Dr. Lee, the Healthy Professor

6 Popular Diet Plans Reviewed

Fad Diets or Popular Eating Plans?

Written by Dr. L. Lee Coyne

The word “fad” means a temporary or popular fashion, manner, practice or behavior with an emphasis on “temporary”. “Fad” has been used for many years in conjunction or association with diets, eating plans or weight loss programs that do not conform to “conventional” or authoritative views.

In fact the web site http://www.chasefreedom.com reviews over 300 “fad” diets. However, with some diet plans enduring much longer than others and new research revealing that weight loss and fat burning is more than mere calorie counting, one might ask “when does a fad turn into common knowledge or a successful practice?" After all every new idea that endures had to start somewhere.

This is a brief review of several popular diet plans. After reading this primer, you are encouraged to do your own research with an open mind. Realize that some plans are popular because of clever marketing and others are because they seem to work. Even the scientific community has been known to stick with the paradigms they know best and area reluctant to change their views and recommendations. Go with the real research.

A fundamental reminder and fact is that in order to lose stored fat you must have a calorie deficit. Fat will not dissolve and be flushed out of the body nor will it evaporate. Fat must be metabolized in order to leave its storage depot. It is also a fact that unless you are in a state of ketosis, it is difficult to metabolize more than two pounds of fat in a week and that would require some regular exercise.

Atkins New Diet Revolution

Undoubtedly the most popular anti-conventional diet book or plan on the planet. Dr. Robert Atkins first published his controversial “very low carbohydrate / high protein, high fat” eating plan in 1972. The book has been a best seller for years and gone through over 60 printings.

He re-introduced the concept 20 years later in 1992 under the “New” umbrella and it continues in popularity. Actually the “New” version is not really new but rather updated to include a graduated plan to allow for longer-term maintenance.

The fundamental principle of the Atkins plan is based on insulin control by drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and allowing unlimited fat and protein consumption. It promotes the development of ketosis in order to encourage more fat loss. By the way, endocrinologist Dr. Calvin Ezrin of UCLA has stated that dietary induced ketosis is not dangerous. During the “induction phase” the Atkins plan allows for only twenty grams of carbohydrate per day and that is represented by one slice of bread or one apple.

After the initial weight loss there is the introduction of more vegetables in a graduated manner with the emphasis still on insulin control. To compensate for the low intake of micro-nutrients like vitamins and minerals (the main purpose for consuming fruits vegetables and grains) he recommends responsible supplementation.

This low intake of nutrient rich foods and the use of supplements along with the high fat high protein content has led to considerable criticism from the conventional community. In defense of the unorthodox plan is the recent publication of at least six well controlled studies, including one from Duke University comparing the Atkins plan the American Heart Association phase one – low fat, low calorie, that demonstrated better weight loss, better lipid profiles and better compliance with the Atkins plan.

The downside of this plan may lie in the difficulty with long term use because it can become very “heavy” and very boring and unless you know your supplements well, there is the risk of nutrient deficiencies.

The Zone

Dr. Barry Sears created a stir in the diet community with the introduction of his “Zone” diet plan in 1995. This is a “protein adequate”, carbohydrate restricted, moderate fat (although 30% fat is considered low fat by the American Heart Association) eating plan. The macro nutrient distribution of the Zone is 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein and 30% fat. It is often erroneously lumped in with the high protein, low carbohydrate diets but a quick review of the numbers shows it is merely a “different” balance than conventional advice.

It is a “lower carbohydrate” and a “higher protein” eating plan. Although Sears made the concept popular with an extensive marketing campaign, he did not invent the concept. There were other 40-30-30 plans before 1995. The fundamental goals are not unlike Atkins in that the culprit in fat accumulation is chronically elevated insulin. Insulin is the storage hormone and high simple carbohydrate diets lead to chronically elevated insulin.

There his premise is to lower the glycemic index of all meals by eating protein in every meal and every snack and to have all meals and snacks balanced close to the 40-30-30 ratios. To the newcomer it may seem complicated and difficult but adherents claim that within a month of retraining the eyes and hands they can come close enough.

