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Fad Diets- A Comparison

December 14, 2018

Fad Diets- A Comparison


We all know that I am anti fad diet- but I wanted y’all to be aware of the common fad diets, what they are, benefits seen, as well as adverse effects of each. The problem with fad diets are that they are not sustainable. If you can make a diet sustainable, you enjoy it, and it makes you happy and healthy- GO FOR IT. That would then make it your new lifestyle choice! However, fad diets can be detrimental and can create a viscous cycle of restriction, leading to rebounds and weight gain. Not only that, but fad diets create the image that eating a certain way is “magical” for weight loss. There is no magical diet because the diet that is best for YOU is one that helps YOU feel your best, reduces foods that cause you specifically inflammation and gut distress, improves your mood and happiness, and allows you to live your life.

I hope you find this comparison helpful! All resources and references are included below. Happy learning! Note some of the diets do not have many clinical benefits as they have not yet been studied in a clinical trial.

Mediterranean Diet


It is a nutritionally balanced diet. It is focused on plant-based foods (eg, fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds), minimally processed foods, olive oil as the primary source of fat, dairy products, fish, and poultry consumed in low to moderate amounts, and minimal amount of red meat. Nutrients from these foods help support optimal growth and development while also promoting a healthy weight. The Mediterranean diet can be prescribed with or without an energy restriction.

Background claims:

The Mediterranean diet reflects the media claims that these dietary patterns of Crete, Greece and southern Italy helps people live longer.

Clinical Benefits:

Mediterranean diet may improve cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure, blood glucose, and lipids, more so than a low-fat diet. Mediterranean diet can make your heart healthier (through the reduction of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides), protect against cancer and chronic disease, improve serum blood lipids and blood sugar, improve blood pressure, and reduce inflammation.

Adverse Effects:

Related to inadequate micronutrient intake if unable to follow the diet.

Dash Diet:


The DASH encourages the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, seeds, low-fat dairy products, and lean meats and limits consumption of sodium, in addition to caffeinated and alcoholic beverages. It also encourages: 6-8 servings of grains, including pasta, rice, cereal, and bread, 4-5servings of vegetables, 4-5 servings of fruit, 2-3 servings of low-fat dairy food, 6 ounces of fish, poultry, or lean meat, 4-5 servings of nuts, seeds and legumes, and 2-3 servings of fats and oils per day.

Background info:

The DASH diet has been shown to be associated with reducing blood pressure, risk of cardiovasculuar disease and cardiovascular related events, and reduce risk of depression. The DASH diet ranked best diet for 8th year in a row by US News & World Report.

Clinical Benefits:

A DASH diet combined with weight loss significantly enhances reductions in blood pressure above that achieved by weight loss alone. Originally designed to lower blood pressure, the DASH diet is very effective for weight loss, lowering cholesterol, and managing or preventing diabetes, and managing hypertension. It also helps to reduce risk of stroke and myocardial infarcation.

Adverse Effects:

Too little sodium can be consumed- it’s imperative to have sodium in the diet. A general suggestion in the DASH diet is 1,500-2,300 mg/day. Lack of sodium can lead to hospitalization due to insufficient heart, organ, and muscle function.

Ketogenic Diet


Involves the restriction of carbohydrates around less than 50 g per day (individualized based on serum ketones), with a moderate protein intake and high fats- putting the patient into a state of ketosis. Protein intake must be kept at sufficient levels to prevent excess protein from converting to glucose and knowing an individual out of ketosis. Optimal ketosis is 1.5-3mmol/L.

Background info:

Claims are that:

-Eating more fat “burns more fat”-when in actually it increases fat oxidation

-“Increased fat loss”

-Claim of Carbohydrate-Insulin Model of hyperinsulinemia and fat deposition allowing for enhanced fat loss

Clinical Benefits:

The keto diet may improve insulin sensitivity in Type 2 Diabetics, Increased satiety from increased fats & protein, may help reduce seizures in epilepsy, may play a role in cardioprotective health via increased mitochondria in ischemia, and may be beneficial for reducing risk of cancer and neurodegenerative disease.

