Fad Diets: Be Careful What You Wish For
Fad diets promising to optimize health, minimize risk of chronic diseases, and lose weight come and go over time. The Paleo diet and the related Whole30® diet are among the latest fads. These popular diets have been the subject of media headlines and endorsed by Hollywood celebrities and Olympic athletes. Followers of these diets believe our modern lifestyles, including nutrition, are the cause of current health problems.
The Paleo diet, also known as the “caveman” or “Stone Age” diet, claims to be based on foods our ancient ancestors ate in the Paleolithic hunter-gatherer period, which ended more than 10,000 years ago. This diet includes meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables, and fats from plants (e.g., oils from olives, coconut, avocados). It does not allow dairy foods, legumes (including peanuts), grains, processed foods, refined sugar, salt, and refined vegetable oils (canola, peanut, soybean, corn oils). The Whole30 diet®, which is an extreme form of the Paleo diet, eliminates a host of foods (e.g., grains, legumes, dairy, added sugars, alcohol) for 30 days.
Consequences of eliminating entire food groups
While followers of these diets often lose weight, at least in the short-term, they are likely setting themselves up for nutritional deficiencies by eliminating entire food groups such as dairy, grains, and legumes. Such restrictive diets are not consistent with current dietary recommendations including USDA’s MyPlate or the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The U.S. News and World report on best diets of 2015 ranked the Paleo diet in last place out of 35. Similarly, the British Dietetic Association ranked the Paleo diet among the five worst celebrity-endorsed diets to avoid in 2015. It stated the Paleo diet is “an unbalanced, time consuming, socially isolating diet” and, as such, “a sure-fire way to develop nutrient deficiencies.”
Why it’s important to include dairy foods in the diet
Excluding dairy foods can result in nutrient shortcomings and put your health at risk. Dairy foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt are important sources of multiple essential nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D, and potassium, which are three of the four nutrients of concern, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. More than half of Americans’ daily intake of calcium and vitamin D and 11 to 28 percent of several other nutrients come from dairy foods. Consumption of milk and other dairy foods is associated with improved bone health, especially in children and teens, reduced risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, and lower blood pressure in adults. The British Dietetic Association cautioned that, “by cutting out dairy completely from the diet, without very careful substitution, you could be in danger of compromising your bone health because of a lack of calcium.”
It can be difficult to get the same nutrients affordably without consuming milk and other dairy products. Replacing dairy foods in the diet with calcium-equivalent nondairy foods resulted in decreased intake of several nutrients including protein, vitamins A, D, B12, and riboflavin, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus, according to a study published in Nutrition Research. Increasing Americans’ daily consumption of dairy products to at least the recommended levels (i.e., 3 cups of low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products a day for persons 9 years and older) is considered a practical dietary strategy to improve the population’s adequacy of vitamins and minerals that are currently under-consumed.
Tools to help reach weight goals the healthy way
Nearly one-third (30.7%) of adults in Michigan are obese, making this state the 17th in the nation for the highest rate of obesity, according to a new report. Many adults struggling with their weight follow fad diets without considering the consequences. Not only can fad diets lead to nutrient deficiencies, but often the weight loss is regained because it is difficult to stick to unrealistic, restrictive diets for any length of time. New tools to help achieve a healthy weight without restricting food groups include:
- USDA’s Supertracker, an interactive food, physical activity, and weight tracking tool.
- The National Institutes of Health’s Body Weight Planner, which uses science-based technology to calculate calories and exercise amounts to achieve a weight goal.
The best diets are based on moderation and sound dietary guidelines. To lose weight successfully, it’s important to do so gradually and not follow diets that restrict whole food groups; maintain diet and exercise changes; practice portion control; and make physical activity a regular part of your lifestyle.