By Katherine Yaremko, Columnist
America's obsession with fad diets and fast nutritional fixes has contributed to our adoption of, and at times, blind adherence to ridiculous marketing schemes.
Advertisements for weight loss programs bombard us with propaganda about the slimming effects of following their low-fat, low-carb or high protein diets. While some of these diets may result in some weight loss initially, most are ineffective at curbing excessive weight for extended periods of time. In addition, they raise serious questions about the health effects of their products. Perhaps what is most disturbing about these diets is that they mainly advocate weight loss in order to reel in customers while hardly mentioning anything about their food's overall health and nutritional value. Even those maintaining an average weight can still suffer from poor eating habits and nutritional deficiencies.
One of the most recent developments in the food marketing world is Dr. Siegal's Cookie Diet. Customers are provided with six cookies to eat per day, at 90 calories each, and a multivitamin packet "to take care of any deficiencies that might arise," according to Dr. Siegal, as quoted in The New York Times. In addition to the cookies, which are a blend of fiber, protein and other ingredients, followers are supposed to eat one actual meal a day. Accounting for this single meal, the diet leaves individuals with a total intake of approximately 800 to 1,000 calories every day. For comparison, that's the average caloric intake of a refugee in Darfur, Sudan.
While arguably the most ridiculous and dangerous diet currently on the market, the real danger lies in its success, with the company garnering a profit of $12 million last year. Other popular diet options may not be as extreme, but that is no indication that they are not harmless. I am not an expert in regard to diets, although the low-carb diet, with the Atkins Diet being an example, is one whose nutritional value I am skeptical of. Followers increase their intake of protein and fat, a lot of which comes from animal sources. Now, there is nothing wrong with receiving protein and fat from meat but a diet which advocates meat as a main source of fat probably won't result in long-term health. Unsaturated fat, derived mainly from plant sources, is generally considered to be much healthier than its animal-derived alternative, saturated fat.
Concerns with losing weight as quickly as possible have also contributed to certain dietary misconceptions, such as the idea that carbohydrates lead to weight gain. This seems to be a contributor to the large success of Atkins and similar diets. However, only large amounts of refined grains should cause individuals to gain weight. Unrefined whole grains are metabolized at a slower rate, and if higher in soluble fiber, help to keep one feeling full. A higher soluble fiber intake has also been associated with lower cholesterol levels and a lessened risk of cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association, if one also eats less saturated fat.
It may be common sense that low-calorie diets do not lead to long-term health. Although, this won't prevent those looking to make a profit from exploiting the fears that many Americans have about losing and keeping off weight. For the most part, diets fail after they are completed since the dieter usually returns to previous unhealthy eating habits. Therefore, the best way to eat well, maintain a healthy weight and avoid being sucked into expensive diet programs, is to put in the extra time and effort to construct healthy meals yourself or to buy foods which have not been heavily processed. While not always convenient in today's fast-paced world, it will definitely benefit you in the long term and minimize the influence of those who would prefer to siphon off your wallet than actually promote beneficial advice about healthy eating.