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Fad Diets Under Fire

By Ronald Steriti, ND, PhD

Dr. David Katz, a diet doctor from the Yale School of Medicine and nutrition columnist for Oprah Magazine, is an outspoken critic of popular diets. In this web conference, he takes aim at low-carbohydrate diets, specifically the Atkin’s Diet, and, backed by scientific support by Dr. Dale Schoeller, he scores a direct hit!

Dr. Katz criticizes most, if not all, of the current diets, including Atkin’s, The Zone, The Southbeach Diet, The Glycemic Index Diet, The Origin Diet, Sugar Busters, and Carbohydrate Addicts.

“Popular diets that use a single class of nutrients as a scapegoat for epidemic obesity are putting up a dangerous and distracting smoke screen.”

“The implication that “carbohydrate” is a uniform food class is so utterly wrong as to border on the asinine.”

Dr. David Katz is author of The Way to Eat: A Six-Step Path to Lifelong Weight Control. His dietary recommendations are straightforward and rely heavily upon making wise food choices. His main concern, as a father of five, is that diet-crazed parents are teaching bad habits to their children. He emphasizes the strong link between “dieting” and eating disorders, particularly with strong societal pressure to be thin/attractive, and his approach focuses on learning skills to make appropriate dietary choices as a foundation for a healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Katz believes that there are strong reasons for gaining weight:

“We are naturally designed for a high level of physical activity and having barely enough to eat. We live in a world where it's easy to be inactive and to overeat.”

The following are some of Dr. Katz's food suggestions for a more balanced diet:

·      Whole grain cereal with fruit for breakfast

·      Lots of fruits and lots of vegetables

·      Polyunsaturated omega-3 fats from fish

·      Nuts and seeds -- healthy sources of health-promoting oils

Dr. Katz recommends minimizing both saturated and trans fats by limiting the intake of:

·      Fast foods

·      Processed snack foods

·      Processed baked goods

·      Other pre-packaged products

Fat in the diet should come primarily in the form of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated by eating a diet rich in:

·      Vegetables

·      Seeds and Nuts

·      Grains

·      Fish

·      And by using healthy cooking oils such as olive oil and canola oil [1].










Total Fat

40 - 70g

Calories from Fat

340 - 600


Saturated Fat

<= 20g


46 - 163g



< 300mg

Total Carbohydrate

206 - 298g



< 2400mg

Dietary Fiber

>= 25g




Dr. Katz’s criticisms of the Atkin’s diet are backed by Dr. Schoeller, professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Wisconsin. He presents the results of recent studies on weight loss diets that show that although low-carbohydrates do result in a much greater weight loss than the low-fat diet, most of the difference is due to water loss. He goes on to show that there is no “metabolic advantage” to low carbohydrate dieting that is touted by their proponents.

Dr. Schoeller then restates the standard medical belief that weight loss is the result of having energy expenditure greater than energy input. He presents the results of scientific studies that show that the low-carbohydrate dieters expended less energy and reported feeling lethargic, which directly contradicts the myth that low-carbohydrate diets have a “metabolic advantage”.

Without a “metabolic advantage”, how do low-carbohydrate diets produce greater weight loss in dieters? 

Dr. Schoeller presents research showing that high-protein dieters have greater short-term satiety (the feeling of fullness) than the low-fat dieters, which resulted in a reduced appetite and energy input (from food).

Further, restricting carbohydrate intake in a typical meal results in not eating as much (in total). That is, the low-carbohydrate dieter would not eat the bread and butter as an appetizer, avoid the starchy vegetables (potato, rice, French fries), and forgo the desert (cakes, pies, ice cream). Fewer food items consumed results in fewer total carbohydrates.

Another advantage noted by Dr. Schoeller is the use of keto-sticks to measure ketosis. This is a simple and effective feedback mechanism that can keep dieters on track, thereby boosting compliance.

Dr. Schoeller shares Dr. Katz’s concern for children. Low-carbohydrate diets do not provide enough energy for physical activities and sports participation. Many low-carbohydrate dieters experience headaches that may be due to dehydration or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Strict low-carbohydrate diets may also be lacking in B vitamins found in whole grains.

Dr. Schoeller then shows that after one year the weight loss is the same between low-carbohydrate and low-fat dieters.

Dr. Katz is a compelling speaker and, amidst his criticisms of popular diets and weight-loss foods, he offers a lot of sound nutrition advice. His web site ( also has a fun game to teach children how to read the labels of common grocery store items and choose the healthier ones. 


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