I’m not a dieter. I find regimes very difficult to follow, but I recognise that others find them of immense value. I remember from my short time spent working in a bookshop just over a decade ago that the number of diet books available seemed to be growing like mushrooms in the dark, and I was somewhat surprised at their healthy sales. The Atkins diet sticks out in my mind as one of the more popular fads of the Nineties, and I had several friends following this ‘no carbs’ regimen. They did lose weight, but it always seemed to go back on again. The most recent one that people around me seem to be fans of is the ‘5:2’ diet, which entails fasting for two days of every week. I am assured that it has all kinds of benefits, including sharper thinking.
The Good Diets
Looking at the best ‘fad’ diets, and arguably, the best diets can’t really be classifed as ‘fads’ because these have stood the test of time. But, let’s say they began as a ‘fad’. Over the years, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – or DASH—has held the top spot position in the USA’s Best Diet Rankings. These are diets that are healthy and have been shown to improve overall health. DASH was designed to lower blood pressure, but it also proved to “contribute to weight loss and lowered risk of other major health issues such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease,” says Shape magazine. The easy to follow DASH diet was based on research sponsored by the US National Institutes of Health and focuses on wholesome, nutrition-packed foods and has no extreme restrictions on what you can and can’t eat.
Other winners in the ‘good’ diet category are the Mediterranean diet, which as we all know is fish, fruit, veg and wholegrains with moderate amounts of fat, and the MIND diet which is a combination of DASH and Mediterranean, and focuses on brain health, particularly with regards to preventing Alzheimer’s and dementia-related conditions.
The Bad Diets
The fad diet that seems to get a fair amount of criticism is the Whole 30 programme. It is 30 days of highly restrictive eating in which you cut out, sugar, alcohol, grains, pulses, dairy and processed foods, baked goods plus more. You do it for 30 days, which is supposed to rebalance your digestive system, detox you and all the rest, but medical experts found the programme unsustainable and potentially unhealthy because it restricts certain food groups and is high in sodium and cholesterol. This diet, alongside the Paleo diet, which involves eating a lot of meat, so unsuitable for vegetarians and vegans, has been criticised as being unsustainable in the long term and therefore ineffective.
Another diet that comes in for some stick is the Dukan diet, made popular in the UK by Kate Middleton in the run up to her wedding to Prince William. It involves eating large amounts of protein for fast weight loss and following four complex stages: Attack, Cruise, Consolidation and Stabilisation. Apart from the daily consumption of oat bran, which is a constant throughout, it does require keeping some kind of planner for the different phases. Essentially, the amount of protein consumed is what makes it unhealthy, and in this respect it is similar to the Atkins diet, which has been around for decades.
The conclusion would appear to be that the better diets are balanced and teach a way of eating that includes all food groups, whereas fads usually offer quick fixes, rather than a healthy way of life.