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Ask for Evidence - Spoof Diets

Diets on the internet: You might as well make them up

Spoof Diet Quiz

See comments and coverage on the VoYS Spoof Diets project.

Diets: a very good way to eat what’s good for you and lose weight, but the decent ones are drowning in reams of conflicting advice, dodgy nutrition claims and self-styled gurus in newspapers, lifestyle magazines and all over your Facebook feed. Asking for evidence can help to distinguish the bogus from the beneficial, and there are a few rules of thumb that can help you weigh up new diet fads (eg unless you’re in extreme training, you probably don’t need a high protein diet; and unless you’re pregnant or seriously ill, you are unlikely to need a daily regime of vitamin supplements).

But we need to make more of a fuss about all the silly stuff because it isn’t without consequence – people actually introduce malnutrition through overly restricted diets, they buy expensive products and exotic foods, and they lose heart following unsustainable diets when they need to make a significant health change.

So, to make more of a public fuss about the stream of fad diets, our Voice of Young Science network has completely made up five of their own and we’ve mixed them up with five ‘real’ diets that have been doing the rounds. Can you tell the spoofs from those lacking in proof?

Ask for EvidenceWhen in doubt,
Ask for Evidence.

 

 

We’ve also teamed up with relevant specialists in our Voice of Young Science network to give you their opinions on these thirteen diets – and share some things to remember when you see similar claims in the future.

Top tips: 

Ask for Evidence. If you're being sold a product or asked to believe a claim then you deserve to know whether it’s based on evidence – or imagination.
Immune boosting. You can’t and you don’t need to.
Detox. It’s a marketing myth – our body does it without pricey potions and detox diets.
Superfood. There is no such thing, just foods that are high in some nutrients.
Cleansing. You shouldn’t be trying to cleanse anything other than your skin or hair.
If it sounds too good to be true … it probably is.

Check out the thirteen diets below and click to see the scientific opinion on each one, or see the Spoof Diet document and check out some comments and coverage.

All Dairy Diet
Have you heard of the 'All Dairy Diet'? Eat only dairy products - yoghurt, cheese, milk, even ice cream - for three weeks to rebalance your system and shed weight. Dairy has all the protein, carbs, fats, and vitamins your body needs. Studies have shown that diets containing dairy helped participants lose more weight, so you can just imagine the effects if all you're eating is dairy!
28/07/2014
Alison Clark, Registered Dietitian
“Well, while we know that dairy does contribute to a healthy balanced diet, it lacks essential nutrients for optimal health and wellbeing. Where is your source of omega-3? And your fibre? Whilst dairy is part of a healthy balanced diet, the diet should not be taken to the extreme with nothing else included – remember, everything in moderation!”

This diet is... a SPOOF!
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Anti-Ageing Diet
To stay looking youthful, get rid of all the sugar from your cupboards and your shopping list. That means no yoghurt, no ready-meals, no dessert, no pasta, no cakes and no biscuits. Eat plenty of oils, nuts and avocado for good fats, and add meat to your breakfast and lunch as proteins and amino acids are full of antioxidants. If you want to keep alcohol as part of your diet, organic wine is okay - but never more than three glasses.
28/07/2014
Leah Fitzsimmons, Biochemist
“Cutting all sugar from your diet would not only be fatal, but also very difficult to achieve – fruits, vegetables, dairy products and dairy replacements, eggs, alcohol and nuts all contain sugar, which would leave you with little other than meat and fats to eat – definitely not very healthy!”

This diet is... NOT a spoof!
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Beans, Bananas and Belly Dancing Diet
By simply eating one can of beans, two bananas and doing an hour session of belly dancing per day you will turn that flab into fab! Scientists have shown that by combining flatulence-inducing beans, with high fibre bananas you get a dramatic increase in bowel movement and gas production. This may sound undesirable but the more gas you shift the more weight you lose. Combine that with some intestine stimulating belly dancing and you’ll be shedding those pounds faster than you can say one, poo, three!
28/07/2014
Claire Marriott, Biomolecular Scientist
“So, beans, bananas and belly dancing… an interesting strategy, but I’m not convinced! For a start if we’re talking baked beans in sauce then that’s a lot of sugar to be eating (20g per can); fine in moderation and yes a good source of protein and fibre but not every day. Plain beans or pulses have just a tenth of the sugar so are an even better option. The beans and banana combination could well have an effect on your digestion (how “dramatic” would depend on your current diet) but generally an increase in flatulence is considered as an unwanted side-effect of eating more fibre rather than part of the weight-loss strategy! Exercise is considered a good way to combat constipation and with so many other benefits there’s no harm in the advice to do more; belly dancing could certainly be a part of a healthy living plan and could be a lot of fun… plenty of other options would work just as well too though!”

