There are so many different diets that claim to help you to lose weight quickly and that claim to get you back to feeling your best. There are low carb diets, detox diets, the cabbage soup diet, I could go on. But the big question is, do they actually work? Most will help you to lose weight, but how many are just fads that are at best unhealthy, and at worst, downright dangerous. Many of the so-called miracle diets are not based on sound research and can be damaging to health. Here’s why you should avoid fad diets.
Popular weight loss diets: The pros and cons
The 5:2 diet
The 5:2 diet is based on a principle known as intermittent fasting (IF). As part of the diet, you eat normally for 5 days every week, then you fast on the other 2 days. Advocates of the diet say that as well as helping you to lose weight, the diet helps to increase your lifespan and boosts brain function. However, the evidence is limited. A study found that women who followed the 5:2 diet lost the same amount of weight as women on a calorie-controlled diet and were less likely to get diabetes.
Fasting for 2 days is more manageable than following a strict routine all of the time, so you might find it easier to stick to. Restricting calories for 2 days per week has been shown to lead to reductions in body fat, and a reduced risk of some chronic illnesses.
You have to fast for 2 days per week, but it doesn’t mean that you can go overboard on the other 5 days either. Reducing calories to around 600 per day on the fasting days can make you feel irritable and give you headaches, so it won’t be easy to do if you’re an active person or you have to concentrate at work.
It’s a simple way to reduce calorie intake, but it might be better to have a plan written by a dietitian so you aren’t missing out on nutrients. Avoid fasting of any kind of you are pregnant, or diabetic.
The Dukan diet is a low-carb, high-protein diet. There’s no limit to how much you can eat as long as you stick to the rules of the plan. First, you’re on a strict lean protein diet, so you eat chicken, turkey, eggs, fish and fat-free dairy. This goes on for 5 days, then you can gradually introduce some fruit, vegetables, and carbs. It is different from the Atkins Diet because it restricts fat intake. The aim of the diet is to help you achieve steady weight loss.
You can lose weight very quickly, which motivate you to stick to the diet. It is strict, which some people like and some people don’t, but it is easy to follow. There’s no counting calories or weighing food. As long as food is low fat, low salt, and high protein, you can eat as much as you like.
At the start of the diet, you may experience side effects such as bad breath, tiredness, dizziness, and nausea from cutting out carbs. The lack of whole grains, fruit and veg in the early stages of the diet could cause problems such as constipation as you won’t be getting as much fibre.
Rapid weight loss is not sustainable and it can be unhealthy. The Dukan diet isn’t nutritionally balanced. The diet actually prescribes a vitamin supplement, and an oat-bran fibre top up.
The paleo diet, also known as the caveman diet, is made of foods that can be hunted and fished, such as meat and seafood, and foods that can be gathered, such as eggs, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. It’s based on the eating habits of our ancestors, so anything refined is off-limits. So there’s no wheat, dairy, refined sugars, potatoes, or salt allowed. It’s a low carb, high protein diet.
Fans of the diet claim that it is healthy in the long term, and that as well as reducing your weight, it can help to reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Most studies are too small to make a firm judgement however. One study did find that the paleo diet lowered blood fat levels in participants however.
The paleo diet encourages you to eat less processed food and take in more fruit and vegetables, which can only be a good thing. The diet is simple, and there’s no calorie counting. Some plans follow the 80/20 rule, recommending that you can get the health benefits if you follow the diet 80% of the time. This flexibility will appeal to some people too.
There are no accurate records of how our ancestors actually ate in the stone age, so any evidence on the health benefits of the diet is unfounded. Most of the diet plans include large amounts of red meat which goes against current recommendations for health. Some versions of the plan don’t allow dairy product or whole grains, which can lead to you missing out on key nutrients, and it’s high protein, so it can be expensive. It’s definitely not a good diet for vegetarians, as it would be impossible to follow without meat, seafood, and eggs.
Most versions of this diet exclude key food groups, which makes it more likely that you would miss out on nutrients. It does lack variety as well. If you want to make a change to be more like our ancestors, try being more active like they would have been!
The Atkins diet
The theory behind the Atkins diet is that by depriving the body of carbohydrates, it will start burning fat for energy. During the first phase of the diet, you’re on a protein-rich diet with no restrictions on fat and a daily carb allowance of 20-25g. This is where rapid weight loss is likely to occur.
