Nutrition Experts “Weigh” in on Popular Diets

January 11, 2016

Every few months, another weight loss diet craze rolls through our nation prodding people to endure juice fasts, alkaline-centric foods, and any other wild and crazy idea that may make some cash for the diet czar.  Salonpas® interviewed some leading nutrition and wellness authorities for their take on some popular weight loss regimes:

Neal Malik, Assistant Professor, School of Natural Health Arts & Sciences at Bastyr University.

Neal Malik, Assistant Professor, School of Natural Health Arts & Sciences at Bastyr University.

Paleolithic Diet – “What many don’t realize is that this diet has been around since the 1980s,” says Neal Malik, Assistant Professor, School of Natural Health Arts & Sciences at Bastyr University.

“While we are now seeing resurgence in its popularity, I have some qualms about this diet. Anthropologists familiar with our Paleolithic ancestors’ behavior agree that these early humans did not follow any one style of eating. Basically, they ate whatever and whenever they could. They didn’t purposely follow a ‘clean’ diet – they just ate whatever was available to ensure survival.”

“In fact, some scientists have gone so far as to say that early humans had a diet similar to pigs,” says Malik. “The Paleo community doesn’t recognize that early humans were located all around the globe during this era and they didn’t all eat the same foods. Some did actually eat beans, grains, etc. which are off-limits in this modern version of the diet.”

“Researchers have repeatedly found that whole grains and beans, when consumed regularly, may actually prevent many diseases and reduce systemic inflammation,” says Malik. “Following this style of eating may lead to excess consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol. We’re learning that while saturated fat may not impact our LDL cholesterol (aka “bad cholesterol”) as significantly as we once believed, saturated fat may lead to more inflammation in the body which can contribute to illness.”

“Those that follow this pattern of eating do not account for the differences in fatty acid composition of the meat of the animals today vs. the composition 10,000 years ago,” says Malik. “During our ancestors’ days, the fatty acid composition of livestock consisted of higher omega-3 fats— fats that actually improve our health. However, due to differences in the way we feed and raise livestock today, the meat tends to be higher in saturated fat. Lastly, there’s some data that reveals a high protein diet may actually increase the risk for certain forms of cancer.”

Dr. Mark Sherwood and Dr. Michelle Neil Sherwood

Dr. Mark Sherwood and Dr. Michelle Neil Sherwood

Other experts disagree.  “The Paleo diet is a great template for which people can start,” says Dr. Mark Sherwood who co-authored “Quest for Wellness” with his wife Dr. Michelle Neil Sherwood.  “However, without good instruction and guidance as to the unique macronutrient ratios required for each person, this plan can become quite tricky.”

“For example, some people are able to handle a good amount of fats as compared to others, who are very sensitive to that same amount,” says Dr. Sherwood.  “Having too many fats can be just as detrimental as having too little. The greatest benefit offered by the Paleo diet is the elimination of grains, breads, and sugars. Further, the elimination of dangerous processed foods is valuable. The Paleo nutrition plan is generally our first go-to as a template in regard to escaping the pitfalls of the standard American diet.”

“The Paleo diet is a well-balanced diet, if done correctly,” says Margaret Marshall, a food and eating coach, contributor to Huffington

Margaret Marshall

Margaret Marshall

Post, and author of several books on healthy eating (her new book, Healthy Living Means Living Healthy will be published by Motivational Press in 2016).  “The focus is eating only the food that our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate; meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, and lower glycemic index food such as non-starchy fresh fruit and vegetables. It eliminates all processed food, trans-fats, and the Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, but increases the healthy monounsaturated and Omega-3 fats.”

“The Paleo diet is a healthy eating style, but since it’s a far stretch from the current average American diet, it may prove challenging for some to adhere to the Paleo diet guidelines,” cautions Marshall. “If you stay with it, the diet contains all healthy food items that will only benefit you and your health.”

Dr. Frank Ditz, M.D., a primary care physician affiliated with SignatureMD

Dr. Frank Ditz, M.D., a primary care physician affiliated with SignatureMD

“I think the Paleo diet looks very interesting,” says Dr. Frank Ditz, M.D., a primary care physician affiliated with SignatureMD. “It is a combination of a lot of different theories and has a lot of followers. It is a low carb (high protein and high fat) diet and concentrates not only on avoiding unhealthy carbs, proteins, and fats but also picking more nutritional sources of food. I think it is reasonable that the diet is maintainable and could become a long term healthy lifestyle for many people.”

Alkaline Diet – “The trendy thing today is to consume massive amounts of protein,” says Dr. Sherwood. “This consumption will prompt an acid-based environment inside your body. The higher acidity and less alkalinity hamper detoxification pathways. The alkaline diet, full of green vegetables and fruits, produces the necessary nutrients to complete the requirements for the detoxification process. Proper pH balance is critical for the success of this process. Overall it is good to include alkaline foods, however, do not neglect the sufficient amount of quality protein and fats.”

“The Alkaline diet is restrictive,” says Marshall. “A vegetarian or vegan would have an easier time of following this diet than somebody who enjoys meat. The Alkaline diet does promote healthier food, such as fruits and vegetables, but the protein you eat will be plant based protein sources. You must be disciplined to follow a diet this restrictive.”

“Following the Alkaline diet could reduce the risk of forming kidney stones, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, along with other health claims,” cautions Marshall. “It should be stated that many other diets are not as restrictive and offer the same benefits.”