This diet is... a SPOOF!
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Boredom Diet
You can eat any food you like but it must be exactly the same each day. Pretty soon, you'll be so bored that you'll be eating less!
28/07/2014
Kate Waller, Specialist Dietician
"This diet is based on the concept of habituation to foods resulting in reduced stimulus over time and ultimately lower intake of the same food when eaten every day over long periods. The increase in variety and accessibility of high calorie foods has no doubt contributed to the development of an obesogenic environment, however people do not gain weight on a diet rich and varied in fruit and vegetables and lean protein. Chronic dietary over-restriction can set up unhelpful cycles of bingeing and restriction, commonly seen in dieters when they try to follow regimes that are unsustainable."

This diet is... NOT a spoof!
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Clay Diet
Try this simple tip that celebrities are keeping a secret: A spoon of clay a day will remove toxins from the body and remove negative isotopes, helping you detox and stay in shape.
28/07/2014
Kate Waller, Specialist Dietitian
“Geophagia (the practice of eating earth) has been observed in human and non-human animals throughout history. Evidence supports this being an adaptive behaviour to supplement dietary mineral intake and to some extent, limit absorption of certain toxins. This is unnecessary however, in the context of a nutritionally balanced, healthy diet and can actually cause constipation, micronutrient deficiency or poisoning due to lead or arsenic content.”

This diet is... NOT a spoof!
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Cold Diet
Drink ice cold water, lower your thermostat, take cold showers and wear less clothing to keep yourself cold, burning more calories to keep yourself warm. Cold, but not shivering, is best.
28/07/2014
Anusha Seneviratne, Vascular Physiologist
"There is some evidence to suggest that exposing yourself to colder temperatures can result in weight loss and burning of excess fat. When the body encounters lower temperatures, the nervous system triggers the breakdown of fat stores. Cold temperatures can also activate and increases the presence of fats that are linked to obesity resistance. However, studies have also linked cardiovascular disease to cold temperatures and the fat breakdown triggered by cold exposure increases ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood. This can accelerate the build-up of fatty lumps clogging the arteries, and increase the likelihood of these lumps bursting open - potentially causing blood clot formation and increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. I would suggest that the ‘cold diet’ is a dangerous measure to follow."

This diet is... NOT a spoof!
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Depletion Diet
Energy in food comes from the chemical bonds between the food molecules. This diet involves breaking as many of these bonds as possible before you eat the food. There are two ways to do this – heating the food at a high temperature and ageing the food, for as long as possible. Both of these treatments break the bonds in food and the more bonds that have been broken, the fewer calories it contains.
28/07/2014
Kristian Le Vay, Biochemist
“Cooking our food allows us to extract more energy (calories) from food – few chemical bonds are broken in this process. Heating something can break these bonds, but the amount of heat required would burn the food. Cooking at high temperatures for long periods of time is more likely to increase the calorific content of food whilst reducing the amount of important nutrients it contains and can have other risks, for example prolonged cooking in water can leach important nutrients. This diet would not be an effective way to lose weight and would be much unhealthier than a regular balanced diet.”

This diet is... a SPOOF!
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Hormone Diet
Target specific areas of your body by eating foods that influence hormones. Your love handles are from insulin resistance so eat less sugar to target that area; fat calves are from too little growth hormone - get more sleep! Big thighs are from high estrogen so cut down on painkillers, processed meat and coffee and that big tummy is from too much cortisol - eat little and often to balance this out.
28/07/2014
Madeline Burke, Biochemist
“There is no evidence that links hormone synchronization and weight loss – it simply doesn’t exist. Some hormones are thought to regulate the amount of fat stored in the body but there is no evidence that shows eating certain foods can control hormone levels. Attempting to control hormones for the sake of weight loss could be very dangerous and I would not recommend it. You would also need to have your hormone levels tested, requiring a visit to the doctor for tests that are both expensive and invasive.”

This diet is... NOT a spoof!
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Mediterranean Diet
Combining salads with oil produces nitro fatty acids which can help lower blood pressure. 
28/07/2014
Tanya Hart, Biochemist
"A 'Mediterranean' diet, with plenty of vegetables and the unsaturated fats found in fish, nuts and olive oil, has been been linked with a lower risk of heart disease. The reason for this has not been conclusively pinned down, although many possible explanations have been suggested. One recent theory is that when we eat unsaturated fat, it could combine with certain nitrogen-containing compounds in vegetables to create substances called 'nitro fatty acids'. When mice with artificially high blood pressure are given nitro fatty acids continuously for several days via an implanted pump, their blood pressure is lowered. Some researchers have suggested this could explain why a Mediterranean diet appears to be good for the heart. However, this sort of laboratory research in mice doesn't always translate to significant everyday effects in humans. We can't be sure that eating a Mediterranean diet would actually create more nitro fatty acids than other diets, and we don't yet know whether those fatty acids would lower people's blood pressure or reduce heart disease. So although it's a promising subject for more research, it doesn't mean you need to cover your salad in olive oil."

