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March 26, 2013

Same diets come back with different names

March is national nutrition month, and I wanted to talk about the subject but not the same old eat-more-vegetables message I’m consistently bringing up. 

I was looking at eatright.org, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website, and found a neat fad-diet timeline tool. I was surprised at how often the same types of messages came up. 

The recurrences probably should not have shocked me, however, since many fad diets are based on a little sound science and most fail to look at the long-term sustainability of the diet and, more importantly, the weight loss. Following these fads often results in frequent and significant weight loss and gain, which we know is unhealthy for your body and tends to damage your metabolism over time. 

As a disclaimer, I should mention that I work for a grant-funded program through which we promote the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. I have heard arguments against what we teach and recognize that every individual has unique needs and may find that other eating patterns work for them. What I do like about the guidelines, though, is that they promote basic healthy eating and being active as part of a healthy lifestyle. That said, here are some of the more interesting fads I saw:

Low-carbohydrate diets started back in the 1820s. Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin hypothesized that since carnivores and herbivores did not become overweight — unless herbivores were fed grains — that it was the starchy substances that cause humans to gain excess weight. This diet appears again and again, I think showing that we do tend to eat excessive amounts of carbohydrates, but this first argument oversimplifies the differences between human and animal eating patterns. 

Fletcherizing, a term I had heard before, got started in 1903 and promotes chewing your food 32 times. Literally counting out chews between bites seems a little excessive to me, but surely eating slower has been found to benefit weight loss. It takes some time for your stomach to communicate to your brain that it is full.

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