Eat beet, lose pounds (and five other dietary fads)

Atkins? South Beach? Another day, another diet, and they are becoming ever more bizarre. Jonathan Brown and James Burleigh investigate, while Sue Baic, a diet expert, gives her verdicts


The Blood Group Diet

The Blood Group Diet

What is it?

So much more than a diet book, the tome Eat Right for Your Type creates a whole new treatise on human history and diet. At its heart is an individually, genetically tailored food regime which matches the type of food you should eat to your blood group, based on who your ancestors were.

For example - type A blood groups are descended from farmers, so they should avoid meat and dairy and stick to being vegetarians Meditation and mild exercises are also recommended.

If you are type B, your ancestors were nomads, so meals should be of red meat and fish. Type O, you are descended from hunter-gatherers, so eat lots of animal protein with few carbohydrates and don't forget to exercise energetically.

If you have AB blood group you will suffer most of the benefits and intolerances of both blood groups. Relaxation techniques are also suggested. ABs should avoid all pickled condiments because of their susceptibility to stomach cancer.

Who does it?

Invented by the naturopath Peter J D'Adamo and published in 1997 it created a sensation in the dieting world. Among its biggest fans is Martine McCutcheon who lost 21lb in less than a year using it.

What they say about it

Described as "one of the 10 most influential health books of the century". Marketed as an evolutionary approach to dieting, its authors boast it "helps you stay healthy, live longer and achieve your ideal weight". The authors have thousands of testimonials from satisfied customers, many of whom endured years of food allergies and pain until they discovered the apparent benefits of the blood group diet.

What are the benefits?

The blood group diet explains why the diet you are on isn't working. Recommends lean sources of protein and as much vegetable portions as you like. The book includes recipes for entrées, what to use as a condiment or seasoning. It also makes type-specific exercise recommendations and gives lifestyle hints. Promotes an all round healthy living programme.

Disadvantages

Blood group theory is not supported by peer-reviewed scientific research or published papers, say its critics.

On a practical level some of the recommended foods can be hard to find. Cooking for a family with different blood groups may prove to be a nightmare.

Expert verdict

"This blood group diet makes my blood boil and I'm unaware of any sound scientific evidence to support it. Anything that promotes the restriction or avoidance of whole food groups should ring alarm bells," says Miss Baic.

The Beetroot Diet

What is it?

Boiled, liquidised, steamed, roasted, curried and just about any kind of preparation for the little purple vegetable that leaves a big stain. To be eaten three times a day. The root contains 6-10 per cent sugar, 1-2 per cent protein, 10 mg vitamin C, 40 mg oxalic acid/100 g.

Who does it?

Often used as part of a vegetarian or whole food diet. Practised with some success by Warwickshire County Cricket club this year who walked away as winners of the County Championship with a game to spare.

But its allure can be traced back to Greek mythology. Aphrodite, the godess of love, was said to have enjoyed it and this caused many in the ancient world to view it as an an aphrodisiac. Women from the Celtic tribes used it as a rouge and lipstick to make themselves attractive to men. Ancient Jewish tribes used it in their warfare ceremonies and it still provides a staple in Eastern Europe.

What they say about it?

Beetroot contains no fat and lots of fibre. Also has lashings of foliate, potassium and manganese. The vegetable's green leafy tops are full of nutrients and contain calcium, beta-carotene and iron. It is used to help treat anaemia and conditions involving the blood and immune system, and also to relieve chronic illnesses such as ME.

What are the benefits?

A 4oz/100g portion contains just 36 calories. As well as being nutritious, the red pigmentation of beetroot is said to contain anti-cancer agents and is used in the treatment of tumours. Leaves can be stir-fried or chopped into quiches. Can also be liquidised with carrots and apples to make a revitalising juice or tonic.

Downsides

Unfashionable "peasant food" that is normally eaten pickled. Messy to prepare, leaves surfaces stained. Discolours urine although doctors say this is perfectly natural and disappears a few hours after eating. Can also discolour teeth.

Newly re-introduced golden beetroot, which has none of the staining qualities of its purple cousin, could help boost its appeal. But what if you don't like beetroot?

Expert Verdict

"A total nonsense. Any diet which rigidly promotes eating only one type of food should be avoided at all cost. Variety is important and a wide range of fruit and vegetables can be consumed as part of a healthy diet. They are all packed with vitamins and minerals and are generally low in calories," says Miss Baic.

The FIT Diet

What is it?

"The psychological equivalent of the exercise bicycle for the human habit machine." Not just fit, but FIT. It stands for Framework for Internal Transformation. Also known as the Do Something Different diet, the theory centres on increasing your "behavioural flexibility". This means making small changes to your daily routine, breaking bad habits and disrupting behavioural patterns that cause you to put on weight. For example when you get home tonight, don't slump on the settee, go for a 15-minute walk instead.

Who does it?

Currently in trials, it was devised by Professor Ben Fletcher of the University of Hertfordshire. It is particularly effective at helping overweight children whose bad habits are not yet so ingrained.

What they are saying about it

The non-diet, diet in which you can lose weight without going on a diet. Its creators say it is extremely effective, the more you change your unhealthy routines the more weight you lose. The average weight loss is 11lbs after four months, and it is possible to lose up to 40lbs after a year.

What are the benefits?

No need to obsess about food or devise a punishing exercise regime. Can help you give up all manner of vices such as smoking and drinking. The technique can also help boost your flagging career by breaking bad habits in the workplace.

