Looking to lose weight? Searching the web for a diet to help? Here’s Voice of Young Science member Rob Hagan on why many of these diets are based on nothing more than dodgy nutritional claims.
When it comes to diets the media loves an ‘expert’ and they’re happy to present a person as a specialist even if they have no real expertise to share. There’s a long queue of non-experts waiting to fill that void with their own personal thoughts, which are often based on dodgy science or lack any basis in science at all.
Recently, the Voice of Young Science (a network of early career researchers and scientists) evaluated the evidence behind a range of diets. Alongside this we invented some of our own diets and challenged the public to separate the ones that we had made up from those that had been presented as serious diets elsewhere. Give our quiz it a try – it’s harder than you might think…
Do diets really work?
People are keen for a solution to problems they can attribute to their diet, but is it acceptable for magazines and glossy supplements to exploit the public’s lack of understanding?
Our food is more than a daily chore, it gives us pleasure and if fad diets take that away from us we’re taking away things from our daily life that make us happy. People may argue that we have to sacrifice happiness for a health benefit, but very few diets are actually based on scientific understanding of healthy nutrition.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that there was little difference between diets in terms of weight loss. Any dietary restriction that we place upon ourselves will result in us losing weight as we eat less.
For example, if you decided eating food was a waste of time and went on the No Food Diet – where you drink a nutrient rich food ‘substitute’ instead – there are still problems with losing your enjoyment of food, which is associated with depression. And depending on the fad diet of choice, you could also be starting down a path towards malnutrition.
Tips to spot fad diets
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. 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:
- 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.
What do you think about all the weight-loss diets on offer? Have you ever followed one? And make sure to let us know how you did in our spoof diet quiz.
Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Rob Hagan, a member of the Voice of Young Science. All opinions expressed here are Rob’s own, not necessarily those of Which?.