Rating the Fad Diets
With so many different diets available, how are we to know
what works and what is safe? The only way to be sure is to
discover the author’s background and the research behind
the diet’s methodology. Every good diet should give a
background about the author and his/her credentials and
experience in the fields of nutrition and biochemistry.
However, even a vast resume does not mean a credible and
safe diet. But it does suggest, at least, that the author has
some knowledge of nutrition. Providing research behind the
diet proves that the diet is not something the author
invented, so long as the research is not self-serving and
altered to fit a hypothesis.
Some diets may not need a great deal of tests and studies
behind them, simply because they are based on
fundamentals. For example, many women’s magazines
have articles on dieting and weight loss, but they are
common sense suggestions that most people concerned
about weight should know already: “Eat smaller meals”, “cut
down on sugar and fat”, etc., are typical philosophies. More
structured diets should give some scientific reasons for its
suggested success, preferably case studies and research
performed on everyday test subjects, as well as athletes.
Since we have established the importance of eating a
balanced diet in accordance to selecting healthy foods and
obtaining RDA minimums, it is possible now to rate the
diets in accordance to those specific criteria. Begin with a
score of 200 and subtract 10 points from the total for each
statement below in which the diet concedes. An ideal diet
should maintain a score of 200, but a score of 160 or
greater is acceptable.
1. The diet does not include the food groups in adequate
amounts. Some fad diets eliminate one or more of the food
groups. Do not deduct 10 points if a food group’s nutrients
(e.g., carbs, proteins, fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals) are
adequately substituted with that of another food group.
2. The diet does not provide at least 45% of its calories from
carbohydrate sources. In order to prevent ketosis, at least
150g of glucose/day is required. That’s 33-50% of total
calorie intake on a 1200-calorie diet. Keep in mind that is
the minimum. For highly active individuals, that amount
should increase to 60% at times, i.e., immediately after
3. The carbohydrate content exceeds 20% concentrated
sugars. At least 80% of carbohydrate sources should be
complex, and preferably in the form of vegetables, seeds,
4. The protein content exceeds 30%. A very high protein
intake is unnecessary, it places additional strain on the
urinary system, and it is a poor source of energy. Thirty
percent is more than adequate, even for growing children
and teenagers. The only group that requires higher protein
intake are those who recently suffered a severe injury (e.g.,
leg amputation), infection, or surgery. However, these
individuals will be under the care of a physician with a
special high protein diet.
5. Protein content accounts for 15% or less of total calories.
Although unnecessary in large amounts, protein still has
many vital functions, including tissue repair and the
formation of enzymes.
6. Fats exceed 30% of total intake. Besides increasing the
risk of cardiovascular disease, high fat diets have not been
demonstrated to decrease weight better than other methods
of ‘proper’ eating.
7. Total fat consumption is less than 15% of total calories.
Fat in moderate amounts is essential for a healthy diet, and
such a diet provides taste to many foods. Fat intake below
15% for long periods, for most individuals, is unrealistic.
Fat intake that is too low can also be detrimental to children
and teenagers who require ample kcalories for continued
8. Total fat consumption is less than 25% essential fatty
acids, and saturated fat is more than 30% of total fat
consumption. Deduct 10 for each.
9. The diet does not suggest common foods, meaning
foods you should be able to obtain at any grocery store or
10. The foods for the diet are expensive or monotonous.
Some diets require the purchase of ‘their’ foods or
expensive ‘organic’ foods only obtained through health food
stores. Some foods taste so bad they are difficult to
tolerate repeatedly (e.g., seaweed). Deduct 10 for each.
11. The diet consists of an inflexible meal plan. The diet
does not allow for substitutions or deviations, requiring a
person to live under ‘house arrest’ with the same food
selections every day.
12. The diet provides less than 1200 kcalories per day.
Less than that and the body’s basic functions may not be
getting the energy, vitamins and minerals needed to work
properly, and the dieter almost is certain to feel hungry all
the time. Diets below 1200 kcalories should be reserved for
those under the supervision of a dietitian or licensed
13. The diet requires the use of supplements. If the diet
provides adequate energy and it is well balanced,
supplements are unnecessary. ‘Fat accelerators,’ such as
ephedrine, may increase the rate of weight loss, but the diet
should be able to stand on its own merit. Some diet clinics
promote a vast array of herbal preparations and fat
accelerators, and this is where these clinics make their
money – not in their knowledge and ability as nutritionists.
14. The diet does not recommend a realistic weight goal.
Diets should not be promoting the body of a Greek god or a
supermodel. They should not be suggesting that a person
lose 100 pounds (even if 100 pounds overweight). Nor
should diets recommend weight loss below an ideal
15. The diet recommends or promotes more than 1-2
lbs/week weight loss. Do not expect to lose more than 1-2
pounds of fat a week – it is physically impossible unless
chronically obese, at which point 3 pounds may be
possible. If more than two pounds is lost per week, the
body change is due to a loss of water and/or muscle tissue.
Gimmicks that promise 10 pounds in 2 weeks are either
simply not true or else something other than fat is being
lost. Also keep in mind that the more fat a person wishes to
lose, and the less a person has, the more difficult and
slower it will be to lose additional fat.