FAD diets are “fashionable diets”. They come and they go just like fashion; causing a big stir and then eventually fade away. Many offer quick fixes for multiple problems such as weight loss and reducing the risk of disease or even curing certain diseases. There are many of these diets but I will discuss only four of them in this article – the gluten free diet, the paleolithic diet, the Atkins diet and the ketogenic diet. 

The Gluten-Free Diet

The gluten-free diet as the name suggests, exclude all foods that contain gluten proteins. This is absolutely essential for people with celiac disease or gluten-intolerance, as there is no cure for these conditions except for abstinence. However, people without these problems have jumped onto the gluten-free ban wagon purporting health benefits such as weight loss, clearer thinking, and increased energy. The fact is that no study has so far has proven these or other claims made by gluten-free dieters. It’s likely that the benefits of weight loss may be due to the restrictive diet leading to lower calorie consumption or the selection of more whole-grain low calorie foods. High energy and clearing of brain fog could be the result of eating more fruits and vegetables for those who choose to include more in their diet. Since many gluten-containing grains contains or are fortified with essential minerals such as iron and calcium, and B vitamins such as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid, a gluten-free diet may be deficient of these. It is commonly believed that gluten-free products are more nutritious, but this is not necessarily so. Many are packed with sugars, starch and refined flour, and have a lower nutrient profile compared to products containing gluten. So, if you don’t experience a medical problem from eating gluten, you may find a gluten-containing diet a healthier option. 

The Paleolithic Diet

The Paleolithic diet is believed to be the diet consumed by early humans during the Paleolithic era or Stone Age, from 2.5 million years ago to 10,000 years ago. It is believed by paleo dieters that during this time man ate mainly lean grass fed meat, and fish that was hunted, vegetables, fruits, and seeds. They believe that this is the diet that man was evolved to eat. Foods that were not available then are forbidden from this diet. These include dairy, grains, legumes, sugar and processed food. Paleo eaters may be misguided however, since if evolution did happen, the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of man would have evolved to adapt to the foods we eat today. They perhaps assume that human evolution of the GI tract remained stagnant at least for the last 10000 years. They also fail to realize that many foods like cabbage and bitter yams that would have been available to early humans were high in toxins back then and have over time been selectively bred to make them safer to eat. Today’s humans could not possible go back to eating like Stone Age men and survive. But, did early humans really eat a high-meat diet as paleo dieters say? The research appears to say the opposite. Early humans would have ate the more accessible and convenient plant-based diet and less meat. This would be due to the lack of efficient tools needed for hunting, and the tremendous amount of energy that is required for hunting activity. In fact it appears that man did not evolve, or was not designed to eat meat but rather a plant-based diet.

Following the paleo diet may cause you to lose weight since you are probably going to end up consuming less carbs, which is where we normally get most of our energy. However, cutting too many carbs may lead to fatigue, irritability, and lack of concentration. It may also mean slashing essential vitamins, minerals and fiber from your diet. Low fiber consumption is associated with constipation and other digestive problems. The high protein intake from paleo dieting may result in increased consumption of saturated fatty acids which could lead to cardiovascular problems. Furthermore, excessive protein could cause loss of calcium, bone and kidney disease. 

The Atkins Diet

The Atkins diet is a low carbohydrate diet. The premise is that the consumption of a high carbohydrate diet is the cause of the current problem of overweight and obesity and its associated problems. Hence, following this diet means eating mainly protein and fats and less of carbs. This diet has been found to increase weight loss and reduce blood sugar levels for diabetics. However other diets restricting carbohydrates have also been found to provide the same benefits. Overall weight gain has less to do with where the calories are coming from, but rather on the total calories you eat. Less calories from carbohydrates will certainly reduce blood glucose levels since carbohydrate is the body’s main source of blood glucose. The success in weight loss may be due not only to reduction in calorie consumption but also to early satiety that comes from eating high protein and fat-containing foods. Early satiety means that you feel full sooner, so you end up eating less. Risks on an Atkins diet may include low energy and fatigue, and deprivation of fiber and essential nutrients that come from a variety of plant-based high-carb foods. 

The Ketogenic Diet

The Ketogenic diet is a very low carb diet, restricting more carbs than the Atkins diet. It encourages higher consumption of mostly fats and moderate amounts of proteins instead. The goal is to train the body to utilize fats as its main source of energy instead of carbohydrates, resulting in fat-burning and weight loss. This type of diet was first developed for epileptic patients who showed a reduction in epileptic seizures on this diet. However, long-term adherence to this diet could lead to heart disease from saturated fat consumption, gastrointestinal problems such as constipation and diseases associated with low fiber consumption. Furthermore, the severe restriction of carbs from the diet could also mean that you are missing out on the multiple nutrients they provide.

Summary

In general you should stay away from any extreme diet, especially those cutting out or severely restricting an entire food group. If you do follow any of these diets, it should be for medical reasons only and should be temporary and not long term. Make sure you talk to your doctor before jumping at any new FAD that may come your way. Ultimately, your health will not come overnight through a cheap quick fix. It will take effort, commitment and consistency to a balanced, varied and moderate diet.

Courtney Simons
Administrator
Courtney Simons is a food science professor. He holds a BS degree in food science and a Ph.D. in cereal science from North Dakota State University.
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