The eating plan is individual and based on desirable weight combined with protein requirements and level of physical activity. It promotes liberal use of “healthy” carbohydrates and lean protein sources. There may be some frustration for a small number of people who are very carbohydrate sensitive or very insulin resistant but his program does try to address these issues. Some parts are far to “medicinal” in explanation  to be practical.

The South Beach Diet

Designed by cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston, the South Beach Diet was created to lower cholesterol for heart and diabetes patients and is purported to be a healthier version of the Atkins Diet.

It focuses, like most of the low or lower carbohydrate diets on reducing insulin by consuming complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables along with lean protein portions. It eliminates sweets, pasta, most breads and follows an Atkins-like restrictive carbohydrate intake during the weight loss phase.

There is nothing exotic about this plan. It offers recipes and very lose guidelines along with the typical marketing techniques of promoting rapid weight loss in the first two to four weeks. This is the newest among the low carbohydrate plans with the least research documentation provided.

Eat Right For Your Blood Type

According to Dr. Peter Adamo, the creator of Eat Right for Your Blood Type, there are better and worse foods for you depending on your blood type.

Apparently type A people had farmer ancestors and should be vegetarian and avoid meat and dairy products. Type B had nomads for forefathers and should eat red meat and fish whereas type O people originated from hunters and gatherers and should eat lots of animal protein and little carbohydrates. Type AB’s are of mixed ancestry and can be combination Type A and B eaters.

The theory is based on extensive library reviews and does have some credibility in that it reflects that there are genetic differences. One diet does not fit all people. However, the restrictive nature of the advice for some blood type groups neglects the fact that the “human race” is far from pure and that the ancestry of many is mixed.

It gives sound advice on selecting natural and fresh food sources, advocates responsible portion control, at home preparation and appeases the masses by admitting that 75% compliance will be acceptable. The con side of this plan, besides some of the restrictions is that it has not been subjected to clinical trials whereas the Zone and Atkins have stood the test of such research.

Susanne Somers “Get Skinny on Fabulous Foods”

This television personality best known for the “Thigh Master” exercise infomercials promotes and eating plan with a goal to eliminate sugar and white flour and emphasizes fibre rich and natural food consumption.

Insulin control is the objective and divides her plan into two levels. Level one is very restrictive on refined carbohydrates and although she doesn’t come right out and endorse “food combining”, the restrictions within her recommendations are just that.

Somers maintains the when proteins and carbohydrates are eaten together, their enzymes “cancel each other out,” creating a halt to the digestive process and that results in weight gain.  This is faulty reasoning. Besides the fact that our digestive systems are designed to easily handle mixed diets, there is the fact that if digestion were halted, you would lose weight because none of the calories would be extracted and absorbed.

There is also the restriction of fluids during meals because it dilutes digestive enzymes. A pseudo fact without scientific merit. The level two portion seems to contradict many of the recommendations in level one and appears to be a 1200 calorie program which would be a form of starvation for many. She also de-emphasizes the role of exercise in weight management.

The Carbohydrate Addicts Diet

Drs. Rachael and Richard Heller followed personal experience to design a low carbohydrate eating plan with a twist. The science is no different than that used by Atkins or Sears in the Zone diet.

They recommend an Atkins restricted carbohydrate plan for two meals per day, followed by a “reward” meal of “anything you want as long as you consume it in less than one hour”.  They do try to have you balance that meal with 1/3 meat, 1/3 low-carb vegetables and 1/3 carbohydrate rich foods including deserts. This practice is simple and allows for one insulin surge (fat storage episode) per day and that will still allow for weight loss (fat loss) to occur.

Unfortunately they have not paid enough attention to the nutrient content of their advice and that could set up some people for nutrient deficiencies and all its consequences. For example, they do allow you to honor your cravings for fried chicken and French fries. However, the Heller’s do provide an extensive review of the scientific literature on this subject in this book and in subsequent books.

* Data values (carbohydrate, protein, fat (LCT) and fat (MCT). Percentage of calories:

  • Typical American: 50, 15, 35, 0
  • Atkins (induction phase): 5, 35, 59, 0
  • Classic ketogenic: 1.6, 8.4, 90, 0
  • MCT ketogenic: 19, 10, 11, 60.


Join the conversation