A balanced meal is the best way to manage weight. Picture from www.alimentarium.org

THERE are many diets that promise weight loss and a brand new you. But are they good for your long-term health? Here are some of them.

LOW CARBOHYDRATE DIETS

You may have heard of the Atkins Diet, the Zone Diet and the Ketogenic Diet (sometimes called The Keto). They are variations of a diet that is low in carbohydrates.

Practitioners of these diets restrict intake of all carbohydrate food such as grains, fruits and starchy vegetables including potatoes and sweet potatoes as well as processed sugary food.

Instead, most of their food will come from protein and fats such as meat, eggs, dairy products and oils.

These diets usually have phases where you strictly cut off carbohydrates for a certain period of time. Gradually, you can add a small amount of carbohydrates that do not exceed what is allowed in the plan. The idea is to eventually stop your body from wanting carbohydrate food.

The Low Carb Diet seem to be popular among Malaysians whose staple dishes are generally carbohydrate-based food such as rice, noodles and bread (thosai, chapatti and roti canai, among them).

When you drastically reduce your carbohydrate intake your body is forced to burn off stored fat for energy, and this leads to weight loss.

The side-effects of a low carbohydrate diet include headaches, nausea, constipation, fatigue and bad breath.

The breakdown of body fat and the lack of carbohydrates in your system causes the formation of ketones, an acid waste product that is not good for health.

THE LOW-FAT DIET

This diet typically excludes fatty meats, full-cream dairy products, egg yolk, nuts and oils.

Instead, you’d be eating vegetables, fruit, grains and lean cuts of meat and fish. You will also have to be mindful of the way your food is cooked.


A low-fat diet focuses on the intake of vegetables, fruit, grains and lean cuts of meat and fish. Picture from www.drweil.com

Remember, oil is the main contributor of fat in our food so practitioners of this diet avoid food that are deep-fried, cakes, cookies, ice-cream and other desserts.

Low-fat diets were popular among the weight loss diets of earlier days. It sprouted a whole industry of low-fat food products such as low-fat cookies and low-fat ice-cream.

Unfortunately, for the fat that was reduced, manufacturers added sugar to make the low-fat food products taste better. The high sugar content was as much a contributor to overall calories as the fat.

Low-fat diets are hard to follow for foodies. For one, oil and fat make food tastier. Imagine just eating a boiled piece of chicken breast or not putting any butter on your toast.

Low-fat diets have fallen out of favour with scientists who study weight loss. A detailed review of studies show that people on a low-fat diet do not necessarily lose more weight than those who make sensible food choices.

While you do need to be mindful of trans fats (which can clog up your arteries), there’s no need to totally banish healthy unsaturated fats such as those found in nuts, beans, seeds, fish and lean cuts of meat.

INTERMITTENT FASTING

This type of diet was made popular by celebrities and go by the name “Fast 5:2”, the first number referring to the rule that one eats normally for five days and only 500 calories per day for the next two days.

Five-hundred calories will roughly work out to one bowl of rice, a cupful of stir-fried leafy green vegetables and a boiled egg.

Initial studies on the effects of intermittent fasting in lab mice showed some positive results in weight loss. However, researchers have yet to establish any definitive long-term results to draw the same conclusive results of such a diet in humans.

For some, this diet is a dream come true — you eat all you want for most days of the week and then literally starve for two days in a row!

But remember: Severely restricting your calorie intake and prolonged fasting can cause dizziness and headaches, not to mention it will make you grouchy and bring on a loss of concentration.

You may be better off making healthy choices to reduce your overall calorie intake to an amount you can enjoy without starving yourself.

DETOXING DIETS

There are many detoxing products and remedies that are popularised by celebrities to lose weight fast.


A detox diet is usually in a liquid form that is quick to digest such as juices, broth or herbal brews. Picture from www.erikabrownrd.com

You may notice that detox diets are also sometimes referred to a “cleanse” — purportedly to rid your body of toxins accumulated from overeating.

The diets usually involve consuming a small amount of specific food such as fruit, vegetables and herbs for a set number of days or weeks to purportedly remove toxins in the body.

Detoxes are usually in a liquid form that is quick to digest such as juices, broth or herbal brews.

Research on the health benefits and effectiveness of detoxes do not support its use for weight management or the removal of toxins. In fact, health experts warn that it can do more harm than good.

The liver and kidneys are our bodies’ natural detoxing organs. You’d be better off letting them do their job rather than taxing them with foods and drinks that burden them such as overly processed foods, foods high in fat, salt and sugar and too much alcohol. In short, a detox cannot undo the wrongs of an unhealthy lifestyle.

THE DASH DIET

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It is a medication-free dietary intervention developed by a team of American doctors to lower high blood pressure.

In the DASH diet, you are to eat more vegetables and fruit plus moderate amounts of whole grains, lean meat and low fat dairy.

At the same time, you must avoid high salt, high sugar foods and other high fat foods such as fatty meats and highly processed foods. Foods ideally should be cooked healthily, without too much deep-frying or excessive oil.

Because this diet is designed to naturally help people reduce high blood pressure, the usage of added sodium is limited to no more than 2,300mg per day. This is equivalent to one teaspoon or 6g of table salt.

The DASH diet is actually one of the more sound and liveable diets as you get to enjoy a variety of food.

Studies also show that people who change their eating habits to closely follow the DASH diet do lose weight, lower their high blood pressure and also cut their risk factor for heart disease.

In a nutshell, diet regiments can be hard to stick with. The more restrictive it is, the harder it is to follow in the long run. As we know, the secret to losing weight for good health is to keep the weight permanently off.

No point losing the weight in the beginning just to see it all unravel as you fall off the regiment. If weight loss is your ultimate goal see a dietitian to help you tailor-make a plan that is unique to your ability to sustain better eating habits — not a rigid diet.

Once you start with the knowledge, managing your own body becomes easier.

* Indra Balaratnam is a consultant dietitian who believes in simple, practical ways to eating well and living healthy. She can be reached at indra.balaratnam@gmail.com

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