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Rating the Fad Diets


With so many different diets available, how are we to know what works and what is safe? The only way to be sure is to discover the author's background and the research behind the diet's methodology. Every good diet should give a background about the author and his/her credentials and experience in the fields of nutrition and biochemistry. However, even a vast resume does not mean a credible and safe diet. But it does suggest, at least, that the author has some knowledge of nutrition. Providing research behind the diet proves that the diet is not something the author invented, so long as the research is not self-serving and altered to fit a hypothesis.

Some diets may not need a great deal of tests and studies behind them, simply because they are based on fundamentals. For example, many women's magazines have articles on dieting and weight loss, but they are common sense suggestions that most people concerned about weight should know already: "Eat smaller meals", "cut down on sugar and fat", etc., are typical philosophies. More structured diets should give some scientific reasons for its suggested success, preferably case studies and research performed on everyday test subjects, as well as athletes.

Since we have established the importance of eating a balanced diet in accordance to selecting healthy foods and obtaining RDA minimums, it is possible now to rate the diets in accordance to those specific criteria. Begin with a score of 200 and subtract 10 points from the total for each statement below in which the diet concedes. An ideal diet should maintain a score of 200, but a score of 160 or greater is acceptable.

1. The diet does not include the food groups in adequate amounts. Some fad diets eliminate one or more of the food groups. Do not deduct 10 points if a food group's nutrients (e.g., carbs, proteins, fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals) are adequately substituted with that of another food group.

2. The diet does not provide at least 45% of its calories from carbohydrate sources. In order to prevent ketosis, at least 150g of glucose/day is required. That's 33-50% of total calorie intake on a 1200-calorie diet. Keep in mind that is the minimum. For highly active individuals, that amount should increase to 60% at times, i.e., immediately after exercise.

3. The carbohydrate content exceeds 20% concentrated sugars. At least 80% of carbohydrate sources should be complex, and preferably in the form of vegetables, seeds, and legumes.

4. The protein content exceeds 30%. A very high protein intake is unnecessary, it places additional strain on the urinary system, and it is a poor source of energy. Thirty percent is more than adequate, even for growing children and teenagers. The only group that requires higher protein intake are those who recently suffered a severe injury (e.g., leg amputation), infection, or surgery. However, these individuals will be under the care of a physician with a special high protein diet.

5. Protein content accounts for 15% or less of total calories. Although unnecessary in large amounts, protein still has many vital functions, including tissue repair and the formation of enzymes.

6. Fats exceed 30% of total intake. Besides increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, high fat diets have not been demonstrated to decrease weight better than other methods of 'proper' eating.

7. Total fat consumption is less than 15% of total calories. Fat in moderate amounts is essential for a healthy diet, and such a diet provides taste to many foods. Fat intake below 15% for long periods, for most individuals, is unrealistic. Fat intake that is too low can also be detrimental to children and teenagers who require ample kcalories for continued growth.

8. Total fat consumption is less than 25% essential fatty acids, and saturated fat is more than 30% of total fat consumption. Deduct 10 for each.

9. The diet does not suggest common foods, meaning foods you should be able to obtain at any grocery store or market.

10. The foods for the diet are expensive or monotonous. Some diets require the purchase of 'their' foods or expensive 'organic' foods only obtained through health food stores. Some foods taste so bad they are difficult to tolerate repeatedly (e.g., seaweed). Deduct 10 for each.

11. The diet consists of an inflexible meal plan. The diet does not allow for substitutions or deviations, requiring a person to live under 'house arrest' with the same food selections every day.

12. The diet provides less than 1200 kcalories per day. Less than that and the body's basic functions may not be getting the energy, vitamins and minerals needed to work properly, and the dieter almost is certain to feel hungry all the time. Diets below 1200 kcalories should be reserved for those under the supervision of a dietitian or licensed physician.

13. The diet requires the use of supplements. If the diet provides adequate energy and it is well balanced, supplements are unnecessary. 'Fat accelerators,' such as ephedrine, may increase the rate of weight loss, but the diet should be able to stand on its own merit. Some diet clinics promote a vast array of herbal preparations and fat accelerators, and this is where these clinics make their money - not in their knowledge and ability as nutritionists.

