A closer look at fad diets
Each week, a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center provides a guest post on healthy eating. Have questions or ideas for future topics? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. This week, Karen Kolowski weighs in on fad diets.
Are your jeans just a little tighter after eating a few too many elegant holiday cookies, savory stuffing or rich eggnog? Or, are you a lifetime member of the “Need to Lose 50 or More Pounds Club?” Either way, if you want to slim down, you most likely will turn to a “diet book” for your weight loss advice. That’s when the confusion sets in. There is a dizzying array of fad diets to peruse. Which ones should you choose? Which ones are safe? Each month, we will break down some of these diets to help you make an informed decision. This month we look at the Atkins, South Beach and Cabbage Soup diets.
The Atkins and South Beach are both diets that restrict carbohydrates. Most foods contain carbs, either simple or complex, which your body breaks down and uses for fuel. The Atkins diet severely restricts refined sugar, milk, flour, and rice but allows you to eat any fat or animal products (protein). The theory behind the Atkins diet is that your body will burn fat, as opposed to carbs (your body’s preferred source), as fuel, encouraging weight loss. The first two weeks of the diet almost completely bans all fruit and bread products, supposedly to jumpstart the weight loss process. Slowly, high fiber foods are allowed back into your daily meals in the forms of fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Banned for life are white potatoes, white rice, anything made with white flour (think bagels and cookies) and pasta. The Atkins diet induces weight loss because total calorie intake is lower, but the long-term safety of this diet is still in question. Short-term side effects may include constipation and foul breath, but long-term use could also promote heart disease due to increased intake of saturated and trans fats (the bad fats).
The South Beach Diet differs slightly from the Atkins diet by promoting healthy fats (unsaturated) rather than unhealthy ones, and suggests choosing carbs that have a lower glycemic index: foods that don’t cause your blood sugar to rise and fall sharply. There are three phases to the diet. The first two weeks almost all carbs are banned (just as with the Atkins diet), but low-fat or non-fat dairy is allowed. The second phase reintroduces certain foods such as pasta, fruit and certain high glycemic index vegetables (think carrots) but portion sizes are strictly enforced. The final phase begins once your target weight is reached. The South Beach diet initially induces weight loss but it most likely is water weight. However, the final phase strictly enforces portion control, doesn’t leave out any food groups and promotes exercise – a winning combination for weight loss and maintenance.
The Cabbage Soup diet is designed as a short-term weight loss plan and it guarantees you will lose 10 pounds. It is meant to last only 7 days but the diet is very restrictive as to which foods can be eaten on certain days. This is a low calorie but high fiber diet which can cause bloating or gas and doesn’t teach healthy habits. The weight lost will be mostly water weight and will return once normal eating is resumed. Taking a multivitamin during the week is a must since this diet is dangerously low in calories and nutrients.
Overall, any diet that promotes fewer calories in or more calories out (burned by exercise or increased physical activity), should induce weight loss. Deciding which diet to choose is difficult and there are so many options. Discuss your weight loss plans with your health care team and get the okay for any new exercise programs.
To find a registered dietitian in your area, contact the American Dietetic Association at www.eatright.org or call one of the area hospitals.