Adverse effects:

It may negatively impact strength and aerobic exercise performance, alter the gut microbiome, cause insulin resistance, and increase risk of hypoglycemia in Diabetes. High medium chain triglycerides utilized may cause GI disturbances. If not done correctly with a balance of saturated, monounsaturated, and polysaturated fats, it may induce hyperlipidemia and dyslipidemia. Mineral and vitamin deficiency, metabolic acidosis, and increased risk of kidney stones have been documented.

*-Statistics show that though a KD diet results in statistically significant weight loss, may studies do not control for protein intake or exercise in their interventions. Long term diet results do not show benefits to the KD diet over an isocaloric diet.*

Paleo Diet


The “Caveman diet” which follows the eating patterns of our ancestors with a focus on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat, eggs, and limiting: grains, dairy, legumes, potatoes, refined sugar and oils.

Background info:

Prohibited foods are associated with inflammation leading to chronic disease and may improve glucose tolerance, weight loss, and blood pressure. It encourages high intakes of fruits and vegetables and nutrient dense foods.

Clinical Benefits:

It may reduce triglycerides, blood cholesterol, markers of inflammation, and aid in weight loss (due to a caloric deficit). Potentially benefical for those struggling with autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s.

Adverse effects:

It may lead to vitamin/mineral deficiencies(specifically Calcium and Vitamin D), may reduce intake of fiber, and may cause GI disturbance.

Whole 30:


Whole 30 emphasizes consuming unprocessed, whole foods such as meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, some fruit, and herbs/spices. It is a program that lasts 30 days and viewed as a “reset.” Many follow to cut added sugar intake. Restricted foods include grains, dairy, added sugar (real or artificial), alcohol, legumes, MSG, carrageenan, sulfites, dairy, baked goods and junk food with “approved ingredients.”

Background info:

It has been used with claims to: End unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, lose weight, heal your digestive tract, balance your immune system, and lower chronic systemic inflammation


May reduce inflammation, improve GI disturbances, balance blood sugar, reduce cholesterol and triglycerides, and aid in weight loss (though no difference when calories matched). No random clinical trials yet completed.

Adverse effects:

Can be restrictive and reduce intakes of calcium and vitamin D.

Vegetarian Diet


Vegetarian diet consist of mainly plant based foods and moderate amounts of dairy and eggs (depending on type of vegetarian). Meat is completely restricted.

Clinical benefits:

Benefits include weight loss, reducing risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, reducing risk of cancer, improving blood lipids and cholesterol, and reducing inflammation. (Atributes mostly due to increase of fruits/vegetables, fiber, antioxidants, and decreased intake of processed foods and saturated fats from animal products).

Adverse Effects:

Nutritional deficiencies: Deficiency of Iodine, Vitamin B12, Essential amino acids, zinc which are obtained from animal products. If insufficient essential amino acids are consumed, lack of muscle protien synthesis for muscle building can occur and poor muscle recovery. In those not consuming dairy, vitamin D and calcium may be deficient and may increase risk of osteoporosis.

Weight Watchers

Background info:

According to their website, weight watchers is not a diet, but a plan designed to help you live a healthier life while continuing to eat whatever you want. Weight watchers is based on the SmartPoints system that allows you to count points, not calories. Every food and drink is assigned a SmartPoints value based on nutritional value. Sugar and saturated fat bring the number up while protein brings the number down. It encourages consumption of more fruits, vegetables, lean protein and less sugar and unhealthy fats.

Adverse effects:

Adverse effects include: Rebound. Lack of ability to maintain weight post diet. Vitamin/mineral deficiences based on foods chosen. GI disturbance.

South Beach Diet:


A 3-phase modified low-carbohydrate high-protein diet.

Phase 1:

Lasts 2 weeks. Cut out almost all carbohydrates from diet including pasta, rice, bread, and fruit. No fruit juice or alcohol. Focus on eating lean protein (seafood, skinless poultry, lean beef and soy products), high-fiber vegetables, low-fat dairy and foods rich in healthy, unsaturated fats including avocados, nuts and seeds.

Phase 2:

Long term weight-loss phase. Begin adding back foods restricted in phase 1 including whole-grain breads, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, fruits, and more vegetables. Stay in this phase until goal weight is reached.

Phase 3: maintenance phase. Eat all foods in moderation.


Encourages intake of fewer carbohydrates and more lean protein, mono-or polyunsaturated fats, and low glycemic carbohydrates.

Adverse effects:

GI disturbance, constipation, brain fog due to low carbohydrates.



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