10 Potential Hazards of Going on "Fad" Diets
Whether it's the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet, or the no-carb diet, TV infomercials and bookstore shelves are jam-packed with new-age diets that promise to make you healthy as a horse. Unfortunately, many of the popular "fad" diets out there have hidden, under-publicized health risks that make going on those diets far less advisable. In this article, we'll explore 10 little-known health risks of going on today's popular fad diets.
1) Increased fat intake (no/low carb diets)
The siren song of most "low-carb" or "no-carb" diets is fast, almost effortless weight loss. However, the less health-savvy consumer may miss a subtle point here: low or no-carb almost always implies high protein. While this is perfectly fine under some circumstances (say, an aspiring body-builder or athlete), high protein diets are generally very high in fat. According to a publication called "Fad Diets - Healthy or Hazardous?" by Rutgers, no-carb diets that emphasize meat, fish, nuts, poultry and dairy greatly increase your fat intake, thereby delaying your goal of weight loss unless you couple the diet with constant, rigorous excersize and conditioning. According to Rutgers, this applies to many fad diets like Atkins, Drinking Man's Diet, Scarsdale Diet, Ski Team Diet, and the Zone Diet,
2) Increased risk of heart disease (high-protein)
The same Rutgers study names a number of specific risks associated with high protein diets, which are not always, necessarily, low in carbohydrates. The most serious risk of high protein diets is an increased risk of heart disease. Because high protein diets are generally high in animal protein, cholesterol, and saturated fat, your body's concentration of Low Density Lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) skyrockets, which can lead to increased homocysteiene and the leading cause of heart disease: clogged arteries. For this reason, you should try to vary the type of protein you consume, alternating between animal protein, whey, and soy.
3) Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
According to WebMD, fad clients often "lack major nutrients such as dietary fiber and carbohydrates, as well as selected vitamins, minerals, and protective phytochemicals, such as antioxidants (substances found in vegetables, which are protective against disease)." This is because fad diets tend to advocate not eating entire food groups (such as grains) for very long and regimented periods of time. While it is impossible to accurately predict what impact this will have on everyone, the impact could be severe for people with pre-existing health conditions or deficiencies. Some diets that put you in jeopardy of this are the Cabbage Diet and the Grapefruit Diet.
4) Over-consumption of certain food groups exceeding the recommendations of major health authorities
Some fad diets recommend the overconsumption of certain foods; this contradicts warnings and guidelines from major health authorities. According to WebMD, "for the food groups that these diets do permit, the proportions are either well above or well below those recommended by major health organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association, as well as the Surgeon General and the U.S. Department of Agriculture."
5) Increased risk of diabetes (Zone diet)
It might sound crazy to accuse fad diets of potentially increasing the risks of diabetes, but it's not as outlandish as you might think. A University of Colorado webpage links the popular "Zone" diet to this, citing how the diet "encourages the notion that that carbs cause excess insulin output in the body which leads to increased fat storage." In reality, following the Zone diet and it's admonition to make protein 30% of your calorie intake could put you at higher risk because "it's not that insulin resistance causes obesity, but obesity that brings on insulin resistance, sometimes leading to diabetes."
6) Weight gains as soon as you go off the diet (Atkins)
The Atkins diet is arguably the most popular fad diet on the market today. However, those who are excited by its promises might be saddened to know that any weight losses you make on the diet could vanish as soon as you go off of it. According to the University of Colorado, the "zero carb" lifestyle Atkins advocates "is hard on the liver, as it is forced to produce glucose (the main energy source for body that is normally supplied by carbs in the diet)." While you will lose weight, this is primarily because your strained liver is is killing protein tissue to keep up with its new, huge workload. Once you go off the diet, protein tissue is rebuilt and the weight you lost will often come right back.
7) Calorie deficiency (Weight Watchers)
While many of the diets so far named can lead to a deficiency in calorie intake, the Weight Watchers diet virtually assures it. Weight Watchers centers around a "point system" which instructs anyone going on the diet to grade the foods they eat as good or bad based on their number of points. According to the University of Colorado webpage, this approach "gradually reduces caloric intake to levels as low as 1,000 calories a day, which is too low and you cannot obtain all nutrients if this is maintained too long."
8) Osteoporosis (Dr. Mario Dipasquale's anabolic diet)
According to Dietitian.com, answering a reader's query about the potential risks of Dr. Mario Dipasquale's anabolic diet, this diet puts you at risk of developing osteoporosis. His analysis found that "a high protein diet can cause the body to lose calcium, which can lead to development of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis can result in broken bones. After a few days on a low carbohydrate diet of less than 130 grams per day, a person develops ketosis." Clearly, this is not the kind of thing aspiring dieters are hoping for!
9) Terrible cramps (all-vegitable diets)
Another question Dietician.com answered was from someone concerned about getting "terrible cramps" following a brief experiment with an all-vegitable diet. The problem? Most people do not get much fiber in their normal diets, which makes the sudden surge of fiber from veggies a harsh transition. According to the website, "if your diet previous to the vegetable diet was low in fiber, your cramps may have been due to the sudden increase of fiber from the vegetable diet. Also, vegetables that are members of the cabbage family (broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower) increase intestinal gas."
10) Excessive gas ("starch blockers")
While gas is not as scary as increased risk for heart disease or osteoporosis, it can precede serious problems and even if not, is just plain embarassing. Unfortunately, many of the alleged "starch blocker" supplements sold on the open market lead to excessive gas. The FDA has actually plotted to get starch blockers removed from the market for precisely this reason, and also because they are not very effective at blocking starch.
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