Fad diets

A fad diet, also called a popular diet or a diet cult, is a diet that makes promises of weight loss or other health advantages without backing by solid science. Fad diets are often highly restrictive, in some cases eliminating whole foods such as dairy or grains. They often consist of unusual, expensive and unnecessary food products and ingredients.

Below Advanced Sports Dietitian gives you the pros and cons of three ‘trending’ diets

The Paleo diet

The Paleo diet revolves around foods that our ancestors are thought to have hunted or gathered, which needed little or no processing to be eaten: meat, poultry, seafood, fruit, vegetables and nuts. Packaged foods, dairy, legumes and grains are off the menu.

THE PROS “This diet does encourage eating lots of nuts and seeds, which are good fats,” says Accredited Practising Dietitian Simone Austin. “People focus on the meat content of this diet, but it also encourages eating lots of fresh vegetables with meat, too.”

THE CONS “There are scientific inaccuracies with this diet – we have evolved as human beings since the Paleolithic era and, even back then, your diet largely depended on where you lived. For example, if you lived by the sea it was high in fish,” says Simone. “Paleo diets cut out valuable food sources, such as wholegrains, which are important for bowel and gut health. It also cuts out legumes, which are a good source of protein and fibre, and can help lower cholesterol. And it removes dairy, which is a convenient source of calcium and protein, particularly post exercise. It also can be a costly diet that may be unnecessarily restrictive.”

Is this diet for you?

Focusing on eating lots of fresh produce and having minimal amounts of sugar and salt in your food has numerous positive health benefits, but removing dairy products and wholegrains is not recommended for a well-balanced diet.

The raw food diet

The idea is to consume unprocessed plant-based foods in their raw state to retain the enzymes and vitamins that can be destroyed through cooking (at temperatures over 40°C). At least 75 per cent of the diet comes from fresh fruit, veg, nuts and seeds, but raw animal products are allowed. Supporters claim it improves skin, aids weight loss and boosts energy.

THE PROS “Eating lots of fruit and veg is always great, given most Australians don’t achieve the recommended five serves of vegetables each day,” says Simone. “Some cooked food can lose small amounts of vitamin C and folate, because these are destroyed by heat, however, eating fresh fruit or vegetables each day will be enough to achieve your daily intakes.”

THE CONS “Some raw foods can be hard to digest and some minerals aren’t as easily absorbed from raw food,” says Simone. For example, cooking in oil boosts the beta-carotene content of carrots and helps the body better absorb the antioxidant lycopene found in tomatoes. “By not eating a balance of cooked and raw foods, you could be restricting your intake of minerals, such as zinc and iron, which we mainly get from cooked meat,” Simone explains.

Is this diet for you?

This diet requires a lot of time and preparation, and it can be hard to get adequate energy. However, adding raw foods to your regular diet is a great way to boost health – try a fresh fruit smoothie for breakfast, carrot and celery sticks to snack on and salads with dinner.

The flexitarian diet

A flexitarian predominantly eats a plant-based diet, but occasionally eats meat when the urge strikes.

THE PROS A well-planned flexitarian diet can meet most nutritional needs. By concentrating mainly on plant-based foods, flexitarians consume high amounts of antioxidants, fibre, vitamins, minerals and good fats, all of which contribute to glowing skin, extra energy and overall good health. Eggs and dairy – both good sources of protein – are also eaten. “You can eat just a small amount of meat in your diet and still be healthy, as long as you are careful about monitoring your iron levels and protein requirements,” says Simone. “The same principle applies to this as to all healthy eating plans: look at your dinner plate and make sure you have a protein, a vegetable-based source and a carbohydrate.”

THE CONS “It’s easy to become a ‘carbavore’ when you cut out meat,” says Simone. “Sitting down to a bowl of pasta with napoletana sauce is not a healthy, well-balanced meal. You still need lots of vegetables for fibre and nutrients together with a protein source like legumes, seeds or nuts.”

Is this diet for you?

There’s no need to cut out meat to be healthy, so if a flexitarian diet sounds appealing, build your meals around vegetarian protein sources (legumes, beans and eggs), vegetables and wholegrains, and enjoy meat on the weekend.

In summary, good nutrition is about healthy sustainable dietary and behavioral changes. For realistic, credible nutrition advice, seek the expertise of an Accredited Sports Dietitian. 

Article written by Accredited Sports Dietitian, Simone Austin