Evaluating the Latest Fad Diets
For anyone interested in losing weight, the sheer number of diets available can make it difficult to know where to start. To help you sift through the hype and choose an effective weight loss solution, we have provided an overview of some of the most popular diets on the market today. As with any decision affecting your health, be sure to speak with a doctor before beginning any of these diets or another weight-loss plan.
The Atkins Diet
In a Nutshell
Created by cardiologist Robert Atkins, the Atkins Diet is perhaps the most popular diet on the market today. The effectiveness of the diet stems from the fact that the body burns both fat and carbohydrates for energy. By dramatically limiting your carbohydrate intake, you help turn your body into a fat-burning machine, the theory goes.
The Atkins Diet consists of mostly protein and fat – red meat, chicken, fish, cheese – with very limited amounts of carbohydrates. During the first phase of the diet, known as the induction phase, carbohydrates are limited to 40 grams a day, or 20 net grams (totals carbs minus total fiber). Dieters are allowed to gradually incorporate more carbohydrates into their meals, but are never allowed to consume refined sugars, white bread, milk, or foods made with white flour.
Most health experts agree the Atkins Diet can produce weight loss, especially during the initial phase. However, numerous authorities remain concerned about the possibility of negative health affects resulting from the diet's high-protein, high-fat content. Such a diet, critics say, could contribute to heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Additionally, people with kidney or liver problems may be unable to safely process the high amount of protein prescribed by the diet.
The South Beach Diet
In a Nutshell
Similar to the Atkins Diet, the South Beach diet works primarily by restricting carbohydrate intake. However, unlike the Atkins approach, the South Beach diet specifically limits the consumption highly refined carbohydrates. These kinds of carbs dramatically increase insulin levels (a hormone that regulates sugars). After these easily digested carbs are used up, the insulin remains, causing hunger, especially for more carbohydrates. The South Beach diet aims to break this cycle, helping you to experience fewer cravings and eat less unhealthy food.
The South Beach diet eschews calorie counting in favor of eating normal-sized portions. The diet is broken into the following phases:
- Induction: Two-week initial phase, during which carbohydrate intake is severely restricted. No alcohol, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, fruit, or other foods containing refined sugars.
- Carbohydrate reintroduction: Carbohydrates are slowly reintroduced into the diet; this phase lasts until the dieter reaches his or her goal weight.
- Maintenance: Normal foods are allowed as long as portions are controlled and a few guidelines are observed.
Since the South Beach plan allows dieters to eat a wide variety of foods from all the major food groups, it is regarded by many experts as a generally healthy diet. However, during the initial phase, most of the weight that is lost is water weight, and this loss of water can disrupt the body’s balance of electrolytes. As such, dieters are strongly advised to consult a doctor or dietician while on the South Beach plan to avoid potential health complications.
The Zone Diet
In a Nutshell
The Zone Diet is the brainchild of former M.I.T. biotechnology researcher Barry Sears. According to Dr. Sears, eating a diet composed of 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat puts the body in a "zone" of peak metabolic efficiency. This zone, Dr. Sears says, leads to increased energy, a faster metabolism, and resistance to heart disease, among other benefits.
To fulfill the Zone Diet's 40-30-30 food ratio, each meal you eat should be composed of:
- A palm-sized serving of lean protein, such as a small chicken breast.
- Carbohydrates in the form of fruits and vegetables. The amount should be about twice the size of the protein serving. If "unfavorable" carbohydrates (e.g., pasta, bread, cereals) are chosen, the amount should be less.
- A tiny amount of "good" fat (e.g. olive oil, avocado, almonds).
The diet calls for three such meals a day plus an afternoon and an evening snack.
The Zone Diet's 40-30-30 plan can help you lose weight, and since its guidelines are straightforward, it is easy to follow. However, Dr. Sears is not without his detractors. Several health experts, including some of Dr. Sears' former colleagues, claim that no research exists to support the notion of a "zone" created by the 40-30-30 combination. Despite this, if the diet helps you lose weight, it probably matters little whether there is scientific data available to tell you it works.
The Flat Belly Diet
In a Nutshell
In their book The Flat Belly Diet, Liz Vaccariello and Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, of Prevention, outline a nutritional plan they claim will help you lose weight and melt fat from your waistline. The secret ingredient? MUFAs. Found in foods such as olives, avocados, and nuts, MUFAs, or monounsaturated fats, are said to regulate satiety and aid in the elimination of belly fat. Vaccariello and Sass claim that following their 1600-calorie-a-day plan, which includes eating a MUFA with every meal, can help you lose up to 15 pounds in 32 days.
The Flat Belly Diet begins with a four-day “anti-bloat” phase during which dieters consume a maximum of 1,200 to 1,400 calories daily. The process is designed to decrease bloating and help dieters adjust mentally to a healthier style of eating. For the next 28 days, dieters eat four 400-calorie meals a day; the meals are spaced four hours apart and each includes a MUFA. The Flat Belly Diet contains an extensive list of 400-calorie meals composed largely of unprocessed foods such as nuts, grains, vegetables, and lean protein. The list provides an easy way for dieters to customize their daily meal plans.
Since the Flat Belly Diet requires you to limit your daily calories – a key part of any successful diet – it will likely help you lose weight. However, many experts claim that it is this reduction in calories, and not any magical powers possessed by MUFAs, that is the reason for the diet’s effectiveness. It should also be noted that much of the weight loss dieters experience on this plan results from the loss of water weight, meaning those vanquished pounds may return once the diet is ended.
The Perricone Diet
In a Nutshell
The Perricone Diet is a strict nutritional regimen designed to reduce bodily inflammation, one of the primary causes of wrinkles, disease, and premature aging, says the diet’s creator, Nicholas Perricone, MD. Dr. Perricone’s plan involves eating various “anti-inflammatory” foods and using an array of supplements and skin care products, many of which are sold through Dr. Perricone’s website. Dieters on the program are promised a broad range of benefits, including a faster metabolism, decreased inflammation, fewer wrinkles, healthier skin, stronger bones, and a better immune system.
Based on the glycemic index, Dr. Perricone created a list of foods from which dieters are to concoct their meals. The glycemic index indicates a food’s influence on blood-sugar levels; according to Dr. Perricone, high-glycemic foods cause swelling in your skin, internal organs, and other areas of the body.
Dieters on the Perricone plan eat three meals a day and two snacks. Foods included on the nutritional program include salmon, nuts, yogurt, berries, leafy green vegetables and other foods high in antioxidants and omega-3s (two key ingredients in the fight against inflammation, Dr. Perricone says). Foods you must kiss good-bye include bread, cereal, beef, pasta, juice, and soda.
Along with the nutritional program, dieters are told to use various supplements and skin care products in order to experience the full benefits of the plan. In all, Dr. Perricone recommends using more than 25 supplements a day in conjunction with a vast array of skin care products. Needless to say, using such a large regimen of products can get expensive quickly.
Dr. Perricone’s diet contains many helpful guidelines for weight loss, and its focus on curbing inflammation can potentially lead to a range of health benefits. However, with its extensive list of supplements and skin care products, the plan can be extremely costly. Moreover, despite Dr. Perricone’s dramatic claims about the health benefits of his diet, very little of his research, which he uses to support those claims, has actually been published.
If you’re thinking about trying the Perricone Diet, feel free – it may just help you lose the weight you want. However, don’t expect any miraculous results, such as being able to reverse the aging process, despite what Dr. Perricone may say.
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