Nutritionist debunks fad diets

With no end to the amount and variety of different diets that spring up, it can be difficult to decipher what's right for you.

From paleo eating to tracking a 5:2 diet, Shahna Sarpi, Head of Nutrition at 28 by Sam Wood, debunks some of the most popular diets.

"A fad diet is essentially a popular diet. It often gains popularity quite quickly by promoting quick results, rapid weight loss and an array of health advantages," she explains. "Often they are not backed by science or have minimal evidence behind their claims. While many of them can be successful for weight loss, this doesn’t mean that they are necessarily sustainable in the long term and more often than not they do not involve a balanced approach to eating."

Here, Shahna has provided some information that's important to know about some of the most popular diets:

Meal replacement shakes

Shakes are certainly convenient and easy to fit into your daily life, but Shahna says they're usually full of preservatives, additives, fillers and artificial flavours. 

"These shakes are generally low calorie and can therefore support weight loss through calorie deficit, but this doesn’t mean they’re doing so in a healthy or sustainable way," she says. "Unfortunately meal replacement shakes aren’t addressing the original cause of the weight gain or teaching you healthy eating habits. This makes them a quick fix and sadly they won’t deliver the lasting health or weight loss results desired." 

Ketogenic diet

The keto diet is extremely popular and involves limiting your carbohydrate intake. 

"This minimal carb intake places our body in a state of ketosis where it breaks down ketone bodies, which are stored fat molecules," Shahna explains. "For this reason, it can be extremely effective for weight loss and can even be beneficial in certain medical conditions."

She adds that it's also not a balanced way of eating and that by skipping carbs, we can miss out on important nutrients such as dietary fibre that are in these foods. 

""Fibre is essential for the health of our gut and digestive function. For these reasons, the ketogenic diet can be beneficial short term but is not necessarily a long-term approach to optimal health," she says. 

The 5:2 diet

This type of intermittent fasting involves eating a normal diet for five days of the week, and restricting calorie intake on the other two days. 

"Similar to other calorie restrictive diets, this can support weight loss," Shahna says. "However, it doesn’t take into consideration the types of foods that these calories come from. It can be seen as an easy option or quick fix, because it doesn’t necessarily mean changing eating habits to ones that are more beneficial in the long run."

Paleo diet

This way of eating is designed to resemble the diet of our early ancestors by eliminating processed foods and focusing on fresh produce and wholefoods. 

While Shahna says eating paleo is slightly more sustainable long term given its more balanced approach to eating, with a focus on food quality rather than quantity, it can still be restrictive. 

"The main restrictions of concern are the complete lack of grains and legumes, both of which can be a beneficial part of a balanced diet," she tells. "This is particularly due to their fibre content, which is necessary for good gut health. Everyone is different, so some people can thrive off a paleo based way of eating or something similar."

Raw food diet

When following a raw food diet, all processed foods are removed and the focus is on veggies, fruit, nuts and seeds. 

"While it is correct in saying that certain nutrients can decrease through the cooking process, the opposite is also true and the availability of other nutrients can actually be increased through cooking," Shahna explains. "This is one of the reasons that a combination of both raw and cooked foods are important within a balanced diet."

Of course, do keep in mind that your needs are different to others, so Shahna ultimately advises to find what works for you and your body. 

"The right ‘diet’ is not a diet at all, it’s a balanced approach to eating, without severe restriction that will leave you feeling deprived," she says. "Remember that healthy eating is a lifestyle change, turn towards wholefoods that support you in feeling your best."

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