Fad Diet Myth Busting

apple on scaleThere is a lot of misinformation about how we should and should not be eating. Any diet that reduces the number of calories you eat can help you lose weight, but fad diets may leave your intake of important nutrients low because they strictly limit or completely leave out whole food groups. While fad diets are often meant to help people lose weight, in the long-run they can make your weight go up and down, or just make you gain weight–neither of which are good for your health. No one food or diet is a magic “cure-all” for all our health problems. Likewise, no one food or diet is a cause of all our health problems.
Fad diets are everywhere you look, and it can be overwhelming trying to figure out what a healthy diet looks like with all of these conflicting claims. Let’s take a closer look at a few fad diets you may have heard of.
Gluten-Free: Gluten is a protein found in certain grains: wheat, barley, and rye. A gluten-free diet eliminates these grains from your diet.grain

  • Myth: Grains that have gluten make you fat.
  • Fact: Eating a lot of refined white grains (such as white wheat and white rice) is connected to weight gain. Eating whole grains (such as 100% whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa, and oats) can help you lose weight.
  • Fact: You only need to avoid gluten if you have celiac disease.

Paleo: The paleolithic diet (often called the “paleo” diet) can be summarized as “if the cavemen didn’t eat it, then neither should you.” It eliminates grains, legumes (beans and nuts), peanuts, dairy, refined white sugar, potatoes, processed foods, salt, and refined vegetable oils.

  • Myth: The cavemen weren’t fat, so if I eat like them, I’ll lose weight and be healthier.
  • Fact: People who lived during the Paleolithic period only lived to be in their 20s, on average. While the paleo diet includes nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables, it doesn’t allow you to eat other nutritious foods like whole grains and legumes. Eating whole grains and legumes can help prevent and manage health problems like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Low-Fat: There’s a lot of debate on whether a low-fat diet or a low-carb diet is better for you. While diet trends today are swinging towards low-carb diets over low-fat, many people still follow a low-fat diet.

  • Myth: If I eat less fat then I’ll lose more fat.
  • Fact: Eating fewer calories, no matter where they come from, can help you lose weight. While it’s good to eat less saturated and trans fats, our bodies need unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are found in plant-based oils, avocados, nuts, seeds, and fish. Low-fat diets have not been shown to help with weight loss. In fact, by eating less fat, you may end up eating a lot of refined carbohydrates and sugar, which can lead to gain weight. Because fat helps keep us full, avoiding it all together may make us feel hungry faster, making us eat more.

Low-Carb & Ketogenic: Low-carb diets, the Atkins diet, and ketogenic (“keto”) diets look a lot alike. All three of these diets limit carbohydrates and increase fat intake.

  • Myth: Low-carb diets will help you lose more weight than other diets.
  • Fact: In the short-term, you may lose more weight on a low-fat diet, but in the long-term, weight loss is about the same for low-fat diets as it is other diets. Eating fewer calories is more important for weight loss than the different amounts of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein) we eat. The keto diet allows so few carbohydrates that it may be harmful to your health.

Before you start a diet like one of these, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does this diet tell me I can’t eat a whole food group, or that I should avoid nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, fish, or whole grains? Or that I should be afraid of a certain food?
  • If I followed this diet, would I eat a lot of sugar, red meat, saturated fat, or highly processed foods that I should be limiting?
  • Could I really stay on this diet long-term?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you may want to reconsider trying that diet.
Try to avoid restrictive diets that tell you not to eat specific foods that we know are good for our bodies. Instead, focus more on the way you eat as a whole, choosing nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and low-fat dairy every day and letting “junk foods” have their place as well–just in smaller amounts and only sometimes. This can save you a lot of stress, time, and money that you might spend following a fad diet.
Fad diets will come and go, but a balanced diet including all food groups is the key to health throughout your lifetime!
-Cara Mowery

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Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP)

North Carolina State University
Agricultural and Human Sciences Department

Cooperative Extension at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
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