7 Diet Trends That Can Hurt You

We're surrounded by friends, coworkers, and celebrities who swear by Paleo, juice cleanses, "nothing white," and gluten-free diets. Do they work? Maybe. But are they safe? Maybe not.

Below are descriptions of some popular eating trends, and what experts have to say about them.

1. Gluten-Free

Gluten-free has become so popular that most grocery stores now have entire sections devoted to the products, and avoiding gluten is a must if you have celiac disease or some version of sensitivity to gluten. But how many people actually have celiac disease? Only about one in 133.

And there are dangers associated with eating a gluten-free diet. If you have self-diagnosed as needing a gluten-free diet absent a medical diagnosis, you may be assuming you have celiac disease where there may be another medical cause. Secondly, by eating gluten-free, you may be missing out on important vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Think you have gluten sensitivity? This study may be eye-opening. Unconvinced? See your doctor.

2. Paleo

Paleolithic man existed before agriculture, when we assume they survived as hunter-gatherers. They probably would have eaten berries, tubers, mammals, and fish. They would not have had access to dairy or processed foods. Proponents of this diet claim that we would be healthier if we had stuck to this menu, rather than eating grains, legumes, dairy, and processed foods. By following a Paleo diet, it is claimed, we would not be obese, have diabetes, or heart disease.

Maybe. I think we can all agree that cutting down on processed foods is a good idea. I know I have concerns about refined foods, sodium, and preservatives. However, consider that humans have greatly evolved since Paleo man.

According to William Leonard of Northwestern University, "We now know that humans have evolved not to subsist on a single, Paleolithic diet but to be flexible eaters, an insight that has important implications for the current debate over what people today should eat in order to be healthy."

Areas of concern? The amount of red meat the Paleo diet recommends (which may lead to bowel cancer) and eliminating whole grains and legumes, which have proven health value.

Also, as the Mayo Clinic reports, "There is little clinical research on the benefits of paleo diets.... Researchers have argued that the underlying hypothesis of the paleo diet may oversimplify the story of how humans adapted to changes in diet."

James Hamblin, in his March 24, 2014 article for The Atlantic, writes about a study conducted by Dr. David Katz of Yale University's Prevention Research Center:

"If Paleolithic eating is loosely interpreted to mean a diet based mostly on meat, no meaningful interpretation of health effects is possible.... The composition of most meat in today's food supply is not similar to that of mammoth meat, and that most plants available during the Stone Age are today extinct."

3. "Nothing White"

Pretty much just the way it sounds, the "nothing white" diet has you avoid refined white flour, white sugar, potatoes, pasta, bread, white beans, etc. Carbohydrates are not eliminated, but rather, replaced with healthier alternatives. This is a method of lowering your glycemic index (a measurement of carbohydrates and their impact on blood sugar).

It may indeed help you lose weight, and eating more of the colorful fruits and vegetables recommended may help you decrease your risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

So what are its issues? It's pretty difficult for Joe Regular Person to eliminate all white bread, pasta, potatoes, and white sugar from your diet. Secondly, you need to be mindful of this information from WebMd:

"Keep in mind that not all whole grains are a good source of fiber. For example, brown rice is more nutritious than white rice because it contains the whole kernel of rice, but it's not necessarily a good source of fiber."

4. Juice Cleanse

Another popular trend, the juice cleanse, purports to help you lose weight, detox, and have more energy. You can concoct your own, or purchase from a (staggering) number of sources.

Sure, you will probably lose weight, but it will mostly be water weight. Also, fruit sugar is still sugar, so you might actually gain weight if you're drinking lots of fruity cleanses.

5. The Alkaline Diet

Avoidance of high-fat animal products, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, plus eating lots of nuts, some soy, avocados, and produce are the hallmarks of the alkaline diet. Like the "no-white" diet, it has been popularized by great-looking celebrities. As the theory goes, avoiding acid-promoting foods and beverages promote a "neutral" blood pH, promoting health and weight loss. A list of specific foods supposedly helps keep your body more "alkaline."

But the thing is: your body is already taking care of this for you, unless you have kidney problems. Our stomachs are acidic, so that they can break down food; your urine changes depending upon what you eat. So, your body is already taking on this job. Nothing you eat is going to substantially change the pH in your blood.

However, unless you overdo the avocados, nuts, and seeds, which are full of calories, the diet is pretty good for you, although I personally think the list is pretty restrictive. As an experiment, I tried it for a while. I missed dairy, coffee, and alcohol. It did get me eating more fruits and vegetables, although the recommended choices were sort of expensive. While there is some promising data, a study from the National Institute of Health concludes, "At this time, there are limited studies..."

6. Vegan

Vegans do not eat meat, fish, poultry, or animal products such as eggs, dairy, or honey. Being a vegan, though, is not just about weight loss. People often choose to become vegans for ethical reasons, their health, or environmental reasons.

A vegan diet may help with weight loss, heart health, and diabetes prevention and control. But there are also some things you'll need to watch for:

"As a vegan, you need to spend a large part of your life planning what to eat," warns Dr. Michael D. Gershon, chairman of the department of anatomy and cell biology at New York's Columbia University. "While it is possible to get the nutrients you need, it's difficult.... Vegans are more vulnerable to certain nutritional deficiencies," he says, referring to vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin D — all critical for energy and mood.

7. The Raw Diet

Proponents of a raw diet claim that cooking food destroys nutrients and natural enzymes. Some even believe cooking makes the food toxic. Food is either uncooked or unprocessed. You can eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and sprouted grains; some eat unpasteurized dairy, meat, or fish. I love to cook, so this isn't at all appealing to me, but the list of foods to use is very nutritious, high in vitamins, minerals, etc.

So, any big red flags on the raw food diet? Much like other diets listed above, you need to make sure you are getting enough protein, iron, and calcium. In tropical areas, eating raw foods can be dangerous due to the presence of rat-lungworm disease.

Have you tried any of these trendy diets? How'd they work for you?

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