Tipping the scales in your favor


We know you're probably not listening, but health and nutrition experts would remind you that fad dieting is not the healthiest way to lose weight. The best way: Eat less and exercise more.

However, many of you probably have a New Year's resolution to lose weight quickly.

There are hundreds of diet books on the market offering promises. How do you separate diet fact from fantasy?

Roger Sargent, University of South Carolina nutrition professor; Teresa Moore, undergraduate coordinator of exercise science; and Dr. Gary Ewing, an instructor at the School of Medicine's Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, helped assess some of the popular diet fads:

High-protein diets

Despite their popularity, high-protein diets drew the most caution from our panel.

The basic premise of each is that you can burn fat by eating protein and avoiding carbohydrates. These plans zero in on the fact that the body first uses carbohydrates (sugars and starches) for basic energy needs because they are easily turned into glucose. If the body doesn't need the glucose, it is stored as fat until needed.

Pros/cons: High-protein diets work, at least short term, because they are calorie-controlled, and the immediate weight loss is from water. The problem is that you can't stay healthy on these diets for the long haul because they have too much protein and fat and not enough vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.

Also, when protein is broken down, it releases nitrogen, which must be washed out of the body quickly. Ultimately, there is a risk for kidney problems. In addition, dieters also can lose a significant amount of lean body mass, which could lower your metabolism.

Other diets "The New Beverly Hills Diet" claims that fruit enzymes can burn up calories before they hit your hips and advocates eating carbs and proteins at different times. For the first 10 days, you eat nothing but fruits. Later, you can add bread and protein.

Pros/cons: The Beverly Hills diet allows for more variety than many other fad diets and, in the later stages when foods such as baked potatoes or steak are included, can be followed fairly easily, even when dining out.

However, there is no scientific evidence that the body processes particular combinations of foods any differently from random combinations. The Beverly Hills diet has been judged low in vital nutrients and might cause diarrhea.

"The New Cabbage Soup Diet" advocates eating a lot of, you guessed it, cabbage soup, supposed to have fat-burning powers.

The stew-it-yourself staple of this plan consists of one head of cabbage, six large onions, two green peppers, one 28-ounce can of tomatoes, one bunch of celery, one packet of onion soup mix and water. Dieters down this soup daily to their hearts' content, plus a specified food for each day, including fruits, vegetables and/or chicken, beef or fish.

Pros/cons: Although cabbage packs no fat-burning powers and the diet sheds mainly water weight, the standard recipe is a good healthy soup, Moore said. And it will fill you up, acting as an appetite suppressant. On the down side, some dieters complain of gas, nausea and light-headedness after a few days on this spartan regimen. And it's monotonous.

The grapefruit diets got their start in the 1930s when the Hollywood Diet debuted. It called for downing a few select vegetables, small amounts of protein and grapefruits, believed to contain a fat-burning enzyme.

For three weeks, a typical day might consist of half a grapefruit and black coffee for breakfast; half a grapefruit, plus an egg, cucumber, a piece of dry melba toast and plain tea or coffee for lunch; and two eggs, half a head of lettuce, a tomato, the obligatory grapefruit and tea or coffee for dinner.

Pros/cons: The monotony might even numb your appetite. And because the calorie cutback is so severe, initial weight loss can be dramatic. However, you miss out on many vital nutrients. "You could starve to death on this one. Don't do it," Moore said.

Pub Date: 1/01/99

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