“I don’t believe in the Alkaline diet,” says Dr. Ditz.  “I don’t think it is something which will be sustainable and does not make that much physiologic sense to me.”

“This diet is interesting to me,” says Malik. “We know that in vitro, acidic environments increase risk for diseases like cancer. However, our bodies have a well-built system of keeping our bodies’ pH within a very specific range. If our blood begins to become too acidic or alkaline, the body adapts and will attempt to get the body’s pH back to normal. So, the question is how much of an impact does consuming alkaline foods have on our bodies’ pH? Likely not much. The American Cancer Society has released their official statement on alkaline diets and cancer risk and they clearly state that this eating pattern likely does not decrease one’s risk.”

Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and Atkins – “Staying consistent with the fact that these are just ‘diets’ without implementing lifestyle change and understanding is problematic,” says Dr. Sherwood.  “Guidelines and protocols are given with the end result being weight loss. It is important to know that all weight is not created equal.”

“For example, five pounds of lean muscle tissue takes up less space as compared to five pounds of fat tissue,” says Dr. Sherwood. This can cause a scale ‘distortion’ in regard to people’s goals. In our opinion, chasing after scale weight is a critical mistake. More benefit is gained by pushing towards positive body composition change.

We should add that having a plan to follow, though not perfect, is extremely beneficial. It does provide a starting point. However, lifestyle change should be the end goal. Anything less generally results in great failure and non-sustainability over time.”

“I personally focus on the South Beach and Atkins Diets,” says Dr. Ditz. “Our population is swelling with people developing “Syndrome X” which is genetically set to activate in most of us who take in too many carbs and don’t exercise enough. I see many patients, who are strict on the diet, lose 20 pounds in the first month and often 10 pounds in following months with many larger individuals losing an average of 60 pounds.”

“Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, and Atkins are all commercial, one-size-fits-all, diet plans,” says Marshall.  “Jenny Craig offers a counselor to help suggest which of their food products you should purchase; Weight Watchers offers peer support, while Atkins offers on-line support. All three programs offer food products claiming to be healthy alternatives to food commonly purchased in the grocery store.”

“I recommend that you be knowledgeable about the ingredients in the packaged foods and calculate how much money you have spent over the years with these plans,” says Marshall. “Did you achieve and maintain your ultimate goal?”

  • Jenny Craig suggests you eat their prepackaged meals and snacks, and if you continue long enough, will wean you off the Jenny Craig items onto food commonly purchased in the grocery store.
  • Weight Watchers gives you a point system to calculate the point value for the food you eat each day, similar to calorie counting. They also offer healthy guidelines with wide boundaries to appeal to the masses.
  • Atkins asks you to eat large quantities of protein items with little to no carbohydrates, appealing to the meat loving population.

“All three programs have merits and pitfalls, but they are a good start,” says Marshall. “These programs want you to think within their box, and you may tire of them and easily give up. Thinking outside their box, along with further education about a healthy lifestyle, offers you more of a customized approach to sustain lifelong healthy eating.”

“What I like about Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers is the focus on real, lifestyle behavior change,” says Malik. “These programs understand that in order for real change to occur, we cannot ignore behavior. However, if individuals rely too much on purchasing company-specific food products to help them lose and maintain their weight this may not be feasible in the long-term from a monetary standpoint.”

expertNuvo Weight Loss-   This plan advertises that the dieter will “lose 20-40 lbs. in 40 days without exercise.”  “Not to criticize other businesses or people, but let’s be direct with our answer this question,” says Dr. Sherwood. “The heart of the matter resides in the fact that everyone, I mean everyone, needs to exercise. That in itself makes this particular claim misleading and destructive. Losing weight, as we stated, is a side effect of proper lifestyle and wellness. Additionally, as previously noted, all weight is not equal. If for example, one loses 20 to 40 pounds and 15 pounds of it is muscle, we believe the person is far worse off in this condition compared to when they began. Because these claims do not delineate between the two types of weight, we cannot, in good conscience recommend any such protocol or promise. Remember, it is not about weight loss, but is about lifestyle change.”

“I believe by doing my research that the Nuvo Weight Loss Clinic is not anything I would ever recommend to anyone,” says Dr. Ditz.  “I understand it was not developed by any Medical Doctors, endocrinologists, nutritionists, but by a chiropractor who uses a gimmick gadget to promote sales of supplements and a dietary program. It is my understanding the gadget is sold to patients and claimed to be able to do things which are impossible to do at this time. It seems that this is mostly a way to try to get rich quick at the expense of the desperate who ask for help from a ‘physician.’”

“There is never a guarantee in weight loss,” says Marshall. “There are too many variables to consider. How can a weight loss clinic predict a customer’s behavior? Losing 20 to 40 lbs. in forty days is a quick, unhealthy, and unrealistic weight loss goal unless you weigh over 400 lbs. People lose a percentage of their total body weight, yet we measure it in pounds. For example, consider a person with 100 lbs. to lose, who lost ten pounds–and another person with 10 pounds to lose, who lost one pound. They both lost 10% of their body weight, but it’s measured in pounds.”

“The claims are no hunger, exercise, or cravings – what?” asks Marshall. “These are three major components to a healthy lifestyle. You have to understand and treat true hunger, know why you crave the food you do, and budget time to include exercise for lasting weight management.”

“To my knowledge, I have not seen any data that shows this to be true,” says Malik. “It doesn’t mean that no data exists but my instinct tells me this is a temporary fad. These types of claims that appear to fly in the face of years of research typically are not well-founded.”

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