What is a Fad Diet?
Fad diets typically promise all kinds of unrealistic health claims that usually have little to no scientific basis. There is not one single type of fad diet, but they generally promote some type of restrictive eating that can help with fast weight loss. Some gain large followings of loyal supporters that stick around even after the diet’s allure has died out or its health claims have been questioned. While most fad diets are known to have a short-lived popularity and are tossed out when the next new thing comes along, some have stuck around in mainstream culture for years, and are even looked to as guidelines to healthy eating. Examples of these commonly known diets that may be thought of as healthy but still fall into the 'fad diet’ category are the paleo and ketogenic diets. These diets promote a lifestyle that is not sustainable in the long-term, and may have adverse health effects if followed blindly without the proper nutritional knowledge.
List of Fad Diets
Modern fad diets, no matter how absurd some sound, have been gaining traction since the early 20th century, and range from the grapefruit diet of the 1930s to the more recent juice cleansing trend that has been popularized by public figures. Some examples of fad diets over the years are the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet, the Zone diet, and the HCG diet that recommends only consuming 500 calories a day. Some fad diets focus on removing entire food groups, or only focus on one macronutrient, such as the Ketogenic and Paleo diets, the raw food diet, and low-carb or low-fat diets. Also, any diet with the world cleanse in it (think ‘Master Cleanse’) or one that involves only consuming liquid should be stayed away from.
How do Fad Diets Affect Gut Health?
The main goal of fad diets typically is fast and easy weight loss, and gut health usually isn’t factored into that process. Fad diets might show quick results, but they can also disrupt the delicate balance of the gut microbiome along the way and lead to other potentially long-lasting health issues. For example, studies have shown that high-protein/low-carb diets can decrease microbial diversity, and can specifically reduce bacterial strains that are typically key components of a healthy gut. Moreover, this type of diet can reduce the amount of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) found in the colon, which is typically associated with higher levels of inflammation. The point here is, while a fad diet might help you lose weight quickly, it might also cause your bowels to end up looking similar to those of someone with an inflammatory condition such as ulcerative colitis. And the damage done on the way might cause weight related issues later on if gut balance isn’t restored. Fad diets also don’t take into account individualized nutrition needs, and may put people on a diet plan that includes foods that are potentially harmful to their unique gut microbiome and/or leaves out foods that could be beneficial.
Do Fad Diets Work?
A simple answer is they don’t. Unfortunately, some fad diets are so ingrained into modern day health and nutrition culture it’s hard to go to a grocery store without seeing a label with Keto, Paleo, or Grain-Free on it. Although an abundance of short-term success stories may be out there, those results are usually exactly that, short term. Fad diets are simply not sustainable, and can lead to ‘yo-yo’ dieting, eating disorders, and gut dysbiosis that could lead to weight gain after stopping the diet. Persistent fad dieting might also lead to increased levels of inflammation in the gut and systematically, which can have long-lasting effects on overall health. Research has shown that our gut microbiome can differ up to 100% on an individual level, making it hard to believe that a diet marketed to the masses could supply the right nutritional needs for a healthy gut.