14. The diet does not recommend a realistic weight goal. Diets should not be promoting the body of a Greek god or a supermodel. They should not be suggesting that a person lose 100 pounds (even if 100 pounds overweight). Nor should diets recommend weight loss below an ideal weight.

15. The diet recommends or promotes more than 1-2 lbs/week weight loss. Do not expect to lose more than 1-2 pounds of fat a week - it is physically impossible unless chronically obese, at which point 3 pounds may be possible. If more than two pounds is lost per week, the body change is due to a loss of water and/or muscle tissue. Gimmicks that promise 10 pounds in 2 weeks are either simply not true or else something other than fat is being lost. Also keep in mind that the more fat a person wishes to lose, and the less a person has, the more difficult and slower it will be to lose additional fat.

16. The diet does not include an evaluation of food habits. Dieting should be a slow process by which a person changes normal eating habits. It should not include looking for quick fixes and quick plans promising short cuts and extreme changes - a person would never stay with these programs and such diets do not work long-term. The number of kcalories eaten, and the food selections and their amounts, should be reevaluated on a regular basis? perhaps once every 1-2 months to determine the program's effectiveness.

17. Regular exercise is not recommended as part of the plan for proper weight loss. Weight loss occurs twice as fast with exercise, and without exercise there is a greater tendency to lose lean muscle tissue as well as fat. This is not ideal.


Low Carbohydrate Diets: Ketosis occurs, and this presents the same problems as fasting. Once glycogen stores are spent (which happens quickly with athletes and those who exercise regularly), glucose must be made from protein sources, and there is greater wear on the kidneys as a result. Even on a high protein diet, some protein will be taken from body tissues in order to produce enough energy for the nervous system and regular activity. The onset of ketosis is an indication that this process has begun and it is not a positive aspect, regardless of what pro-high-fat authorities indicate.

Great weight loss on a low-carb diet is evident because of the fact that carbs hold water in the muscles at a ratio of 1:3. As carb intake decreases then so, too, does water retention. Much water flushes as a result of lack of glycogen to hold water molecules. Moreover, by increasing protein intake, excess nitrogen flushes with even more water since the kidneys use water to dilute the concentration of nitrogen. Once leaving a low-carb diet and the muscles refill with glycogen, fluid concentrations increase and the dieter regains some of the weight.

Low calorie diets of 400-600 kcalories that consist primarily of protein have the same problems as fasting and low-carbohydrate diets: proteins are used for energy and weight loss comes largely from water. Low-cal diets must be supervised properly by a medical professional and only as a last resort for those who cannot seem to lose weight by other methods. However, even those individuals tend to regain most of their weight back once they return to a balanced diet.

Beverly Hills Diet - a diet consisting of grapefruit, eggs, rice, and kelp; it is deficient in minerals and vitamins.

Cambridge Diet - a very low kcalorie (300-600 kcal/day); protein/carb mixture with mineral imbalances; the dieter is close to fasting.

Complete Scarsdale Diet - this diet is unbalanced nutritionally; some days are calorically restricted; the dieter alters portions of carbohydrate, protein, and fat; the diet consists of low carbs (20-50 g/day), and high fat and protein; the diet has a high meat (saturated fat and cholesterol) content.

Dr. Atkin's Diet Revolution - this diet is unbalanced nutritionally; some days are calorically restricted; the dieter alters portions of carbohydrate, protein, and fat; carbs are very low (20-50 g/day), whereas fat and protein are high; there is high meat (saturated fat and cholesterol) consumption.

Dr. Linn's Last Chance Diet - this diet has a very low kcalorie intake (300-600 kcal/day); it consists of a protein/carb mixture with a mineral imbalance; the dieter is close to fasting.

Dr. Reuben's The Save Your Life Diet - this is a calorically dilute diet consisting of high fiber (30-35g/day); the diet is low in fat and animal products; there is poor absorption of minerals because of too much high fiber.

"Fake" Mayo Diet - this diet consists of grapefruits, eggs, rice, and kelp; it is deficient in minerals and vitamins.

