Magazines and newspapers are full of so-called ‘tips’ or ‘advice’ for the image conscious, detailing extreme diets followed by the rich and famous to achieve dramatic weight loss, or new diets apparently supported by the latest scientific research. But how many of these fad diets are substantiated by scientific research? And are these diets safe to follow?
Recently New Scientist featured an interesting discussion on the gluten-free diet, made fashionable particularly in the sporting world by current world number one tennis player Novak Djokovic . Having developed a reputation for being physically weaker than his rivals, Djokovic was eventually diagnosed with coeliac disease and as being gluten-intolerant. Eliminating gluten from his diet transformed his career, he now often outlasts his opponents in gruelling matches and won six grand slam titles out of his career total of seven following the dietary change. Many have since adopted the gluten-free diet with the hope of boosting their energy levels, but have had mixed results. Recent studies show that being ‘gluten-intolerant’ is hardly a medical condition that can be diagnosed and scientists have struggled to establish a mechanism for supposed gluten intolerance. So unless you suffer from coeliac disease that is triggered by gluten, following a gluten-free diet could do more harm than good, as gluten-free foods are often low in fibre and key nutrients and high in sugar.
The gluten-free diet is just one of many fad diets that benefit significantly from media hype. So to sort fact from fiction we need to ask for evidence. That is why scientific experts in the Voice of Young Science network (including myself) have teamed up to look for evidence behind over a dozen eccentric diets, promising to help you lose weight by keeping yourself cold, stop ageing by completely eliminating sugar, detox by eating clay and many more. What did we discover? Find out by visiting the Spoof Diets project webpage at: www.senseaboutscience.org/pages/spoof-diets.html. And just to keep you on your toes as the project name suggests, we’ve thrown in a few ‘spoof’ diets; can you spot them? You won’t believe the results!
You can follow more ‘Ask for Evidence’ projects involving the Voice of Young Science network on Twitter @voiceofyoungsci and by visiting the Sense About Science website . In the meantime, enjoy figuring out which diets you should and should not follow, and remember always ask for evidence!
Dr. Anusha Seneviratne
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