During the next three phases, the weight loss tends to be more gradual and regular exercise is encouraged. More carbs are introduced to your diet gradually with the aim of working up to what your ideal carb intake is so you maintain a healthy weight for life.
You can lose weight very quickly initially, which can be motivating. The diet also encourages people to cut out most processed carbs and alcohol. Because the diet contains a lot of red meat, butter, cream, cheese and mayonnaise, it appeals to men.
Side effects of cutting carbs to such a low level include bad breath, tiredness, nausea, and constipation. The high saturated fat intake may increase the risk of heart disease.
The amount of processed meat, red meat, and saturated fat in diet is an issue, as it contradicts current health advice. Some people might find it too restrictive, but the rapid weight loss might appeal to some people.
South Beach Diet
The South Beach Diet is a low-GI diet which was originally developed for heart patients in the US. There’s no calorie counting and no limits on portion sizes. You’re encouraged to eat three meals and two snacks a day, and to follow an exercise plan. The plan can be adapted to however much weight you have to lose, for best results. People who have more than 10lb to lose start with phase one. This is a quick weight loss regime where you eat lean protein, including meat, fish and poultry, as well as some low-GI vegetables and unsaturated fats. Low-GI carbs are reintroduced during phases two and three, which encourages gradual and sustainable weight loss.
If you can avoid phase one and start on phase two, there are fewer dietary restrictions in the rest of the plan than some other popular diets. After phase one, the diet broadly follows the basic principles of healthy eating. No major food groups are eliminated and plenty of fruit, veg and low-GI carbs are recommended.
The restrictive nature of phase one may leave you feeling weak and you might miss out on some vitamins, minerals and fibre. You can experience side effects such as bad breath, a dry mouth, tiredness, dizziness, insomnia, nausea, and constipation, as a result of cutting carbs so low.
The first 2 weeks are very restrictive, so this might put some people off. But once the restrictive phase is over, it does follow the principles of healthy eating, and is fairly nutritionally balanced.
Low Carb diets: the pros and cons
Low carb diets have been big news in recent years, but are they really good for you?
Better insulin regulation
Low carb diets help to regulate the amount of insulin produced in the body. Insulin regulates the blood sugar, but if it produced in large amounts, it ages the body. Insulin production is stimulated especially when a lot of carbohydrates are eaten. When a lot of insulin is produced, this results in high blood pressure, high cholesterol and blood fats, and a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
They reduce inflammation
A diet high in carbs can cause inflammation. Many people who suffer from joint pain notice that their pain is reduced when they go on a low carb diet. High insulin levels are associated with the production of a protein called CRP, which is an inflammatory marker.
They promote fat loss but maintain muscle
The high protein intake feeds your muscles, and you don’t lose muscle mass when you lose weight as you do on many weight loss diets because the calorie intake is too low that the body starts to use energy from the muscles.
They boost your energy
Because low carb diets regulate insulin and blood sugar, you will feel more energetic, rather than experiencing highs and lows. And who doesn’t want that?
You need to alter your lifestyle
Low carb dieting requires you to adjust your lifestyle. You will have to shop and cook differently.
You will have to ensure you vary your diet
When some people start low carb eating, they are just not sure what to eat, and might not get the variety they need. This can mean that you might end up deficient in some nutrients. Make sure that you actively include a variety of foods in your diet to avoid this.
16 low carb snacks
Cottage cheese and berries
Cottage cheese is nutritious, high in protein, and low in carbs. Add a cup of strawberries and you will be getting vitamin C, and calcium. You can use other berries like blueberries and raspberries too. Try seasoning it with vanilla extract or cinnamon if you like a little sweetness.
Lettuce leaf roll
Like a sandwich, just with no bread.
Use a big Romaine lettuce leaf in place of the bread, cut out the hard centre stalk at the top and place a piece of turkey, chicken, or ham on top. Roll it up like a tortilla wrap. You can also use a slice of cold meat as the ‘bread’. Spread it with cottage cheese or low fat cream cheese and roll it up. Delicious!
