Sizing Up a Fad Diet

As New Year’s resolutions go, changing your eating habits to lose weight or improve your health ranks high on the list. NEOMED pharmacy students recently learned how to use science to assess the safety and effectiveness of any eating plan. They researched 15 popular diets, including the 5:2, Atkins, blood type, bulletproof, fruitarian, gluten-free, ketogenic, MIND and paleo, then presented their findings in a poster display open to the public.

“If you want to validate the need for a specific diet, such as a diet that restricts sodium for patients with high blood pressure, it’s vital to investigate it with credible research,’’ said third-year pharmacy student Jen Barringer, who teamed up with John Homan, Ross Newlove, Vince Notareschi and Thomas Rouzzo to research and present on the alkaline diet.

The key points that any consumer could consider, as these students learned to: What is scientifically proven about the diet? What foods are involved? What aligns with the food pyramid? What is nutritionally missing from the diet? For what population is the diet best suited?

“We learned to ask, does this align with the food pyramid? What are the nutritional deficiencies?” said John Homan, a third-year pharmacy student.

After putting the 15 diets through these rigorous questions, the students came to this conclusion: “Many diets don’t have the scientific research needed to make them safe,” Barringer said.

For example, the alkaline diet popularized by actress Jennifer Aniston divides foods into categories of alkaline and acidic. It calls for the dieter to eat mainly alkaline foods, such as most fruits, vegetables and nuts, while cutting out acidic food, such as meat, dairy and some grains. The diet’s premise is that eating foods that strike a balance between alkaline and acidic foods will help reduce disease and promote weight loss.

 “With the alkaline diet cutting out dairy, it lacks a major source of calcium,” said Homan. With this in mind, the alkaline diet is not be recommended for pregnant women, the elderly, or patients at risk of anemia.

After investigating the various diets, the students found little data to support most of the promotional claims. On the flip side, they discovered numerous health risks, such as nutritional deficiencies—all of which taught them the value of careful scrutiny.

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