Are we April Fools for a New Fad Diet?

BLC Nutrition Intern – Jennifer Stallings of Simmons College shares her thoughts on fad diets and how to keep your nutrition goals in line.  Nutrition is a high priority for every person’s health but especially so for those living with a cronic disease like HIV.

 It’s finally April and the old saying “April showers bring May flowers” will hopefully hold true . The first of this month is also the only day of the year you may be “fooled” by friends or others playing a practical joke in honor of the 1st, otherwise known as “April Fools Day.” Oftentimes, there is a media presence in the world of diet and nutrition claiming there has been an exposed “secret” to the most weight loss or BEST life after starting a particular diet. Like the tricks played on the first of April, these claims are known as “fad diets.”

These types of diets are types of eating patterns that promote short-term weight loss but are not concerned with long-term weight maintenance. The ultimate goal for any dietary change is a long-term improvement whether that is a decrease in weight or enhancing overall health. Below are a few diets that are thought to speed weight loss however, the research does not support this.

Gwyenth Paltrow and Oprah Winfrey

 Gluten Free diets

             Celebrities Oprah Winfrey and Gwyneth Paltrow have recently tried the Gluten Free Diet which they claim helped them shed pounds. Foods that contain wheat, barley and rye contain the protein gluten. Baked goods that contain gluten can be high in fat and calories such as muffins, bagels, cake, and brownies so eliminating these from the diet has the potential to decrease weight. The key reason here is simply because a person is eating less sugar and fat from these foods not because they are eliminating gluten from their diet. Currently there isn’t supporting scientific evidence to support the belief that replacing a food containing gluten with a gluten-free food (both of which contain the same calories) will help with weight loss. Perhaps the GF diet weight loss idea comes from the fact that a person may incorporate more filling grains without gluten such as buckwheat, corn, rice or amaranth however some non-gluten whole grains have less fiber than the gluten-containing equivalent.

            Unfortunately a gluten-free diet is not the secret you aren’t trying to finally lose those pounds. It may be a way to jump-start a diet by eliminating certain foods from an overall intake, however there is no evidence to support gluten-free foods will help you lose weight.

 The Bonus Years Diet

             Written by Ralph Felder, M.D. and Ph.D. and Carol Colman with Oscar H. Franco M.D., Ph.D., this book, The Bonus Years Diet although published back in 2007, makes an outstanding promise. Right on the front cover reads “7 Miracle foods—including chocolate, red wine and nuts—that can add 6.4 years on average to your life.” With health concerns hitting the media in full force including the obesity epidemic, radiation in water supplies, BPA risk and heart disease, who wouldn’t want to tack on as much as six years to their life? Daily recommendations made by the author consist of daily intake of: 5 ounces red wine, 2 ounces dark chocolate, 4 cups of raw fruits and vegetables, one glove of garlic and 2 ounces of nuts. Add to these three 5-oune servings of fish a week and you could be looking at longevity, lower blood pressure and a decrease in heart disease risk.

            These claims cite powerful antioxidants, flavonoids and phytochemicals present in these foods that can decrease disease risk along with lowering inflammation and cholesterol.  Apart from these delicious foods, the rest of the diet is up to the reader. Pitfalls do exist, as with any diet, in that these six foods should be mixed up to avoid repetitiveness. Healthful eating and reaching a goal weight is all about variety to avoid boredom.

This diet may seem too good to be true and it probably is. Trying this diet means sticking by the serving sizes to avoid excess calories from fat and sugar. Ever enjoy a meal and exceed a 5 ounce serving of red wine? How about grabbing a bar of chocolate and limiting yourself to 2 ounces? Moderation is key especially when it comes to alcohol, chocolate and nuts. To successfully reap the benefits of the “Bonus Years Diet” one must eat the recommended foods in the amount identified to avoid extra calories. Such a diet is promoting eating chocolate, nuts, and drinking red wine when in fact, these foods can be part of any lifestyle in moderate amounts together with fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy products. No magical diet can give you longevity but a lifestyle dedicated to healthy attitudes about food, exercise and health can.  

What may work better for you?

            Instead of throwing away everything in your cabinet and stocking up on gluten-free pasta, red-wine and dark chocolate, try to incorporate guidelines from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans released by The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This document provides useful information concerning eating and physical activity patterns which focus on consuming fewer calories, being physically active to maintain a healthy weight, reducing the risk of chronic disease and promotion of overall health. Some recommendations include:

Reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. •

  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids by replacing them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids from avocados, nuts, seeds, olive and canola oil.
  • Consume less than 300 mg per day of dietary cholesterol. Foods that are high in cholesterol include butter, cheese, full fat meat and dairy.
  • Avoid trans fat which appears on food labels as “partially hydrogenated vegetable/soybean/palm oil.”
  • Eat a variety of vegetables, especially those that are dark-green and red and orange vegetables and beans and peas. These include kale, spinach, red-peppers, sweet-potatoes, tomatoes, soybeans, kidney and black beans.
  • Consume at least half of all grains as whole grains. Increase whole-grain intake by replacing refined grains with whole grains to increase intake of fiber. Look for at least 3 grams or more fiber per serving on packages of bread.
  • Increase intake of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or soy beverages.
  • For adults, exercise for at least 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) a week. This could include brisk walking, yoga, jogging, weight training or other aerobic activities.

 There is not hidden secret to weight loss no matter what celebrities and diet books are promoting. The key is to allow some wiggle room in a diet based around low-sodium, lean sources of food including an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Enjoy a piece of dark chocolate, a glass of red wine and a fish filet but remember that these calorie dense foods should not be the foundation of any diet. Remaining active and aware of food choices related to overall health is key.

The BLC would like to thank Jennifer for her contributions to our blog and her continued support of the HIV/AIDS community.