Eggs are full of protein and contain barely any carbs. The protein keeps you feeling fuller for longer and there are so many ways to cook them. You can hard boil them so you have a convenient snack to hand when you need it. It takes mere minutes to make a scrambled egg or an omelette. Add some spring onion or herbs into the egg mixture before cooking.
Fish are an easy low carb snack option. Buy small ring pull cans of tuna, sardines, or salmon, and you have a high protein snack to hand. Try making your own mackerel pate by blending mackerel with lemon juice, low fat cream cheese, and pepper in a food processor until it’s smooth. Serve this with sliced vegetables. Always choose fish in water, or tomato sauce, as it’s lower in calories than those that are canned with oils.
Avocado contains a fair amount of fat, and hardly any carbs. Chop up half an avocado and serve it with a salad made of lettuce, tomato, and cucumber. Drizzle oil, lemon juice, or balsamic vinegar over it.
For those who like things a little spicier, make some guacamole by blending an avocado with some onion, chilli, and tomato. Squeeze some lime juice over it, and serve it with chopped carrots and pepper.
Prawns and shellfish are naturally low in carbs. Create a healthy light lunch with a prawn stir-fry. Thinly slice some carrot, spring onions, cabbage, and mushrooms. Stir-fry the prawns and vegetables with olive oil, some crushed garlic and soy sauce. Voila, a delicious low-carb treat.
Cheese and cream cheese aren’t usually diet foods, but they are perfect for a low carb diet. Limit the amount you consume though, as they are quite high in calories. Snack on individually wrapped cheeses, and cheese strings.
Try spreading reduced-fat cream cheese on two slices of meat then cut it into squares, or fill a celery stick with low fat cream cheese and eat it with a tomato. Low carb and one of your 5 a day!
Cottage cheese is an excellent low carb choice and it’s lower in calories than normal cheese. It only contains 100 calories per 100g.
Olives and tzatziki are good choices for a delicious and healthy low carb snack.
Tzatziki is yogurt, garlic and cucumber and is easy to make at home, or buy from a supermarket.
Try making black olive tapenade. Put 2 handfuls of black olives in a food processor or blender with a clove of garlic, handful of parsley and a few capers then blend until it’s a paste. Serve it with vegetable crudités.
A handful of nuts makes for a perfect low carb snack. Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts and walnuts are lower in carbs than other varieties. Although they are high in calories, research has shown that the protein, good fats, and fibre in nuts can actually help you to lose weight if you eat them regularly.
Peanut butter is high in protein, and while it also contains a lot of fat and calories, they are good fats. Scrape some on a celery stick for a tasty low carb treat.
If you have a sweet tooth, step away from the sweets and biscuits. There are other options. Try sugar free jelly, or naturally sweet fruits like strawberries. Or try this raspberry oat crunch:
Toast sunflower seeds in a frying pan until they are golden, then leave them to cool down. Put some natural yoghurt in a glass or bowl, sprinkle the seeds on top, then top with raspberries.
The body needs water, just add lemon or lime if you find it boring. The ultimate low carb drink!
Dry Roasted Edamame
Edamame is the only vegetable that contains all of the amino acids that meat and eggs do. It is also rich in calcium, iron, zinc, and B vitamins. Just sprinkle sea salt over the edamame and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes.
Kale chips are a healthy alternative to chips and nachos, they have all of the crunch but with less calories and salt. They are a good source of protein and fibre too.
Whey Protein Shakes
Whey protein is a delicious, convenient way to take in extra protein, especially if you exercise.
Matcha Green Tea
Drinking Matcha green tea is a good choice for a low carb beverage. Research has shown that the tea can promote weight loss as it contains catechins, which are compounds that help the body to burn fat. Exercising immediately after drinking the tea resulted in 25% more fat being burned during the session.
Raw vegetables are relatively low carb and are about the healthiest snack you can get. Just chop up carrot sticks, pepper, cucumber, tomatoes, and celery. Serve with healthy dips such as hummus.
Cheese and apple slices
Apples are not mega low carb, but having them with cheese slices increases the protein content and keeps blood sugar nice and balanced.
Tofu, or otherwise known as bean curd, is created by coagulating (sounds nice!) soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into large white blocks. Different varieties of tofu can be either firm, extra firm or soft depending upon the way they have been created and the pressure used to create the finished blocks.
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