make dieting easier, since they typically decrease appetite and cause nausea. Although these diets may not be harmful when used by healthy people for a short period, they restrict healthful foods that provide essential nutrients.

Individuals who follow these diets for more than just a short period run the risk of compromised vitamin and mineral intake, as well as potential heart, kidney, bone, and liver abnormalities. There are no long-term studies that have found these diets to be effective and safe.

Here's a rundown on some of the more popular high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets.

1. Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution by Robert Atkins, MD

Premise/Theory: Excess carbohydrate intake prevents the body from burning fat efficiently. Eating too many carbohydrates causes production of excessive amounts of insulin, leading to obesity and a variety of other health problems. Drastically decreasing dietary intake of carbohydrates forces the body to burn reserves of stored fat for energy, causing a buildup of ketones that lead to decreased hunger.

Dietary Recommendations:

  • The Atkins diet limits carbohydrates to 20 grams per day at the start of the diet and 0-60 grams per day in the ongoing weight-loss phase. Carbohydrate intake ranges from 25 to 90 grams per day in the maintenance diet.
  • Unlimited quantities of protein foods and fat—steak, bacon, eggs, chicken, fish, butter, and vegetable oil—are allowed. Avoid or limit carbohydrates, specifically breads, pasta, most fruits and vegetables, milk, and yogurt.

Concerns:

  • Offers extremely limited food choices. Diet is nutritionally unbalanced and excessively high in protein, fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. Dieters lose weight because they are bored and eat fewer kcalories.
  • Promotes ketosis as a means of weight loss.
  • Studies show that this diet is no more successful than other, more conventional diets, especially at one year. Also, the attrition rate (the number of people who stop following the diet) is similar to that of other conventional weight-loss diets.
  • There is no long-term data on its safety.
  • Dehydration is possible if large amounts of water are not consumed.
  • Diet is low in calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, and folate (dietary supplements are recommended).

2. Sugar Busters! by H. Leighton Steward, Sam S. Andrews, MD, Morrison C. Bethea, MD, and Luis A. Balart, MD

Premise/Theory: Sugar and certain carbohydrates are toxic to the body, causing blood-sugar levels to rise and increasing the levels of insulin production, thereby prompting fat storage and weight gain. Supposedly, decreasing sugar intake can help people lose weight and decrease body fat, no matter what other foods are eaten.

Dietary Recommendations:

  • Eliminates refined and processed carbohydrates, especially sugar and white flour and foods made with these ingredients. Also eliminates foods such as potatoes, corn, white rice, carrots, and soft drinks.
  • Encourages consumption of whole grains, high-fiber fruits and vegetables, and lean meats, with no restrictions on protein foods.
  • Authors claim that washing food down with liquid does not allow for proper chewing. They claim that excess fluid with meals also dilutes digestive juices and can result in partially digested food.
  • Average intake of calories is 1200 kcalories per day distributed as 30 percent carbohydrates, 32 percent protein, and 28 percent fat.

Concerns:

  • There is no scientific basis or published data for this diet's theory. The explanation of insulin's role in weight gain that is provided is simplistic. The body does produce insulin in response to a rise in blood-sugar levels, but it does not promote storage of fat unless excess calories are consumed.
  • There is no scientific evidence supporting the claim that the consumption of fluids during meals negatively affects digestion.
  • The diet is low in some vitamins and minerals, including calcium and vitamin A.

3. Enter the Zone by Barry Sears, PhD

Premise/Theory: The "zone" is a metabolic state in which the mind is relaxed and focused and the body is strong and works at peak efficiency. A person in the "zone" will allegedly experience permanent body-fat loss, optimal health, greater athletic performance, and improved mental productivity. Insulin is released as a result of eating carbohydrates and leads to weight gain. Because food has a potent druglike effect on the hormonal systems that regulate the body's physiological processes, eating the right combination of foods leads to a metabolic state in which the body works at peak performance and experiences decreased hunger, weight loss, and increased energy.

Dietary Recommendations:

• To get into the "zone," rigid quantities of food, apportioned in blocks and at prescribed times, are recommended in a distribution of 40 percent carbohydrate, 30 percent protein,

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