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January 6, 2011

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 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 or call one of the area hospitals.

Posted by Kim Walker at 8:39 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Nutrition


Your information is seriously out of date. Read this:
and highly recommend Gary's book "Good Calories, Bad Calories" for a better understanding of obesity.

A closer look at the author's sources is definitely required!

Apparently the author is not aware of the studies, available on, of the benefits of ketogenic diets for reversing diabetes and controlling epilepsy, as well as their potential for mitigating chronic migraine. Ketogenic diets are also gaining cautious approval for reducing cardiovascular risk; here's just one study:

A ketogenic diet is any diet that guides the body into burning its fat stores for energy - and hence must be a diet low in insulin-spiking carbohydrates. As long as insulin levels are raised, the body is in fat storage mode. It is only when all available blood sugar has been either burned or packed into storage that glucagon comes into action, pulling fat out of storage and putting it to use.

White flour, white sugar, white potatoes, and white rice are strongly associated with high triglyceride levels and non-alcoholic fatty liver, as well as catalyzing fast, sustained rise insulin levels.

The Atkins diet allows unlimited intake of non-starchy vegetables as well as moderate fruit intake, after the induction phase. Nobody is likely to die from lack of white flour, white sugar, or white rice. The briefest survey of their nutritional composition shows a serious lack of anything nutritious! White potatoes lose food value when peeled.

For an engaging lecture by the head of the Stanford Medical school, comparing various diets, go here:
Hint: Gardner has been a vegetarian for 25 years. He said it was " a bitter pill" to find that the subjects assigned to the Atkins diet not only lost more weight than the others, but also showed the greatest improvement in health markers.

For Gary Taubes lecture, Adiposity 101, go here:

"could also promote heart disease due to increased intake of saturated and trans fats (the bad fats)."

Where are you getting your information from? Atkins has forbidden trans-fats for over a decade. And aren't we past the whole "saturated fats cause heart disease" thing by now? It's not the '80s anymore . . .

Turning to a diet book when trying to lose weight - Christopher Gardner (a 25 year vegetarian) of Standford did a study that examined how people who just use books to lose weight do after one year. You may be surprised to find that Gardner's study found that the Atkins dieters lost more weight, kept it off longer, and had better blood tests (overall health markers) than the dieters who followed the ZONE, or low-fat diets LEARN, or Ornish. You can find it on YouTube.

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