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Get Your Diet Back on Tract

Fad diets that restrict or eliminate entire food groups can be harmful to your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. To achieve a healthy weight, take a balanced approach.

Blood-sugar problems, muscle breakdown and vitamin deficiencies can all be caused by extreme diets. Diets that limit food groups or require extended periods of fasting often do not live up to their claims and can negatively affect your GI tract.

“Fiber found in a variety of foods — including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts — is critical to the proper functioning and health of the GI tract,” says Tom Dewar, M.D., gastroenterologist on the medical staff at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Southwest Fort Worth. “Manage your GI health and your weight by balancing healthy food choices with regular exercise and avoid fad diets that advocate a low-carbohydrate or no-carbohydrate consumption.”

A Slippery Slope

Rapid weight loss associated with liquid diets and cleansing regimens can be misleading. Dehydration can register on the scale as weight loss as your metabolism slows down with the harsh restriction of calories.

The human body is well equipped to flush toxins out of the body through the regular functions of the kidneys, liver, lungs and skin. According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), the “detox” diet flushes everything out of your GI tract, including bacteria beneficial to proper digestion.

Women who are pregnant or nursing and people who have diabetes or kidney or heart disease should not try liquid fasts because they upset blood sugar, potassium and sodium levels in the body, states the ADA. Medical problems associated with liquid diets include gallbladder problems, fatigue, sensitivity to cold, brittle nails, constipation, diarrhea and heart problems.

Balancing Cancer Risk

Carbohydrate-restricted diets raise the amount of cholesterol and saturated fat consumed, which is associated with a higher risk for heart disease and some cancers. According to the American Cancer Society, diets high in red and processed meats are linked to a higher risk for colon cancer. Conversely, diets high in fruits and vegetables have been associated with a lower risk for the disease.

You can reduce your risk for colon cancer by:

• Eating a balanced diet with an emphasis on plant sources

• Choosing beverages and foods in portions that support a healthy weight

• Consuming five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day

• Selecting whole grains over more processed options

• Limiting consumption of processed and red meats

“You can reach your healthy weight by reducing calories through portion control rather than ‘banning’ foods or food groups,” says Laurie McGuyer, dietitian at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Stephenville and Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Cleburne. “Instead, safely lose half a pound to two pounds each week by adopting healthy habits you can maintain for life. Registered dietitians are available at Texas Health hospitals to help guide you in the right direction.”

Spotting a Fad Diet

Quick fixes and fad diets do not work in the long run. Consumers should rely on reputable sources for information about healthy eating. To help you identify false claims, check out the following five facts about fad diets from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

An unhealthy diet:

• Requires a drastic reduction in calories. An extreme reduction in calories tells your body it is starving, causing your body to dump water. The water weight lost will return when normal eating resumes.

• Depends on diet-brand powders, herbs or pills. Gimmicks that will definitely lighten your wallet, many of these formulations contain diuretics or laxatives to force the body to eliminate water and “weight.”

• Restricts you to specific foods or food combinations. Without science to back up the claims that food combining is beneficial, dieters may be missing out on important nutrients from the restricted foods.

• Eliminates carbohydrates, fat or sugar completely. Our bodies need foods from all the food groups to ensure we get the proper nutrition. Smaller-portion meals containing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats can fight cravings and establish healthy eating patterns for life.

• Skips or substitutes meals with drinks or food bars. When you make these substitutions or omissions, you miss out on the nutrition of a balanced meal and the pleasure of enjoying mealtimes with family and friends.

(Fall/Winter 2009)

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