When you want to get healthier, it makes sense to start researching different approaches to nutritious eating.
However, there’s a wealth of different views on this, ranging from scientifically informed meal plans to fad diets that are unlikely to get you the results you’re looking to create.
In the worst cases, fad diets can even be dangerous, depriving you of key vitamins and minerals that you need to thrive. But how do you tell the difference?
In this guide, we aim to help you sort through all the conflicting information about healthy diets and fad diets.
We’ll begin by defining exactly what a fad diet is, and differentiating it from a healthy diet, and we’ll unpack exactly why fad diets can be bad.
So that you can make healthier choices in your own life, we’ll explore five of the worst diet fads, before closing with some advice that will help you take your healthy eating plan forward.
A good diet is vital for a healthy, happy life. This means figuring out how to get the right balance of nutrients to support everything from your immune system to your heart health and your waistline.
Gad diets take you away from those goals. But what’s a fad diet, exactly? Generally, it’s one that provides you with an eating plan that’s incredibly restrictive.
It will ask you to eat just a couple of foods every day, or it will require you to mix unusual foods together for a short time.
Often, the goal is quick, noticeable weight loss.
When you hear the above description of quick weight loss, you might think that diet fads sound like they could be helpful – a quick shortcut to the figure you want.
There are several problems, however. Firstly, such diets are not sustainable due to the strict demands they place on your eating.
Most people only last a short time sticking to controversial diet fads, and then often go back to unhealthy diets that lead to weight gain and low energy.
Secondly, and even more importantly, bad fad diets can actively deprive you of key vitamins and minerals that your body needs in order to be healthy.
For example, you can end up with little to no protein or not enough iron, leading to muscle wastage or low energy.
In contrast to fad diets, healthy diets can be sustained for life and make sure you get everything you need. But what exactly makes a diet healthy?
The ideal average intake of calories each day will vary, but most people need about 2,000 per day in order to thrive.
However, to maintain a healthy diet, you also need a balance in your daily meals. For example, you should aim to include the following (along with water!):
Protein: Protein is well-known for its importance in workouts, as it helps to build muscle.
In truth, we all need it, as it is the basic building block of all of our cells.
Indeed, more than 15% of your total body weight comes from protein, and all of your hormones and antibodies are fueled by protein too.
Carbohydrates: Contrary to low-carb diets, good carbs like those from whole grain foods (rather than refined sugars) are great for you.
They give you long-lasting energy, and your immune system needs them to protect you against disease.
Healthy fats: Fats are high in calories, but heart-healthy ones (e.g., coming from nuts, olive oil, and fish) are vital for cell production, wound healing, and brain function.
Vitamins and minerals: There are 13 key vitamins and minerals you need, including vitamins D, C, A, B6, and B12, and they all contribute to everything from your skin to your vision, your bones, and protecting you against cancer.
With the above in mind, then, what kind of diets should you aim to avoid? How can you tell when you’re looking at a bad diet?
Here’s a list of five of the very worst diets for sustaining overall health, along with explanations of how they can ultimately undermine your well-being.
Again, many of these can promote quick weight loss, but they aren’t long-term plans and they don’t give you what your body needs.
You’ll see people talking about following “the keto diet” all the time, especially online, but what is a keto diet?
In sum, it asks you to eat a lot of fat, a little protein, and almost no carbohydrates.
The original purpose of the diet plan was to minimize epilepsy symptoms in younger patients, but it has since been adopted as a quick way to shed pounds of weight.
However, in spite of its enthusiastic supporters, there isn’t much scientific evidence that the keto diet is safe – or even that effective, if you keep it up for a long time.
And it’s very difficult to stick to.
Sometimes called the “meat only diet”, the carnivore diet has become especially popular over the last few years. There are a few different versions.
One involves eating nothing but beef, and others combine other meats with key animal products like eggs and cheese.
There are certainly success stories out there about this approach, but experts warn that isn’t possible to keep up over the long term without potentially depriving yourself of some of the all-important nutrients we mentioned above.
For those determined to do it, the safest way to proceed is under close supervision from a healthcare professional.
The Atkins diet made the headlines when people were first following it, but the details were often scant enough that you might be asking “But what is the Atkins diet, exactly?”.
It was the original popular low-carb diet around 20 years ago, and it has resurged in popularity thanks to the trendiness of the keto diet and other low-carb approaches.
The major difference between Atkins and keto is that keto majorly limits how much protein you can eat, which Atkins is more permissive.
As with most fads, again, quick weight loss is possible, but experts caution that it can be hard on your heart.
What are cleanse diets? The details vary between different plans, but the basic premise is that you consume nothing but liquid and thereby “remove toxins” from your body at the same time as helping you lose weight.
They’re especially popular around the new year when people make commitments that involve clean living.
And cleanse diets sound great in theory, but once again there is no credible research supporting their health benefits.
In particular, the pioneers of these diets often sell you expensive ingredients to make up the juices, making cleanses costly.
And your liver does all the “removing toxins” that your body needs.
You probably know people who swear by the Whole30 diet, but what is the Whole30 diet suggesting you change in your life, exactly?
Basically, it tells you to focus on “whole foods”, many of which are super healthy – like fresh vegetables and multiple servings of fruits.
The thought is that removing processed foods from your diet helps with both weight loss and general health.
We’re on board with those suggestions.
However, where Whole30 gets problematic is where it cuts out beans, grains, and dairy food.
None of these are absolutely necessary, but prohibiting them makes it hard to follow the diet plan.
Hopefully, you now have a better sense of what a fad diet actually involves, and why there’s a principled reason to avoid plans like this when you’re trying to get healthy.
And now that you’re thinking about living a healthier lifestyle, why not use our unique service to create a meal plan that is perfect for your needs?
At HealthyEating.com, we can design a diet that works for you, and recommend a massive range of meals and snacks that help you get your daily recommended intake of all the most important nutrients.
We have so many recipes to choose from, along with a calorie counter and even an ingredient shopping list to help you organize your next trip to the store.