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Are fad diets bad diets?

Not always, but the pros and cons may surprise you.

Article Author: Beth Stambaugh

Article Date:

Girl looking sad holding a stalk of broccoli
Rather than focusing on a quick-fix diet, like eating tons of broccoli, focus on a healthy lifestyle.

Just like fashion, fad diets come and go. In the ‘60s, it was the cabbage diet, promising you could lose 10 pounds in seven days by eating as much cabbage soup as you’d like (no, thank you!). Then came the Scarsdale Diet, the Hollywood Diet®, the Cookie Diet, The South Beach Diet, the No-Sugar Diet, the Paleo Diet®, the Keto Diet, and the list goes on.

“All of these diets have healthy elements, but they usually lack the full range of vitamins and nutrients your body needs,” said Patricia McFall Calhoun, MD, a family physician with Baptist Primary Care. “Many restrict you to only a few foods, so it’s hard to stick to these diets long term. Most people get tired of eating the same thing over and over again.”

Here’s a look at the pros and cons of some of today’s most popular diets:

  • Juice Cleanse – Called “juicing,” this diet is a great way to reach your daily fruit and veggie quota. Unfortunately, you don’t get the fiber that comes from eating fresh fruits and vegetables because the juicer extracts the juice and leaves the pulp (containing fiber) behind. Fiber helps you feel full, so it’s common to feel hungry when juice cleansing. You don’t get the protein you need either, which could cause you to lose muscle mass. Combine all of that with the fact that fruit can have a lot of calories, and you might want to rethink pulling that blender out of storage.
  • Keto – This diet, along with most low-carb diets, causes your body to go into a state of ketosis, which happens when your body doesn’t get enough carbohydrates. Because your cells don’t have enough carbs to burn for energy, your body burns fat instead, creating ketones which can also be used for energy. Some people say the high-protein, high-fat diet makes them feel fuller. Something to consider: if you have diabetes, this diet can be dangerous.
  • Paleo – Think caveman. Pretty much anything our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors ate. Grass-fed, lean meats and fish, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats like nuts and avocados are the mainstays. Grains, dairy, processed foods and sugar are out, but occasional alcohol, as long as it’s not grain-based like beer, is OK. While most people report losing weight on this diet, it can be expensive due to the limited food choices and the absence of processed and packaged food.
  • Whole 30 – For 30 days, you eat three “clean” meals a day. You can’t have processed foods, sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes or dairy. On the good list are meat, poultry, fish, veggies, fruits and fats. The upside of the diet is that you will likely lose weight; the downside is that by sacrificing dairy and whole grains, you are reducing consumption of important nutrients such as fiber, vitamin E, iron, folate and calcium for a month.

Still, Dr. Calhoun doesn’t rule these types of diets out completely. “If you are healthy and your doctor says it’s OK, it’s fine to try one of these diets to jump-start your weight loss, but they are very hard to sustain long-term,” Dr. Calhoun said.

As we have heard from many experts, there is one diet that Dr. Calhoun recommends – yup, you guessed it – the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on fruits, veggies, whole grains, fish, seafood, beans, nuts and legumes. Limited amounts of meat, poultry and eggs are allowed, as is red wine in moderation.

“But you can still gain weight on the Mediterranean diet if you take in too many calories,” she said. “Portion control, regular exercise, and calorie balance are all very important.”

Regardless of your eating plan, Dr. Calhoun's diet suggestions include staying away from packaged and processed foods and what she calls the “wicked whites” – rice, bread, pasta and potatoes. (Whole-grain versions of rice, bread and pasta are better options.) “This is a good way to avoid unnecessary calories that have little nutritional value.

“Rather than focusing on a ‘diet,” focus on a healthy lifestyle, not a quick-fix,” said Dr. Calhoun. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

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