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Balancing Act: Popular Diets Fall Flat

Statistics show that more than 34 percent of Americans are obese, and both the figures and the waistlines are constantly expanding. That’s the reason more than 65 million Americans are constantly on some kind of fat-loss diet. Various diets are recommended to combat rampant obesity, ranging from old-style calorie-cutting plans to low-carb diets to lowfat, high-carb regimens. One pertinent question related to all popular diets: Do they contain enough nutrients? That’s an important consideration because a lack of essential nutrients not only makes losing bodyfat more difficult but also increases the likelihood of becoming obese by more than 80 percent.

A recent study analyzed three days of meal plans for four popular diets: Atkins for Life, the South Beach Diet, the DASH Diet and the Best Life Diet. The Atkins is a low-carb diet, as is the South Beach plan. The DASH Diet contains more carbs, with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables. The Best Life Diet is based on a book written by Bob Greene, Oprah Winfrey’s personal trainer, and emphasizes the need for exercise and reduced calorie intake as a path to bodyfat loss.

The researchers analyzed the diets for 27 essential nutrients to see if they met 100 percent of the minimum daily requirements established by the United States Food and Drug Administration. All four plans failed to deliver 100 percent of the recommended daily allowances of the 27 nutrients analyzed. The Atkins diet met 44.44 percent of RDA but failed to deliver 12 out of 27 essential nutrients on daily intake averaging 1,786 calories. To meet the RDA of all 27 required nutrients without taking any supplements would require a daily intake of 37,500 calories—no, that is not a misprint. The Best Life Diet was 55.56 percent sufficient and delivered the RDAs for 15 out of 27 nutrients, with an average daily intake of 1,793 calories. To deliver all 27 nutrients on that diet would require 20,500 calories a day. The DASH Diet was 51.85 percent nutrient sufficient, delivering 14 out of 27 essentials based on a daily intake of 2,217 calories. You’d need to gulp down 33,500 calories to obtain all 27 essential nutrients from food alone. The South Beach Diet was only 22.22 percent sufficient in essential nutrients, delivering only six out of 27 essential nutrients while averaging 1,197 daily calories. On the other hand, you’d need to eat “only” 18,800 daily calories to obtain all 27 essential nutrients from food alone.

The nutrients most lacking on all of these diets were biotin, vitamin D, vitamin E, chromium, iodine and molybdenum. Interestingly, all four plans are touted as being “sound, healthy, and balanced.” They suggest eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, but all were woefully lacking in essential nutrients. Ironically, that would hamper dieting efforts and even encourage rapid regain of bodyfat. The calories needed to get those missing nutrients from food alone would be so extreme that nobody would lose weight; you’d gain it. Yet only two of the suggested plans, Atkins and Greene’s Best Life Diet, suggest any type of nutritional supplementation.

The fact is, you can’t obtain all required nutrients from any type of eating plan, whether the purpose is to lose fat or something else. The advice to obtain all your nutrients from food sources alone is not just wrong but nonsensical. Yet that’s what you hear from most doctors. Their advice blatantly illustrates that most of them know little or nothing about what constitutes good nutrition or even a so-called balanced diet. The bottom line is that if you depend on food sources alone for all essential nutrients, you’ll be in trouble sooner or later.

—Jerry Brainum


Calton, J. (2010). Prevalence of micronutrient deficiency in popular diet plans. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 7:24.


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