Downsides

Can't escape the basic rules of dieting - you must end up eating less and exercising more, says its creator.

Expert verdict:

"This diet makes sense on some levels - it's true that changing lifestyle behaviour is the key to successful weight loss," says Sue Baic, of the British Dietetic Association. "Small improvements in our activity levels and dietary habits such as going for a daily walk or cutting down on portion sizes of food can lead to big benefits over time. The rate of weight loss given sounds slow but is actually quite sensible and it's more likely to stay off than some quick-fix solution followed in the short term."

The Raw Food Diet

What is it?

Can't cook, won't cook: this could be the diet for you. Everything eaten is uncooked - a tradition started by pre-historic man. The idea is that cooked food is loaded with toxins because the heating process destroys enzymes contained in raw produce. This can lead to health problems including an increased risk of cancer, it is claimed.

Who has done it?

Based on research by Dr. Edward Howell, an Illinois physician, adherents include Alicia Silverstone, Demi Moore, Daryl Hannah, Donna Karan.

What they say about it?

Became popular in 1975 when computer programmer-turned-nutritionist Viktoras Kulvinskas published Survival Into the 21st Century , which is about "a simple transition from traditional diet, to Kosher, macrobiotics, vegetarianism, sproutarianism and beyond".

What are the benefits?

Advocates of the diet say the advantages range from increased energy and clear skin to reduced rates of heart disease and cancer. David Wolfe, America's high priest of the raw vegan movement, even claimed his penis grew bigger.

What are the downsides?

The obstacle for many is the time and preparation raw foods require. For example soaking rice to make it edible can take days. Raw foods also contain pesticides and the risk from foodborn pathogens such as E. coli and hepatitis is higher than with cooked food. The protein profile and levels of vitamins B-12 and D in this diet can be low.

Expert verdict

"Raw fruit and vegetables are excellent additions to any diet but there is no scientific reason why avoiding cooked foods altogether would help you lose weight. Such a rigid plan severely restricts food choice and is not really practical, sustainable nor nutritionally adequate for most people in the long term," says Miss Baic.

The Hamptons Diet

What is it?

The post-Atkins, post-South Beach diet for trendy Manhattanites based on the produce found in New York's exclusive weekend retreats on Long Island. Blends low-carbohydrate living, whole foods and the flavours of Mediterranean cooking.

Who does it?

Invented by Dr Fred Pescatore, former colleague of Robert Atkins, the inventor of the ubiquitous Atkins diet. The Hamptons' famous residents include Barbara Streisand and Steven Spielberg.

What they say about it

"This summer everyone will be leaving South Beach and going to the Hamptons." Number two on the Amazon bestseller list.

What are the benefits?

Glamorous as well as healthy. Offers New York restaurant-style cuisine - dishes such as lemon, spinach and zucchini salad, scallops and snapper stew.

Downsides

The "secret ingredient" macadamia nut oil is very expensive, costing £25 a litre. There are also residual concerns over low-carb diets which some groups claim are linked to increased health risks and which do not promote long-term weight loss.

Expert verdict

"This promotes a healthy Mediterranean style diet including both mono-unsaturated fats and fresh salmon. However there is an unnecessary emphasis on cutting out carbohydrates and using very expensive foods which limits the application to most people. Making use of olive and rapeseed oils and tinned oily fish would make it more realistic. Being beautiful and famous doesn't qualify someone to give sound scientifically based dietary advice," says Miss Baic.

The Cabbage Soup Diet

What is it?

An eating regime which replaces meals with a "fat burning" soup. It was developed in the Nineties to help people recover from surgery but swiftly gained celebrity backers as a weight-loss programme. The diet allows you to eat limitless amounts of the soup, plus other single foods, such as bananas or steak. It is advised to use it for seven days, stop, wait two weeks and go back to it again.

Who has done it?

The former racing driver Stirling Moss, the actors Sarah-Michelle Gellar, Dougray Scott and Joanna Lumley, the golfer Jack Nicklaus and the author Jilly Cooper.

What they say about it

Once described as "easy to follow, keeps you feeling full and great for rapid weight loss".

What are the benefits?

Apart from promising a weight loss of up to a stone in a week, some of the vegetables included in the soup recipe contain antioxidants which help protect against cell damage by free radicals, defend the body against a range of diseases and are even believed to slow the ageing process.

What are the downsides?

Critics say much of the weight reduction is due to water loss. Side effects can include nausea and boredom with relentless bowls of soup. One man said: "It made me nearly faint, come out in a rash and feel awful. You feel really hollow and you feel slim for about two days then, when it's over, you wolf down food in relief." Not suitable for children or those with certain medical conditions. Followers carry a faint odour of boiled cabbage.

Expert verdict

"This bizarre diet promises a rapid weight loss of 10 lbs in seven days due to the supposed magical fat burning qualities of cabbage - a complete myth. It's boring and will do nothing to help weight loss in the long term. Most people will struggle to even complete the seven days," says Miss Baic.

Overall verdict

While Sue Baic of the British Dietetic Association was unconvinced by many of the individual diets, she urged slimmers to keep the faith. "We know that people can lose weight if they cut down their food intake and do more activity - the real challenge is keeping the weight off. Many surveys show the majority of dieters return to their previous weight or an even higher weight within weeks of coming off the diet.

Generally speaking the problem with fad diets is that they don't promote the sort of long-term changes that would prevent this. They tend to be impractical, unsustainable and unsuitable nutritionally in the longer term. A good independent source of advice on weight loss is: www.bdaweightwise.com.

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