As January begins so does the promotion of fad diets. Fad diets are food plans that promote rapid weight loss, or other results, with no scientific evidence to confirm their claims. They may consist of characteristics such as restricting food groups, only eating at certain times, eating unusual combinations of foods, and buying supplements . This week we will be debunking some of the most popular fad diets and explaining why a healthy, balanced diet is always a better option.
The Detox Diet
“Detoxing” is a phrase that seems to roll around every new year. Detox diets usually include periods of fasting, followed by strict diets of juices, water and teas. They are normally promoted as a short-term intervention to eliminate toxins from the body. However, the concept of detoxing the body isn’t based on scientific evidence at all. Our bodies have organs such as the skin, gut, kidneys and liver that filter, break down and excrete waste products and toxins. This means that all the things we need to “detoxify” are already working inside of us continually. Additionally, detox diets tend to promote fruit and vegetables as a miracle cure. Whilst fruit and veg is important, it is more important to introduce a variety of fruit and veg into your diet, as part of a balanced diet. The restrictive nature of this diet also means that it is not sustainable and could actually lead to overconsumption after implementing it over a period of time .
Following on from the detox diet, there are similar diets that promote “immune-boosting” foods. With COVID still prevalent, and winter colds and flus circulating, these claims may be more popular than ever. Some examples of supposed “immune-boosting” foods are oranges, red peppers, and pomegranate. Whilst these foods contain nutrients that can help to support our immune system, it is important to note that no singular food can “boost” our immune system. You can read more about supporting your immune system in this blog post.
The Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic (keto) diet has been a popular diet for many years. Keto is characterised as a very low carb and high fat diet, similar to the Atkins diet. The bulk of this diet is healthy fats, low carb vegetables and quality proteins, with a very small amount of carbohydrates consumed overall. The aim of the diet is to restrict carbs enough for your body to enter a metabolic state, called ketosis. Ketosis is where your body uses fats as a source of food . Keto is a fad diet as it promotes rapid weight loss through restriction of a food group. As mentioned in our blog on carbohydrates, carbs have a number of important functions in the body. Sugars are used when energy is needed quickly, starches provide more sustained energy and fibre is important for good digestive health and satiety. By restricting carbohydrates there may be the potential for nutrient deficiencies in the long term. Additionally, strict keto diets may lead to the risk of disordered eating or social isolation when eating, damaging an individuals’ relationship with food.
There are some evidence for the use of ketogenic diets in conditions, such as epilepsy, but it is recommended this dietitian led to ensure an adequate nutritional intake.
With the growth of the plant-based market, plant-based foods and the promotion of Veganuary is being seen more in media and supermarkets. A plant-based diet consists of foods that come from plants and do not contain animal products, including vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds and fruits. Although Veganuary can be seen as a fad diet as it may promote unrealistic weight loss and other health claims, following the restriction of certain food groups, there are a lot of scientific studies that support plant-based diets as a healthy diet. There are several ways that you can incorporate plant-based eating into your life in a more sustainable way:
- Try to make small changes, for example, start off with one plant-based day of eating each week.
- Try different sources of protein, such as, tofu, chickpeas and nuts.
- Ensure that you are eating enough food as plant-based foods tend to be less calorie dense than their animal-based counterparts.
- Eat a variety of foods to ensure that you are meeting all of your nutrient requirements.
- Try eating fruit for dessert for a plant-based option.
The low-FODMAP diet is another example of a diet that could be considered a fad diet due to its restrictive nature but can actually be beneficial, as backed by scientific evidence. This diet is usually recommended to people who suffer from IBS, a condition affecting the digestive system. The low-FODMAP diet targets four main groups, known as:
- Oligosaccharides – e.g., wheat, legumes, garlic and onions
- Disaccharides – e.g., milk, soft cheese and yogurt
- Monosaccharides – e.g., mangoes, honey and agave nectar
- Polyols – e.g., blackberries and low-calorie sweeteners
There are three stages used in the low-FODMAP diet, including, restriction, reintroduction and personalisation. These stages are used to identify which food groups cause the most symptoms in the individual and help to personalise the diet based on which types of FODMAPs you tolerate and how much you can tolerate . It is important to note that the low-FODMAP diet may not work for everyone with IBS, and it is recommended to seek guidance from a professional to ensure that you are implementing the diet effectively. Further information about a low FODMAP diet can be found at this blog post.
A final note regarding fad diets would be on the recommendation of supplements. Many fad diets advertise meal replacements and “miracle” supplements with claims of being “fat-burning”, or similar. Other than these supplements often being very expensive, a healthy, balanced diet would be preferred. Meal replacements often lack the micronutrients provided by a balanced meal. Additionally, as previously mentioned in reference to “immune-boosting” diets, “fat-burning” diets and supplements have the same problem as there is no singular nutrient that can cause fat to melt away. If you do wish to use supplements, they should only be introduced with the approval of your doctor or a registered dietician.
Top Tips for Making Sustainable Changes to Your Diet
- Start off small – you’re more likely to stick to changes if they are smaller and more manageable
- Focus on health, not calories
- Move more – physical exercise can be anything from running to mowing the lawn to carrying heavy shopping bags
- Find healthy foods that you love – don’t force yourself to eat foods that you don’t enjoy
- Try meal prepping – having healthy meals and snacks at the ready will make you less likely to reach for unhealthy alternatives
If you would like support to make sustainable dietary change, please contact us to book a FREE 15 MINUTE DISCOVERY CALL to discuss how we can help.
Caroline Hill is a specialist menopause dietitian supporting women making dietary change. Caroline uses her extensive knowledge, skills and expertise of food and nutrition to help women manage their symptoms and weight during menopause. Caroline believes in providing sustainable, individualised, evidence-based advice to women making dietary change.