If you are like many people, you will experience that burst of motivation that comes early January to set a New Year’s resolution to eat healthy and exercise. Before you decide on a plan of action, do your research to ensure that you choose a safe, healthy, realistic and sustainable approach. With all the conflicting information out there on food, nutrition and weight loss, choosing the right strategies can be challenging. To help you sort fact from fiction, I have decided to give you the scoop on three trendy diets that deserve attention.
Carbs have taken a lot heat over the last few years with all the popularity of low carb diets. Low carb diets (including Atkins and The Zone Diet) involve restricting grains, starchy vegetables, fruit and sugar and emphasize a diet high in protein and fat combined with non-starchy vegetables. The idea behind the diet is that carbohydrates promote insulin production associated with weight gain and that restricting carbohydrates will lead to weight loss.
Truth: Low carb diets such as Atkins and the Zone diet may help you lose weight fast but much of that weight is water weight. This is because when you restrict carbohydrates, your body is forced to use up its stored form of carbohydrate “glycogen” which holds onto water. As your glycogen stores become depleted, you release water. Once you introduce carbohydrates back into your diet, the water weight comes back. Some research has shown that weight loss from low carb diets is actually a result of eating fewer calories, not from cutting back on carbs. Other research has shown that low carb diets have a low adherence rate and that people who followed a low carb diet plan for two years lost an average of 9 lbs.; similar to other diets higher in carbohydrate.
To lose body fat, you must create a negative calorie balance either by eating less calories or burning more calories through physical activity; or doing both! Calories come from carbohydrates but they also come from protein, fat and alcohol. You can cut calories by reducing portion sizes or by choosing lower calorie versions of your favourite foods. Be careful though because “low calorie” does not necessarily mean “healthy”. As you are trying to cut back on calories, focus on natural, wholesome foods and limit processed, packaged and canned foods. Choose lean cuts of meat, white skinless poultry, fish, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, low fat milk products (or alternatives), fruits, vegetables, whole grains and unsaturated fats. These foods are more likely to help you manage your appetite and provide the nutrients that your body needs. It is not recommended to cut more than 500 calories a day from your diet to start. It is advised to slowly cut back on calories to aid in gradual and safe weight loss.
Detoxes have also been very popular over the past few years, promising dramatic weight loss in a short period of time. A detox, which is short for detoxification, is a diet that claims to flush toxins and unwanted chemicals from your body through extreme fasting or ingestion of a certain food, beverage, and/or supplement. Many detox diets are intended to help you achieve rapid weight loss and claim they will leave you feeling younger and healthier.
Truth: Unfortunately, these extreme detox diets or “cleanses” have unwanted and potentially harmful side effects that are often not reported by their advocates. Some people say that detoxes help to improve sleep, energy, mood and concentration. However, this could be a result of limiting processed foods, added sugar and unhealthy fats. There is insufficient evidence showing that detoxes actually remove toxins from your body. In fact, your kidney, liver and colon do a very good job at this on or off a detox.
Detox diets are often very low in calories and emphasize fruits, vegetables, fluids and an assortment of supplements. With any diet that requires you to consume a very low amount of calories, weight loss will occur. Unfortunately, rapid weight loss can actually lead to muscle loss which can slow your body’s metabolism causing you to store more energy from food as fat. Furthermore, much of the weight that is lost is water weight. Once you start eating a normal diet again, you will gain this water weight back.
Some other potential side effects of detox diets include low energy, fatigue, insomnia, headaches, muscles aches, low blood sugar and dizziness. These side effects are more likely with lower calorie plans lasting more than a couple of days.
Instead of severely restricting your food intake, focus on increasing your intake of deep-coloured fruits and vegetables, whole grains rich in fibre, dried beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, water, and green tea. Decreasing processed meats, deep fried foods, refined grains, processed foods, high fat dairy and candy and chocolate can also help you achieve a healthy weight. Finally, it is not recommended to restrict your daily calorie intake below 1200 calories for women and 1500 calories for men.
It seems more and more people are trying the gluten-free diet as a method to lose weight. Grocery stores are carrying more gluten free products and some of the trendiest restaurants are offering gluten free breads and pastas as a way to satisfy their health conscious costumers.
Truth: About 1/100 people have “celiac disease” which means that they are allergic to the protein “gluten” found in grains such as wheat, spelt, barley and rye and hidden in many food ingredients and additives. About 6/100 people are “gluten sensitive” or “gluten intolerant” and can experience symptoms ranging from digestive problems to skin reactions to joint pain after eating foods with gluten. Both groups of people must follow a gluten free diet.
There is no concrete evidence that going “gluten-free” will result in weight loss. However, any diet that involves cutting down on a food group could aid in weight loss. Going “gluten free” means eliminating popular high calorie and carbohydrate indulgences often associated with weight gain such baked goods, pastries, and refined breads and pastas. If you replace these foods with healthier options such as fruits, vegetables and low fat dairy products then weight loss could occur. However, the weight loss would be a result of cutting back on calories, not cutting back on gluten.
Gluten free alternatives can actually be higher in calories, carbohydrates and sugar and lower in fibre. Fibre plays a role in appetite and craving control by keeping you full in between meals. This in itself can help you eat less and lose weight. Furthermore, you don’t absorb the calories from fibre, which could also aid in weight loss. Finally, gluten free products are often more expensive!
If you are looking to improve your diet and lose weight, focus on portion control and choosing natural, unprocessed whole grains such as quinoa, brown or wild rice, oats or oat bran, barley and bulgur. A calorie controlled, balanced, healthy, diet combined with regular physical activity is still the best strategy for long term weight management.
Note: it is speculated that some people with celiac disease or a gluten-sensitivity are undiagnosed. If you suspect that you may have either of these conditions, speak with your health care provider. For more information click here.