The American Heart Association has declared "war" on fad diets. Our nutrition experts recommend adopting healthy eating habits permanently, rather than impatiently pursuing crash diets in hopes of losing unwanted pounds in a few days.
Why "declare war" on fad diets?
- To inform the public about misleading weight-loss claims. Many fad diets in circulation - like the infamous Cabbage Soup Diet - can undermine people's health, cause physical discomfort, and lead to disappointment when people regain weight soon after they lose it.
Fad diets usually overemphasize one particular food or type of food. They violate the first principle of good nutrition, which is to eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods. Those able to stay on a fad diet for more than a few weeks may develop nutritional deficiencies, because no one type of food has all the nutrients necessary for good health. The Cabbage Soup Diet is an example. This so-called fat-burning soup is eaten mostly with fruits and vegetables. The diet supposedly helps heart patients lose 10-17 pounds in seven days before surgery.
- No "superfoods" exist. That's why people should eat moderate amounts from all food groups, not large amounts of a few special foods.
- Fad diets also violate a second important principle of good nutrition: that eating should be enjoyable. Fad diets are so monotonous and boring that it's almost impossible to stay on them for long periods.
- A liquid protein diet, using digested collagen with little or no essential substances added, became popular several years ago. But in 1977 this diet was blamed for at least 60 deaths.
- Let's set the record straight about the American Heart Association's eating plan for healthy adults. Many of these diets falsely purport to be endorsed by or authored by the American Heart Association. The public should know that the real American Heart Association eating plan gives recommended servings per day of various food categories, not of specific foods. The real American Heart Association eating plan recommends that healthy Americans get no more than 30 percent of their total calories each day from fat with an emphasis on decreasing saturated fat intake. It also recommends eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
Any diet that gives specific menus or suggests that it be followed for a set period of time isn't from the American Heart Association. The real American Heart Association diet has been carefully researched and is intended for a lifetime of use. Most important, the real American Heart Association eating plan accommodates the needs of people with diverse food preferences.
Unlike an incomplete liquid protein diet or other fad diets, a good diet can be eaten for years to maintain desirable body weight and good health. Fad diets fail to provide ways to keep excess weight off.
In what other ways are fad diets flawed?
- Many don't encourage physical activity - for example walking 30 minutes most days of the week - which is helpful for maintaining weight loss over a long period. Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for heart disease.
- Because fad diets require drastic changes in eating patterns, dieters can't stay on them for long. Fad dieters don't learn anything about permanently changing their eating patterns.
- In addition, many fad diets are based on "food folklore," some dating back to the early 19th century. Diets high in protein, for example, are also usually higher in fat. They could have serious health risks - like raising cholesterol levels - if followed over a long time. Ideas about "fat burning foods" and "food combining" are also classified by the American Heart Association as unsubstantiated myths.
Despite what fad diet books may say, the only sensible way to lose weight permanently is to eat less and maintain or increase physical activity. Some major medical centers prescribe extremely low-calorie, high-protein diets for selected patients carefully monitored by physicians.
What is the best way to lose weight?
A healthy diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables along with regular physical activity can help most people manage and maintain weight loss for both cardiovascular health and appearance. The American Heart Association urges people to take a safe and proven route to losing and maintaining weight - by following our guidelines for healthy, nutritionally balanced weight loss for a lifetime of good health.
Related AHA publication(s):
- An Eating Plan for Healthy Americans... American Heart Association Diet
- Scale Down… Managing Your Weight (also in Spanish)
- Easy Food Tips for Heart-Healthy Eating (also in Spanish)
- Reading Food Labels: A Handbook for People With Diabetes, order from American Diabetes Association (1-800-232-3472)
- Tips for Eating Out; Step By Step: Eating To Lower Your High Blood Cholesterol; "How Can I Manage My Weight?" in Answers By Heart kit (also in Spanish kit), "Why Should I Lose Weight?" in Answers By Heart kit