The eating edge

By: Fran Berkoff, registered dietitian

Author: Canadian Living


The eating edge

By: Fran Berkoff, registered dietitian

There's no doubt about it: we're dieting more -- and getting heavier. Yet there's an abundance of books, magazine articles and television shows that tempt us with pledges of quick and easy weight-loss programs and improved health. And when the diets are endorsed by a celebrity or designed by a doctor, they're even more appealing.

The common-sense advice of eating less and exercising more pales in comparison to the delicious promise of losing weight forever. For the most part, any of these diets will work...for a short period of time. Finding a diet that will help you lose weight and maintain that loss for a long period of time is much more of a challenge. There is no one diet that works for everybody.

Some diets have been with us for years; others fit with the fashion of the day. Here, we've cooked up a chart that lets you compare popular diets and see how they fare.

Diet 1: Raw Food
Such as the Caveman Diet and Hallelujah Diet

Hook: If you return to the Garden of Eden and eat like our ancestors, you'll feel healthy, decrease your risk of illness and lose weight.

Diet: Most raw-food diets suggest eating at least 75 per cent of your food raw; strict versions insist on a 100 per cent no cooking regime. The diet consists of fresh raw fruits, vegetables, sprouted seeds, nuts, grains and legumes. Advocates suggest that cooking destroys certain enzymes; without these enzymes, they say, digestion is more difficult. Subcategories of raw-food dieters include fruitarians, who eat mostly fruits; sproutarians, who eat mostly sprouts; and juicearians, who consume mostly fresh juice. None of the groups eats dairy products, eggs or meat.

• You get all your nutrition from fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. They're rich in vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants.

• The diets are low in calcium, vitamins B12 and D, zinc and possibly protein.
• They're difficult to follow on a long-term basis.
• Preparation of raw foods can take a lot of time, and the diets prohibit eating prepared foods.
• Raw isn't always best. Certain foods, such as tomatoes, are more nutritious when cooked.

Bottom Line: These are fad diets. They're very difficult to follow and are not supported by any scientific evidence.

Diet 2: Glycemic Index
Such as Rick Gallop's GI Diet

Hook: You can eat lots of healthy carbohydrates, as long as they're the right ones, and still lose weight.

Diet: These diets work on the principles of the glycemic index (GI), which shows how different carbohydrates affect blood sugar once eaten and digested. Low-GI foods, such as brown rice, rye bread, oatmeal, eggplant, apples, grapefruit and yogurt, cause a more gradual rise in blood sugar and take longer to digest; they release energy more slowly, leading to more consistent energy levels. Rick Gallop's GI Diet suggests that low-Gl foods are better for blood-sugar control in those with diabetes and may help with weight loss because they leave you feeling fuller for longer. High-GI foods, such as white bread, potatoes and watermelon, are more quickly absorbed, so you don't stay full for as long. The diets suggest you eat lots of low-GI foods for meals and snacks.

• You'll eat lots of healthy fruits, vegetables and grains that will provide vitamins, minerals and fibre.

• GI diets are not as exact as the books make them sound. The total GI of a meal can be altered by the combinations of foods you eat; for example, if you top a potato with cheese or butter, which take longer to digest, you'll lower the combined Gl of that meal.
• There's no GI for meat, fish, poultry, eggs or fats, so you have to limit the amounts of these foods to lose weight.

Bottom Line: It takes some work, but you can construct a healthy, balanced diet that will leave you satisfied.

Diet 3: Calorie Controlled, Moderately Fat Restricted
Such as Weight Watchers

Hook: In business for about 40 years, Weight Watchers is a highly successful commercial weight-loss program.

Diet: The Weight Watchers Points system is the basis for this diet: all foods are assigned a point value that takes into account their fat, calorie and fibre contents. Higher-fat, higher-calorie foods have higher point values. Your point allotment is based on your body weight and your weight-loss goals. Although there are no forbidden foods, intake of rich, high-fat foods is discouraged. However, you can use the points system to fit moderate amounts of these foods into your diet.

• The diets are well-balanced weight-loss plans that allow you to buy and eat the foods you like.
• Weekly group meetings provide support that people find helpful. You don't have to attend but you'll have to pay a fee if you don't.

• It's possible but less likely that you could make poor choices and end up with a diet low in nutrition.
• Although the program makes an attempt to address some of the psychological issues behind weight problems, the group approach makes it difficult to address people's most personal issues. If you don't like group dynamics, these diet programs are probably not for you.

Bottom Line: Like all diets, they work as long as you stay with the program. As with most programs, long-term compliance is challenging.

Diet 4: High Protein, Low Carbohydrate
Such as Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution and Sugar Busters

Hook: You'll lose weight quickly, eating as much fat and protein as you want.

Diet: These diets blame high insulin levels and malfunctioning metabolic systems for most weight problems. Their suggestion: restrict carbohydrate consumption to no more than 20 to 30 grams a day -- one slice of whole grain bread has about 15 grams, as does 1 cup (125 millilitres) of rice or potatoes. Enjoy unlimited amounts of meat, poultry, fish and eggs; nuts; seeds; oils; and some nonstarchy vegetables, such as spinach and lettuce. Certain diets, such as Protein Power, allow for small amounts of fruits and dairy and whole grain products. All restrict refined carbohydrates, such as breads, pasta, cereals and sugary foods.

• People lose weight quite quickly on the diets and usually say that they aren't hungry because the fat and protein in the foods are so filling.
• You don't have to count calories.
• You can have unlimited amounts of allowable foods.

• The diets are deficient in several vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, which is necessary for bone health; folate, which is important for women considering pregnancy; and calcium. They're also low in fibre.
• The lack of variety in the diets could make long-term adherence difficult.
• It has been suggested that a high-fat diet does not affect cholesterol levels, but there have been no long-term studies to prove this.

Bottom Line: There are no published studies to show the long-term impact of these diets on maintaining weight loss. Questions remain about possible associations between high-fat diets and the risks of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. They have large dropout rates, indicating that following these regimes is difficult.

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The eating edge