Spotting Diet Fads: A Guide to Making Informed Nutritional Choices

Thanks to diet culture, most Brits have dieted at some point in their life, with the average Brit trying over 100 diets in their lifetime. It goes without saying that the 126 diets tried are not effective or sustainable, so why do people opt for them? These types of diets are often referred to as ‘fads’ and are typically short-lived in those who attempt them. We’re here to help you learn how to spot a diet fad to ensure you’re fuelling your body with the right food that will actually benefit your body.

What is a fad diet?

A fad diet is one that tends to rise rapidly in popularity. It promises quick results – normally fat/weight loss based, with very little to no evidence to support the diet. 

Typically fad diets involve omitting certain food groups or ingredients or restricting the times of day that you eat. There’s often a set of complex rules that need to be followed in order to adhere to the diet.

Common Fad Diets

While there are many different types of fad diets, we have laid out some popular ones below and our opinions on them.

Ketogenic diet

A ketogenic (keto) diet has a very high fat, moderate protein, and very low carb macro split, often as follows:

  • 70-75% fat
  • 20% protein
  • 5-10% carbs

Carbohydrates are our body’s main energy source, so when carb intake is low, our bodies break fat down to produce something called ketones instead.

Some tissues, like our nervous tissue and red blood cells, can only use carbohydrates as energy. Ketones, unlike fatty acids, can cross the blood-brain barrier and therefore provide the brain with energy. If the concentration of ketones reaches a certain point, we say the body is in a state of ketosis.

Would we recommend it?

In short, no.

The ketogenic diet was originally used to help reduce incidences of seizures in epileptic children and has little long-term benefit otherwise.

Any diet that cuts out a whole food group or macronutrient is not something we would recommend. It is extremely restrictive and unsustainable and tends to involve a large amount of saturated fat as well, which can increase your cholesterol levels.

Further, it is not something we would suggest following without the supervision of a medical professional as there are a number of risks associated with it. This includes low blood sugar levels, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and issues related to gut health.

Intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting, often abbreviated to IF, is an umbrella term given to various meal timing schedules to cover different fasting periods.

Types of IF include:

  • 16:8 – fasting for 16 hours, eating your daily intake in an 8-hour window.
  • 5:2 – eating ‘normally’ for 5 days of the week, and restricting to 5-600 calories for the remaining 2 days.
  • Alternate day fasting – fast entirely, every other day.

There is no conclusive evidence to show the proclaimed health benefits of IF at this stage, although the research is ongoing. Currently, it seems to pose as a fad diet that enables those adhering to it to stay in a calorie deficit by skipping meals.

Would we recommend it?

It can be a useful tool for fat loss if it allows you to stay in a calorie deficit. More often than not, restricting your intake in such a way can lead to extreme hunger and mean you’re more likely to binge later in the day, or the week, depending on the type of fasting schedule you’re trialling.

If you find yourself bingeing or constantly thinking about food, this approach is not a sustainable option for you.

Carnivore Diet

The Carnivore diet only allows the consumption of meat, fish, eggs, dairy (in small amounts), and water – essentially the opposite of a vegan diet. It’s a form of ketogenic diet, however, a truly keto diet will have a target macro range, which the Carnivore diet does not. Foods to avoid include:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts/seeds
  • Legumes
  • Grains
  • High-lactose dairy foods
  • Alcohol
  • Sugars
  • Any drink that’s not water

Are we tempting you?

Would we recommend it?

As nutritionists, no. And certainly not on a longer-term basis.

It’s incredibly restrictive, unbalanced, and frankly, an unpleasant way to eat. We source a large amount of micronutrients from fruit, veg, nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains, so by eliminating those entirely, we put ourselves at risk of nutrient deficiencies. Not to mention, any form of socialising around food or drink goes out of the window.

5 ways to spot a fad diet

Spotting a nutrition fad can take a bit of getting used to, so we’ve laid out some pointers below:

  • If the outcomes sound too good to be true, they most likely are.
  • If you’re being guaranteed a quick fix or set results in a time period.
  • Lists of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods.
  • Excluding or severely restricting food groups or essential nutrients.
  • Anything with strict, rigid rules to follow.

If you’re contemplating a new diet, and it fits one or more of the above points, it’s best to reconsider what small changes you can make to your current diet/lifestyle that will be sustainable for you rather than a complete diet overhaul that will only last a few weeks. It can also be helpful to take a look at your relationship with food, as often fad diets are utilised by those whose relationship with food could be worked on, or book a call with an FFF Nutritionist today to discuss what the best approach to reaching your goals may be!

Fresh Fitness Food provides personalised meal plans delivered straight to your door. We ensure not only that you have the nutrients you need to manage your stress levels, but also that you have the time usually spent shopping, cooking and washing up, to engage in your favourite stress-reducing activity. To discuss which nutrition plan is right for you, book a call with our in-house nutrition team here.

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Meghan Foulsham

Published by Meghan Foulsham

Meghan's fascination with metabolism and the effect of diet on the body covered in her BSc Biochemistry, paired with being a passionate mental health advocate, led her to a Master's degree in Eating Disorders and Clinical Nutrition. Using this, Meghan works with clients to help them reach their goals in the most sustainable way, without sacrificing or risking their mental health.

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