This diet is... NOT a spoof!
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Microbe-Assisted Dieting (M.A.D.)
You’ve heard of products containing good bacteria that help settle your digestive system. M.A.D. products are designed not just to soothe your digestive system, but to prime it so that you only digest what you need. Take one of our delicious M.A.D. yoghurt shots before every meal and the bacteria will coat your stomach lining and regulate your fat and sugar intake. You can achieve your target weight while eating what you want and the bacteria will digest what you don’t want to!
28/07/2014
Agnieszka Piotrowska, Microbiologist
“Our gastrointestinal tract is colonised by individual and complex microbiota. It consists of hundreds of different bacteria, archaea, yeasts and fungi. These organisms interact and compete with each other for nutrients to survive. Those we refer to as our ‘commensal flora’ in many cases allow us or help us to metabolise the food we eat. There are several studies that suggest that Lactobacillus has potential health benefits that include body weight control, and improvements from metabolic disorders, such as diabetes, obesity, hypercholesterolaemia, or hypertension. However, we cannot just regulate this complex microenvironment with some yoghurt with extra, who-knows-what-bacteria added to it. It might not help at all and it can also cause imbalance and chaos in the gut. A well-balanced diet helps to keep our healthy commensal flora happy and to keep our gastrointestinal tract functioning as it should, so it digests what we eat in the most efficient way.”

This diet is... a SPOOF!
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No Food Diet
Eating food is a waste of time – Why not drink a nutrient rich food 'substitute' instead?
28/07/2014
Rob Hagan, Biomolecular Scientist
“It is not possible to have a food substitute that suits everyone all the time. Every individual needs nutrients in different amounts. These differences can be covered in a varied diet, but not with one single food. Even if the food substitute was tailored to an individual, you require different nutrients at certain times. And even if one single food could contain all the nutrition that we require, there are still problems with losing your enjoyment of food, which is associated with depression.”

This diet is... NOT a spoof!
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Paleo Diet
Eat like a caveman! Only eat foods eaten in pre-historic times: Berries, vegetables and a little lean meat. No cereals, beans, dairy or pasta.
28/07/2014
Erika Nitsch, Archaeologist
“The Paleo Diet’s premise is that it is best for humans to eat only those foods to which our ancestors were evolutionarily adapted, but this is problematic. For example it forbids the consumption of dairy products, but many European-descended people today carry a genetic modification making it possible to digest milk lactose. But if you are worried about eating a healthy diet, perhaps skip the Mars bar.”

This diet is... NOT a spoof!
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Thermostasis Diet
Your body has to work hard to maintain its temperature, with this diet you will challenge your body with alternate days of hot and cold food and drink. Hot days include piping hot broths, teas and bikram yoga. Cold days mean no heating in your house and only eating food straight from the freezer with icy drinks. Giving your body this temperature challenge every day for two weeks will show significant results. For best results undertake this detox diet in winter.
28/07/2014
Fergus Guppy, Exercise Physiologist
“Changes in ambient temperature do cause marked changes in your energy expenditure. When we are cold, we shiver - burning calories to generate heat. The type of food you eat, whether carbohydrate, protein or fat, does change your energy output - but there is limited evidence that the temperature of your food has any effect. Ultimately, whilst changing the temperature of your food might not help you lose weight, dropping the temperature of your thermostat might, provided you don’t compensate by putting on a jumper! Hot days could also make you lose weight, but the weight lost would be as a result of fluid loss and would lead to dehydration, so the weight loss would be reversed once fluid was replaced.”

This diet is... a SPOOF!
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VoYS pinboard

  • Top tip 1: Ask for Evidence. If you’re being sold a product or asked to believe a claim then you deserve to know whether it’s based on evidence – or imagination.

  • Top tip 2: Detox. It’s a marketing myth – our body does it without pricey potions and detox diets.

  • Top tip 3: Superfood. There is no such thing, just foods that are high in some nutrients.

  • Top tip 4: Cleansing. You shouldn’t be trying to cleanse anything other than your skin or hair.

  • Top tip 5: If it sounds too good to be true… it probably is.

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