Occupational Health Strategies, Inc.
Kent W. Peterson, M.D., FACOEM
901 Preston Avenue, Suite 400
Charlottesville, Virginia 22903-4491
TEL: (434) 977-3784
FAX: (434) 977-8570
Email: OHS@HealthySelf.org

Last updated: February 17, 2009

Fad Diets

By Sumner Brown, MEd

In my work counseling executives about their health, I get many people coming to me convinced that the latest fad diet they’re on is the answer to all their weight problems. The most common diets of the past 5 years have been the high-protein diets, such as the Zone and the Adkins diets. Joining them recently in popularity is the Sugar-Busters diet. In the opinion of nutritionists and other knowledgeable professionals, the only ones really benefiting from these diets are the authors of the books, who are raking in millions from a weight-conscious public. These diets may well help you lose weight for a while. For one thing, if you follow them you’ll be taking in fewer calories. But there are many problems.

First, let’s discuss the high-protein diet fad. Weight loss simply depends on how many calories you take in and how many you burn through exercise and has nothing to do with how much protein you ingest. Americans get too much protein as it is. An average man gets about 95 grams of protein a day, rather than the RDA of 61 grams. An average woman takes in about 63 grams as opposed to the recommended 47 grams.

The authors of these fad diet books use lots of big, fancy words to make their claims sound scientific and valid. In The Zone diet for example, Barry Sears says that a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet causes insulin levels to rise and makes you produce more bad eicosanoids than good ones. The imbalance leads to disease. There is no basis for this claim whatsoever. Eicosanoids are just hormones that play a role in many bodily processes. What is scientifically proven to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer is a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Sears cautions readers not to eat many very healthful foods, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, brown rice, bananas, and many more. Some of these in fact, are among the most healthful foods you can eat.

The Zone diet’s "secret" is simply that it restricts calories, like any weight-loss plan has to do. His recommended calorie intake is 1,700 calories, which would produce weight loss for most people.

A more recent craze is the Sugar Busters diet, if possible, an even more off-the-wall concept. They repeat the totally baseless claim that insulin makes you fat. In fact, insulin is important to the body’s utilization of energy. The authors also make several other untrue assertions, such as saying that sugar is a risk factor for heart disease and causes diabetes. They would have you give up all sugar, even the natural sugar in such healthful foods as carrots and potatoes. At the same time, suggested recipes include such ingredients as large amounts of butter, heavy cream, and sausage. These are foods that are extremely high in saturated fat and scientifically linked to heart disease. Other suggested foods such as alligator and elk would be hard for most of us to purchase.

The authors of Sugar Busters go so far as to say that too many calories leading to weight gain is just a theory and they discredit it. In fact, this is a law of physics; something no one with any credibility could argue with. The entire book is full of such half-truths.

Please hang on to your money and simply do what you probably know to do already – exercise regularly and eat lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, limiting foods high in fat, especially saturated fat. There are no magic bullets.