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As a new year rolls around and the guilt from eating one too many mince pies comes with it, so too does the temptation to give that diet which seems all the rage on Instagram a go. From expensive diet plans to the exclusion of certain food groups, the promise of a quick, simple health fix comes in diverse forms. But do they actually work?

The gluten-free diet is one that has taken the world of nutrition by storm in recent years. With claims that going gluten-free can clear up your skin, give you a flatter stomach or a better night’s sleep, it is of little surprise that people are increasingly opting for gluten-free alternatives to their favourite meals and snacks. However, unless you suffer from coeliac disease or IBS there is little evidence to support the advertised health benefits of this fad. Somewhat ironically, gluten-free foods are often less nutritious, given that they typically have a reduced amount of fibre and other micronutrients. In fact, researchers from Columbia University Medical Centre have suggested that going gluten-free could potentially make you more at risk of developing heart disease due to the reduced number of whole grains it leads people to consume which are proven to improve heart health. Instead, it is far more likely that those who are willing to completely change their diet and cut out gluten are also more likely to make other healthy changes, like eating more fruits and vegetables, which the benefits falsely linked to a gluten-free diet can be attributed to.

Somewhat ironically, gluten-free foods are often less nutritious, given that they typically have a reduced amount of fibre and other micronutrients.

One approach to dieting that has always perplexed me is the juice cleanse. A favourite among celebrities in Hollywood and on social media, these fads are claimed to purge your body of toxins and help you shed weight in no time. While juice fasts involve drinking only liquids, the length of detoxes can vary anywhere from three days to three weeks. Although an influx of fruit and veg may seem a great way of nourishing your temple, they can actually be quite dangerous and ineffective. The first problem with diets such as the juice fast is the idea that your body needs help to cleanse itself of toxins. Your body already does a perfectly good job of this with the trusty help of your liver and kidneys and doesn’t need to be drowned in pulverised fruits and vegetables in order to do so. Secondly, while low in calories and therefore helping you to achieve the calorie deficit needed to lose weight, juice cleanses can result in a person consuming as few as 800 calories a day which risks sending the body into starvation mode. Additionally, there is no scientific evidence to support juice cleanses and their claim to put you on the track to achieving good health. However, there is evidence to suggest that they will significantly reduce the weight of your wallet with many juice fast regimens requiring the purchasing of pre-made juices, which don’t come cheap.

Perhaps most notorious of all health fads is the low-carb diet. The Atkins or Ketogenic diet are among those health fads which advocate restricting carbohydrate intake and increasing fat and protein consumption. The idea behind this is to reduce the body’s glycogen stores and make the body’s fat stores its primary source of fuel. If carried out safely and for a short amount of time, it is possible to see fast, positive results and studies have linked a low carbohydrate diet with the prevention of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Perhaps an ideal option for those looking to shed the few extra pounds they may have earned over the winter. But, as with all diets, if taken to the extreme it can result in a lack of vital nutrients needed to stay healthy. For example, a low-carb intake can deprive your body of fibre, resulting in poor digestion and insulin regulation. Yet, the most glaring problem with a low-carb diet is how sustainable it is. While proven to be a quick way to lose weight, such a strict diet is hard to maintain and may have adverse effects on your body and mental health if carried out long-term.

Ultimately, there is no fast-track route to good health; it requires dedication and discipline but most importantly, it must be sustainable.

While the multitude of health fads can be an attractive option when you’re feeling a little bit more insulated this time of year, they may not always be the best option for those looking to achieve a healthy lifestyle in the long-term and can actually prove quite dangerous. Ultimately, there is no fast-track route to good health; it requires dedication and discipline but most importantly, it must be sustainable. You’re not going to want to stick to a diet that separates you from your favourite foods. So, if this year you’re hoping to achieve a body you’re happy with, make sure you do it safely, that you educate yourself about the food you eat and treat yourself every once in a while.

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