No doubt the fad diet craze has struck your ear at least once or twice in recent years. Shoot, you may have even tried one or more. But is all the hype really warranted? Advocates for the miracle trick of weight loss often promote one or more of these diets, championing their benefits without mention of potential risks.
Since childhood we’ve been told that a balanced diet and exercise is the answer to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Well, with all the fuss surrounding alternatives to this traditional diet, who do we listen to? Do we opt for the more traditional diet, or do we jump on the carb-cutting, calorie-counting, celery-juicing bandwagon?
Science Behind the Diet
Most of these popular diets today focus on a few key aspects: limiting carbohydrate or fat consumption, restricting certain foods, or changing your eating habits altogether as in the case of juicing or fasting. Unsurprisingly, the various diets all center around a very similar pay-out: weight loss and body detoxification.
Most of the time, even the most popular diets have no significant backing in scientific research over the traditional diet. Moreover, some of these diets are very difficult to follow, such as the ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting.
In fact, most people gain the weight right back after inevitably breaking the routine. Not only that, you risk missing out on the essential nutrients of foods restricted by these diets. This, coupled with the increased research into the more traditional balanced diet, demonstrates that the recent trend may not trump our traditional methods of healthy living, in fact it may severely stump it.
Balanced Diet, what does that mean?
So, what is a balanced diet; and how does that stack up to these more popular fad diets? In fact, it stacks up pretty well — literally. We’ve all heard of the food pyramid, right? Then you’ve probably heard some of its limitations, namely its overstuffed breadbasket of processed and refined grains.
Harvard recently released the “Healthy Eating Pyramid” (below), their own take on the USDA’s out-dated “Food Guide Pyramid” of ‘92; and it really seems to flesh out some of the issues of its predecessor.
Most notably its focus on whole foods, unprocessed grains, fruits and vegetables; promoting healthy plant-based oils and lean meats over animal-based foods high in saturated fat like dairy and red meat.
Stop Restricting Those Essential Nutrients
This new pyramid carries with it all the essential nutrients for healthy living, with none of the risks of restrictive diets. Take juicing for example, advocates claim that by grinding our plant based food into a condensed, easy-to-drink form we increase our intake of healthy antioxidants, soluble fiber, vitamins and minerals. Helping to detoxify our system and aid it in digestion.
Juicing, The Paradox
However, to juice you generally remove the peel of most fruits, which drastically reduces its vitamin, mineral and antioxidant content. And while you may increase your intake of soluble fiber, you lose out on the other dietary fiber — insoluble fiber — which can promote bowel regularity, lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar.
Soluble fiber is at risk though too, which helps promote a healthy heart and protects against diabetes. You see, soluble fiber binds to “bad” cholesterol in your digestive tract, moving it out of your body. This bad cholesterol is what leads to heart disease and stroke.
“Good” cholesterol, on the other hand, reduces bad cholesterol throughout the rest of you body by absorbing it and transporting it to the liver, where it is flushed out; lowering your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Interestingly, a lot of the same foods containing soluble fiber are also high in good cholesterol — legumes, whole grains and nuts. Gluten-free, carb-restrictive and the paleolithic diets exclude one or all of these food items, also restricting their benefits. A balanced diet does not.
Fat restrictive diets aren’t any better. There are two types of naturally occurring fat, saturated and unsaturated. While saturated fat increases your bad cholesterol levels, unsaturated fats have been found to reduce it.
A fat restrictive diet does not distinguish between the two, limiting any food containing fat — both good and bad. And while limiting consumption of saturated fat containing foods like red meat and dairy may be beneficial, you’d also be limiting foods containing unsaturated fat like fatty fish, avocados, walnuts and healthy plant-based oils.
Fat-Restrictive vs Carb-Restrictive
It doesn’t even matter whether you go the fat-restrictive versus carb-restrictive route, as neither benefit you over the other in the long run.
A recent study conducted by Stanford Medicine compared the long term weight-loss of each diet, taking into consideration diet-genotype interaction or diet-insulin interaction. They concluded that over the long term neither diet has any significant benefit over the other in terms of weight loss.
This further illustrates the futility of these restrictive diet programs. You are no better off restricting fat or carbohydrate intake, neither will help you lose weight any faster in the long run. Whereas a balanced diet, as proposed by Harvard, will not only help you maintain a healthy weight, but also aid in digestion and keep your heart beating. And by including foods high in antioxidants like garlic, peppers and berries you can detoxify your body as well.
Keep it Simple, Stick to Basics
All in all, these fad diet programs do not provide any benefit over your traditional balanced diet. In fact, by restricting certain foods you also restrict their essential nutrients — in some cases to some devastating effects. This combined with the rigidity of these diets — creating a stressful schedule difficult for you to stick to — does not make a strong case for following them.
By sticking to Harvard’s food pyramid, you’ll get all the benefits of weight loss, detoxification and digestion; without losing out on essential nutrients and minerals, dietary fiber and good cholesterol. Stick to the basics, a balanced diet of healthy foods combined with exercise is all you need to shave those extra pounds and keep your body moving.