F-Plan Diet - this is a calorically dilute diet consisting of high fiber (30-35g/day); it is low in fat and animal products; there is poor absorption of minerals because of too much fiber.

LA Costa Spa Diet - this diet promotes weight loss of 1-1_ lbs/day; there are various plans of 800, 1000, and 1200 kcal/day composed of 25% protein, 30% fat (mostly polyunsaturates), and 45% carbohydrate; the diets includes the four food groups.

Medifast Diet - this diet is balanced nutritionally, but provides only 900 kcal/day; use of liquid formulas makes this diet monotonous and expensive.

Nutrimed Diet/Medifast Diet - this is a nutritionally balanced diet, but it supplies only 900 kcal/day; the use of liquid formulas makes this diet monotonous and expensive.

Optifast Diet - this diet is nutritionally balanced, but supplies only 900 kcal/day; use of liquid formulas makes this diet monotonous and expensive.

Pritikin Permanent Weight-Loss Diet - this is a nutritionally unbalanced diet; some days are calorically restricted; the dieter alters portions of carbohydrate, protein, and fat; the diet consists of high protein (100 g/day); unless the foods properly chosen, it may be low in vitamin B12.

Prudent Diet - this is a balanced, low kcalorie (2400 kcal/day) diet for men; it is low in cholesterol and saturated fats; a maximum of 20-35% calories are derived from fat with an emphasis on protein, carbohydrates, and salt; there is ample consumption of fish and shellfish, and saturated fats are substituted with polyunsaturated fats.

Quick Weight Loss Diet - this diet is unbalanced nutritionally; some days are calorically restricted; the dieter alters portions of carbohydrate, protein, and fat, although there is low carbs (20-50 g/day), and high fat and protein; there is high meat consumption (saturated fat and cholesterol) with this diet.

San Francisco Diet - this diet begins at 500 kcal/day, consisting of two meals per day of one fruit, one vegetable, one slice of bread, and two meat exchanges; the second week limits carbohydrates, with most food coming from the meat group and with some eggs and cheese, and a few vegetables; week three includes fruit; in week four there is an increase in vegetables; week five the dieter add fat-containing foods (e.g., nuts, avocados); week six includes milk; week seven includes pastas and bread, where the diet is maintained at about 1300 kcal/day; this diet avoids the issue of saturated fats and cholesterol.

Slendernow Diet - this diet is unbalanced nutritionally; some days are calorically restricted; the dieter alters portions of carbohydrate, protein, and fat; the protein is generally high (100 g/day); unless foods are properly chosen, there may be a deficiency in vitamin B12.

Weight-Watchers Diet - this diet is balanced nutritionally, at about 1000-1200 kcal; use of high nutrient-dense foods are consumed; economic and palatable food makes it one of the most successful diets with no real health risks.

Wine Diet - this diet is about 1200 kcal/day, containing 28 menus together with a glass of dry table wine at dinner; besides the medicinal components of wine, it is believed that individuals reduce portion sizes when wine is consumed with a meal; the diet is low in cholesterol and saturated fats; there is a focus on fish, poultry, and veal with moderate amounts of red meat.

Yogurt Diet - this diet consists of two versions, being 900-1000 kcal/day, and 1200-1500 kcal/day; plain low-fat yogurt is the main dairy dish, consumed at breakfast, lunch, and as a bedtime snack; the diet is high in protein, and it is low in cholesterol, saturated fat, and refined carbohydrates.

Diets that do not provide 100% of the U.S. RDA for 13 vitamins and minerals:

Beverly Hills
Carbohydrate Craver's Basic
Carbohydrate Craver's Dense
California (1200 kcal) California (2000 kcal)
I Love America
I Love New York
Pritikin (700 kcal) Pritikin (1200 kcal)
Richard Simmons

Brian D. Johnston is the Director of Education and President of the I.A.R.T. fitness certification institute. He has written over 12 books and is a contributor author to the Merck Medical Manual. An international lecturer, Mr. Johnston wears many hats in the fitness and health industries. You can visit his site at


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