Are Fad Diets Good Or Bad For You?

May 11, 2021

Keto, paleo, gluten-free, and vegan are some of the diets you have probably heard about on social media that are also known as fad diets. Joining me today is Carrie Durward, Extension Nutrition Specialist at Utah State University. 

What is a fad diet?

Carrie Durward: Typically, I think of fad diets as being diets that are popular in the media. Maybe your favorite celebrity is endorsing it, there is probably a popular diet book about it. There may or may not be good nutritional backing for that diet.

Kailey Foster: You brought up the fact that fad diets can lack nutritional value, so why can these diets be problematic? 

CD: One of the things about being human beings is that we are, meaning that we can eat a wide variety of foods and get all of the nutrition we need. 

The problem with fad diets is they often have you cut out entire food groups. And that doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to lack nutrients, but it means that it's easier to end up lacking in some of those nutrients. 

So you mentioned paleo. And so typically, when people eat paleo, they avoid dairy and grains, the main sources of calcium in the American diet. If you start eating paleo without thinking about the different nutrients that your body needs, and where you're going to get those instead, you could easily end up with a calcium deficiency. 

Another one that you mentioned is vegan, which I don't think of typically as much of a fad diet. But I think you're right; it has become very popular at different times throughout our history. But vegans a diet that historically has been eaten by people all over the world healthfully. I feel like we do have a little more experience about how to do that healthfully. And with vegan, we want to make sure we're getting enough plant-based protein. 

It's different for every fad diet out there. There are certain nutrients each fad diet lack that is going to be more difficult to get, and you will need to eat foods that you're not used to to get those nutrients.

KF: What's a good rule of thumb for people to use when deciding on a diet?

CD: I think an easy rule of thumb for people to think about is to choose a diet that doesn't restrict entire food groups. It is possible to eat healthfully while restricting food groups. 

Throughout history, there are many examples of people eating diets that didn't include one of the food groups that we see on MyPlate. The point of MyPlate is it takes the foods that are commonly consumed in the United States, and it tells you how much of each food group to eat to meet your nutrient requirements.