Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Evaluating Diet Plans—a semi-scientific approach

What is even more predictable than a soap opera plot?  New diet plans!  Every year there are new diet plans, new research touted, new "miracle" foods that are discovered.  But the variety and the contradiction can be dizzying!  One book may have you eat only greens and lean meat while another has you doing whole grains and organic veggies.  Some are more radical than others, juicing only for an amount of time; no carbohydrates for a certain amount of time and restrictions for a lot longer than that, sugar substitutes for lower calorie or real butter only because of the digestibility.

How do you decide what is good, what is a sham and what is downright dangerous?  Rather than addressing each of the more popular diet fads currently in vogue (there are a lot of other websites that do that and I’ll list a few at the end), I thought I would concentrate on guidelines regular people (by this I mean people who don't have allergies or other diagnosed problems) can use to determine if the information is valid and trustworthy.
  • What would your mother AND your grandmother have to say about the foods proposed?
    • Moms are famous for common sense—don’t discount this!
  • How easily obtainable are the recommended ingredients?
    •  A lot of specialty items may have some health benefits that are outweighed by the expense of getting them. 
  • How many professional people (doctors, nutritionists, etc) were a part of putting this plan together?
    • If we require a panel of experts to make sure our toothpaste is safe, why would we let one person dictate our diet?
  • How many studies were done regarding this particular eating habit?
    • Just one?  How alike are you to the people in the study?  Do you really want to risk your health on what a small group of people did in a controlled environment?
  • What do other professionals say about the plan?
    • Reputable websites can be found that give the background and pros and cons of new diets; take a look and compare.  A lot of “new” diets are just re-packaged information from others that didn't work.
  • If you try it for a couple of weeks; how do you feel?
    • Radical changes in your diet may make you feel off-kilter for a few days (think extraneous gas from increase fiber) but it should not take your body long to adjust.  If you don’t feel good, it’s not working.

I will emphasize that the best way to formulate a healthy eating plan is to discuss it with your doctor at your yearly check up (yes, everyone should have a yearly check up, not just babies!).  He/she can give you information on healthy foods and lifestyles and what will work best for you. 

My own guideline is: the less processed the better and try to eat as many things as close to their natural state as possible.  But, if something interferes with that sometimes… don’t beat yourself up (e.g. pizza night after a long day at work).

Here are a few evaluations of popular diet plans:

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