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One of my favorite lectures that I get to give is about fad diets. Those of you who regularly read the Dr. Gourmet website know that I believe them to be just silly. Atkins, South Beach, The Zone, Perricone, it doesn't matter. Sadly, all of these have been conceived by doctors (3 M.D.s and 1 PhD). There are a lot of other kooky diets that have been created by people who don't have advanced degrees, so having gone to graduate school is not an absolute requirement for making up a diet.
Fad diets vary in so many different ways - fat, low carb, high fat, high protein, high carb and just about every variation. None has been well founded in science and most use pseudoscience to bolster their concepts. The good news is that we now have more and more solid research on such diets. In the last few years research has compared diets head to head and they've not shown much difference between fad diets and conventional physician-recommended diets. Essentially, if you eat less you lose weight (what a concept!).
Last week in the New England Journal of Medicine another great study was published (2009; 360:859-873) showing that weight loss is basically about the number of calories you eat - and it doesn't matter too much where they come from. Eat whatever combination you want of carbs, protein or fat, and as long as you don't eat too much, you'll lose weight. There were just over 800 participants in the study following various diets and about 80% stuck with their diets for 2 years. They all lost about the same amount of weight and there were only slight differences in how things like cholesterol and blood sugar compared.
So why care about what you eat as long as you don't eat too many calories? Quite simply, because very large studies show that following a Mediterranean style diet and using those fresh ingredients does make a difference in your long term health - far beyond just weight loss or weight control.
That said, my argument for eating great quality calories has always been that living well is about the food first. The ingredients that make up the foundation of a Mediterranean diet taste great and are great for you. So the message is simple. It's about the food first and those great quality calories (just be careful about how many of them).
So don't believe that you have to eat some kooky diet to be healthy. You don't.
Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.
March 2, 2009