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Paleo, Dukan, Keto, Etc: A Nutritionist-Dietitian Discusses The Dangers Of Popular Weight Loss Diets

Paleo, Dukan, Keto, Etc: A Nutritionist-Dietitian Discusses The Dangers Of Popular Weight Loss Diets
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With all the time in our hands and with nowhere to go, many of us have taken the quarantine as an opportunity to start projects or making lifestyle changes. Some are renovating their homes, some are trying out new hobbies, while others are working on their dream bodies with regular workout routines and a diet change.

There are a lot of popular diets on the Internet, and most of us turn to them when starting our fitness journey. However, how can we make sure that these diets are not only effective, but also good for us? spoke with licensed nutritionist-dietitian Cath Garcia about popular diets and how they work.

The Paleo Diet

To put it simply, the Paleo diet, also known as the “caveman diet,” only allows you to eat foods that humans ate during the hunting era millions of years ago.

Cath says that this diet may generally seem to be a good one as it contains mostly healthy food -- fruits, vegetables, grass-fed lean meat, fish, nuts, and seeds -- but it omits food items like dairy and grains, which are good sources of protein, calcium, and energy-sustaining carbohydrates.

“[On the] Short-term, it may effectively help people lose or maintain weight,” she says. “Long-term-wise, it may cause some risks, such as calcium and vitamin D deficiency, and this diet may not be sustainable.”

The Dukan Diet

Pierre Dukan created the diet in 2000 which claims to drop pounds that you will never gain back, as long as you follow the diet’s rules. An article by Web MD explains its four phases:

  1. The “Attack” Phase (1-10 days)

    You can eat all the lean protein you want, with an additional 1.5 tablespoons of oat bran, as well as a requirement of at least 6 cups of water a day.

  2. The “Cruise” Phase (Can last several months)

    You can add unlimited amounts of non-starchy veggies to your diet every other day.

  3. The “Consolidation” Phase (5 days for every pound you have lost)

    You can eat veggies, a piece of fruit, and two slices of whole-grain bread. You can also have one or two “celebration” meals where there is no restriction.

  4. The “Stabilization” Phase (Maintenance)

You can eat whatever you want. However, you need to allot one day per week where you should follow the all-protein rules from the diet’s “Attack” phase.

Cath says the Dukan Diet is highly restricting as it limits carbohydrate intake and focuses on protein. “Again, in the short term, this may show some weight loss effects. However, excess protein is stored as fat while the amino acids are secreted. This will then have the probability to cause weight gain in the long run,” she explains.

This diet can also pose health complications including kidney and liver disease, and side effects like headaches, constipation, diarrhea, and dehydration.

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The Keto Diet

The Ketogenic diet remains to be one of the most controversial. Contrary to popular belief, it was not made to be a weight reduction diet. According to Cath, it was intended to help control or reduce the recurrence of seizures in people with epilepsy.

“[The Keto diet] aims to use fat as its primary fuel, because it wants the body to produce as much ketones as possible, since ketone bodies are known to have anticonvulsant [effects].” Ketones are substances produced by the liver as a result of the incomplete oxidation of fats when glucose is in short supply, which occurs whenever we are fasting.

This diet focuses on fats alone and does not provide the body’s requirements to properly function. “Additional supplementation is required, especially for calcium, vitamin D, iron, and folic acid,” says Cath. “Aside from that, we all know how carbohydrates are the main source of energy of the body and how essential protein is when it comes to muscle repair, overall growth, and development. Depriving yourself of these macronutrients imposes serious health risks.”

The Atkins Diet

This popular diet restricts your carbohydrate intake as well, as it claims that you can lose weight while eating as much protein and fat as you want. While on this diet, you should avoid sugar, grains, vegetable oils, high-carb vegetables and fruits, starches, and legumes.

Just like in other fad diets, carbohydrate restriction can cause headaches, fatigue, and overall weakness. Atkins is also heavily complicated as it is strict and complex when it comes to the food you eat and when you can eat them.

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The HCG Diet

The human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) diet is a weight-loss plan that requires severe calorie restriction. You are only allowed to consume 500 calories a day, which is not even half of what a regular person needs!

It claims that HCG, a hormone that gets injected daily while on this diet, helps in burning fat that can shed one to two pounds per day. “This level of weight loss is very unhealthy, since the recommended weight loss is one to two pounds PER WEEK,” Cath explains.

Cath would not recommend this diet. “Some studies show that HCG injections have some adverse effects such as blood clotting, headache, depression, and even weight gain.”

What is a sustainable and healthy diet?

Fad diets can deliver dramatic results in a short period of time, which is why we are often fascinated by them. We need to ask though if they are healthy and sustainable in the long run. At the end of the day, eating a balanced meal that gives all the nutrition your body needs while watching your portion size is much easier than restricting yourself. Being consistent will help us attain both physical and mental wellness, too.

As Cath explains, “We have to realize that our relationship with food shouldn’t be filled with guilt or fear. We shouldn’t be afraid to eat whatever we want, but in moderation. Food isn’t our enemy, and I hope people come to terms with that.”

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