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Recognizing the Fallacies of Fad Diets : They Can Produce Malnutrition, Vitamin Deficiency Symptoms

February 21, 1985

Recognizing the fallacies of heavily promoted fad diets may avoid dangerous side effects, according to a Columbia University nutrition newsletter.

According to a recent issue of Nutrition and Health newsletter, diets that provide inadequate amounts of nutrients can produce symptoms of malnutrition, including vitamin and mineral deficiencies, fatigue, dehydration and hair loss.

The faculty at Columbia University's Institute of Human Nutrition recommends that consumers compare their weight loss program with these guidelines. A good program:

Weight Loss Guidelines

--Provides a well-balanced food plan, which includes foods from all four food groups: milk, meat, vegetables and fruits, and breads and cereals.

--Allows flexibility in meal planning, including a daily minimum of two servings of milk and dairy products, two servings of meat, poultry, fish, eggs or legumes, and four servings each of fruits and vegetables, and breads and cereals.

--Follows the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which includes eating a variety of foods, moderating intake of sugar, salt, fat and alcohol and consuming adequate fiber.

--Provides practical methods for changing eating and exercise behaviors to support a healthy life style.

The institute warns that diets like the Pritikin Program may provide inadequate sources of calcium, zinc and copper and do not give consumers guidance for combining plant proteins.

Low-carbohydrate diets, like the Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet, can cause elevated uric acid levels, which can lead to kidney stones, fatigue and headaches, the institute said. The Scarsdale diet does not provide servings from the milk group, which could result in critically low calcium levels.

The institute says that low-calorie, high-fiber diets, like the Beverly Hills Diet, provide large amounts of fruits, vegetables and grains and little protein or fat. Following this diet over an extended period of time could deplete the body of protein, niacin, iron, calcium and zinc, according to the institute's analysis.

Program Recommended

The Weight Watchers Program is recommended by the institute. It meets their guidelines for sensible weight loss on a carefully scheduled basis.

The Columbia University nutrition newsletter concludes with a final tip:

"If a diet promises huge amounts of weight loss in a short period of time, don't follow it. If it emphasizes one type of food to the exclusion of most others, pass it by as well. Good eating habits, for slimming or for life, always involve the consumption of a well-balanced meal plan for every day of your life."

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