Archive for the ‘fad diets’ category

The Paleo Diet: A Twist on the Raw Food Diet

November 20th, 2010

Copyright 2010

Foods included in the raw food diet are meant to provide the benefits of nutrients in their natural form.Recently the Western (American) world has seen the concept of a raw food diet gaining traction in popular culture. The idea behind such a diet is that our modern methods of processing foods – farming with pesticides, genetically engineering crops to provide higher yields, stuffing animals into small cages and processing meats so that they’ll last longer – are tampering with the nutritional value and ultimately the healthiness of the food that we eat on a daily basis.

Proponents of the raw food diet argue that our ancestors didn’t have modern technology like refrigeration and pesticides, yet they survived just fine – so what’s stopping us from eating a more natural diet, composed of fresh fruits and vegetables, non-processed grains, and locally-raised meat and dairy?

It’s no secret that our modern diet is a factor in the rising rates of obesity and heart disease. So eating a raw food diet could help in our efforts to have healthier bodies, as long as our food is produced safely and is properly prepared.

One variation of the raw food diet is called the Paleolithic (paleo) diet, and it’s been growing in popularity since its creation in the 1970s.

The Paleo Diet’s beginnings can be traced to Walter L. Voegtlin, a gastroenterologist who published a book titled “The Stone Age Diet” in 1975. In it, he suggested that following a diet similar to that of a Paleolithic hunter-gatherer – essentially a caveman – would be beneficial to our health. Paleolithic humans, he argued, were mostly carnivorous, consuming large amounts of animal fats and protein along with smaller amounts of fruits and vegetables.

As the Paleolithic period predates the beginning of agriculture, most strains of the Paleo Diet also reject grain-based foods such as wheat and rice. While some versions of the Paleo Diet allow for healthy starches such as whole-grain bread, they all agree that processed grains, such as white bread, are part of the problem with the modern Western diet. They also reject dairy and processed meats. They argue that the human digestive tract has evolved over millions of years, yet has remained in its current form since Paleolithic times, which is optimized for the diet that they present.

A healthy well-balanced diet that includes raw fruits and vegetables is a great basis for losing weight.The Paleo Diet diverges from the typical raw food diet in that it allows for food to be cooked, whereas the most popular raw food diets such as the vegan and vegetarian versions are based almost entirely on uncooked food. This is in line with the lifestyle of our Paleolithic ancestors, who did have access to fire and understood that cooking food can make it more palatable. It is widely believed among anthropologists that humans were cooking 250,000 years ago and possibly as long as 500,000 years ago, while the agriculture that has allowed for processed foods and additives has only appeared within the last 10,000 years.

While the Paleo Diet is certainly colorful in its treatment of our modern Western diet, the question remains: how effective is it? In truth, the diet will likely provide a healthy alternative to the typical Western diet, though its suitability as a weight loss program is questionable.

The Paleo Diet relies heavily on a study of the Kitava tribe of Papua New Guinea, who were found to live on a hunter-gatherer diet similar to that of Paleolithic humans. They suffered from much lower rates of obesity, diabetes, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. This seems to suggest that the diet has long-term benefits to health, but may be expensive to follow as well as somewhat difficult and inflexible. The rejection of many modern foods means that the dieter will be quite limited in his or her food choices. Thus, this offshoot of the raw food diet can be considered more a lifestyle choice as opposed to a solution for losing weight.

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The Cookie Diet: Illustrating Why Low-Calorie Fad Diets are Bound for Failure

October 27th, 2010

The Cookie DietCopyright 2010

Simply hearing the phrase “cookie diet” probably reminds you of a bit of wisdom that your parents once told you: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. You might think that a diet plan designed to encourage weight loss couldn’t possibly be based on the consumption of cookies.

Yet the cookie diet, in all its incarnations, recommends exactly that kind of eating pattern: dieters are allowed to eat six cookies throughout the day when hunger pangs strike, followed by a small dinner of lean protein and vegetables. As you might suspect, the cookies are specially formulated to function as meal replacements, providing a balanced mixture of protein, carbohydrates, and fat, as opposed to the typical sugar-laden treats that we loved to see in the oven as children.

The cookie diet, however, suffers from several fundamental flaws that greatly impact its effectiveness, and these flaws are common to many short-term fad diets.

There are several variations of the cookie diet, but they all follow the same general pattern.

The cookies along with the small dinner combine to provide the dieter with about 800 calories per day. If we consider that calories are simply a measurement of the amount of energy contained in the food we eat, it’s obvious that 800 calories is not enough energy to sustain an adult human with no adverse effects.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that females from the age of 19-30 require 2000 calories per day, even with a sedentary lifestyle. The cookie diet’s daily allowance of 800 calories is clearly far below this number. People who undertake this diet will likely lose weight because of the extreme caloric restriction; it’s a simple fact that taking in so little energy from day to day will cause one to lose weight.

However, diets that function on extreme caloric deficiencies are counter-intuitive because they send the body into “starvation mode”.

The body’s metabolism is tricked into thinking that there isn’t enough food available so it becomes more likely to store food as fat in preparation of going hungry in the future. This is the exact opposite of the cookie diet’s goal of weight loss and actually promotes weight gain, especially once the diet is stopped and the dieter returns to his or her old eating habits. At this point, the body hoards its new-found surplus of energy by storing it as fat.

So if the cookie diet’s mechanism of weight loss is extreme caloric reduction, how do people manage to stay on it without breaking the diet or feeling like they’re constantly starving? It turns out that the cookie diet’s original creator, Sanford Siegel, perfected his cookie formula to include specific amino acids that curb appetite. Those who subscribe to the cookie diet are actually starving themselves, but they don’t realize it because of the appetite-suppressing ingredients in their cookies. Any diet that requires the user to trick his or her body’s natural mode of operation, should be approached carefully.

Even with the cookie diet’s appetite suppression working in its favor, it’s not a sustainable diet plan. If the dieter sticks with the diet perfectly for three months and loses a considerable amount of weight, he or she will likely decide to give up the diet since the original weight loss goals have been met.

However, as soon as the dieter returns to his or her previous eating habits, the weight will likely pile back on. This flaw is common to most fad diets, especially those that rely on the frequent consumption of a particular food. They’re unsustainable because either the dieter gets tired of eating the same thing over and over, or the weight loss goals are reached and the diet is abandoned.

To keep off the weight, the dieter would have to continue the diet indefinitely – a virtual impossibility, especially with the cookie diet. No one is denying that cookies are tasty, but would you want to eat them every day for the rest of your life?

The cookie diet displays many characteristics of a typical fad diet. It:

    1. relies on extreme restriction of calories
    2. requires the dieter to eat a specific “miracle food” every day
    3. makes a claim that seems too good to be true

Keep these traits of the cookie diet in mind when researching the next big diet plan and you’ll find it much easier to weed out the good from the bad.

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