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Read the USDA's backgrounder on the effectiveness of fad diets.

Need a nudge in the right direction? Read FoodFit's Seven Steps for Healthy Living.

The American Dietetic Association thinks you should send fad diets packing.

If you need help with your diet, try asking our nutritionist.

Foods in the news

Fad Diets

With most adult Americans watching their weight, the federal government put the latest research on popular diets on the scale for the first time ever. Its conclusion — you can shed pounds with just about any regimen if you keep your calories down, but keeping the weight off is another matter.

The U.S. Agriculture Department also set up a website,to be an online resource of government information on nutrition, healthy eating, physical activity and food safety. "Providing accurate scientific information on nutrition and dietary guidance is critical to the public's ability to make the right choices in the effort to curb obesity and other food related diseases," said Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.

You're not alone if you have a weight problem. In fact, 55 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, one in five of them children. Obesity among kids has doubled, and obesity among adults has shot up 50 percent in the last two decades. Four of the nation's leading killers — heart disease, some cancers, diabetes, and stroke — are linked to diet and lack of physical exercise, leading to some 300,000 deaths a year.

Are popular diets a cure? After reviewing the science, government researchers concluded that if you eat about 1,500 calories a day, you’ll lose weight on any diet, but few diets have been proven to produce long-term health benefits.

"People want to do something about being overweight, and from what I've seen, they're willing to try just about anything," Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman told the National Nutrition Summit in May. "There doesn't seem to be enough comprehensive information specific to these diets to counter the claims made by their promoters…we need more answers."

Taking weight off slowly and steadily through a combination of sensible eating and physical activity is still the tried and true way to a new you.

Weighing In

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), one of FoodFit's resource associations, has also weighed in on fad diets. Here's what they had to say about two of the most popular crash diets. For more information read their press release Fad Diets versus Dietary Guidelines.

Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution by Dr. Robert Atkins:

This book is simply an update of Dr. Atkins' previous diet, recycled here perhaps to encourage the sale of dietary supplements. Besides the health risks associated with ketosis, there are other long-term concerns associated with this particular plan. (Ketosis is a fasting state in which the body begins to metabolize muscle tissue instead of fat. It's brought on by an imbalanced diet.)

Atkins' diet can lead to the kind of rapid weight fluctuations that adversely effect the heart. Moreover, the breakdown of fatty acids that occurs during ketosis may also increase the risk of heart disease.

One of the basic tenets of Atkins' diet is that sugar causes cancer. Such misleading pronouncements are essentially scare tactics, meant to direct the dieter towards food on the Atkins' plan.

Finally, nothing about this plan encourages the dieter to learn some very basic weight management strategies like portion control and serving sizes, let along develop the skills necessary for a lifetime of balanced nutrition.

Protein Power by Michael Eades, MD and Mary Anne Eades, MD:

Of the diets reviewed, Protein Power gets the most credit for providing sound starting points for weight loss. The authors advise getting a physical exam, setting realistic baselines involving body fat percentages and ideal body weight, relying on internal perceptions rather than the bathroom scale, keeping a food diary, and drinking lots of water. The diet itself, however, places the individual at risk for many of the same problems seen in the other diets examined.

The name of the plan itself, Protein Power, is misleading. The authors recommend 60 grams of protein a day for a relatively active individual with a lean body mass of 100 pounds. But 60 grams of protein is nothing more than the USDA recommended daily allowance for a person of that weight. In fact, the average American normally eats around 100 grams of protein a day. The Protein Power plan simply cuts carbohydrates, producing what is essentially a low-calorie diet.

Which brings us to the plan's directive to consume 25 grams of fiber daily while maintaining a low-carbohydrate intake. This is effectively impossible, as most high fiber foods contain significant amounts of carbohydrates.

The authors blame insulin for a host of ills, including hypertension, heart disease, elevated cholesterol and diabetes. High insulin levels, they say, lead to weight gain and obesity. In fact, the scientific evidence suggests that being obese causes high insulin levels, not the other way around.

Finally, the Eades emphatically state that resistance training (lifting weights) is "better" than aerobic activity. No reliable science suggests one of these two forms of exercise is superior - both are equally important for overall fitness and weight management.




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