NUTRITION
November 4, 2002

Are Fad Diets Unhealthy?

Fad diets that tell us to cut out whole categories of food may be worse than useless — they may actually be dangerous. Many people seem attracted to the notion that dietary self−denial is the path to better health. On the contrary, says University of Arkansas anthropologist Peter Ungar, humans long ago evolved to consume the widest possible range of foods, and limiting that variety can be bad for us.

"Americans assume that their diets are varied because of the seemingly infinite array of foods available to us," Ungar said. "But if you look at the average American diet, it consists mainly of fat and starch. Occasionally, we throw in some tomatoes.

...[t]he metabolic functioning of our bodies has given rise to such diseases as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

"Diets that purport to solve that problem by cutting out entire categories of food are taking the wrong approach," he added. "The modern risk, at least in part, is that our diets aren't varied enough."

In a new book titled Human Diet: its Origin and Evolution, Ungar and co−editor Mark Teaford of Johns Hopkins University argue that the discrepancy between our modern eating habits and the metabolic functioning of our bodies has given rise to such diseases as diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Further restriction of food intake, as prescribed by fad diets, has been shown to promote kidney failure, enlargement of the pancreas and nutrient deficiencies.

For analysis by TheDoctor's experts on current popular diets, see Losing Propositions, A Discussion of Popular Diets by Dr. Robert M. Russell, Dr. Edward Saltzman and Helen Rasmussen, M.S., R.D..

Reviewed by: Robert M. Russell, M.D..
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