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Dietitians Concerned About Fad Diets

The recent surge in the popularity of low carbohydrate diets for weight loss and for diabetes is causing increasing concern amongst dietitians. Proponents of this type of diet claim it can help weight loss, improve blood glucose levels and can help disease prevention. In reality, this type of diet is risky, especially for overweight people with co-existing health problems and for people with diabetes.

According to Moira Styles and Ruth Thomson, dietitians and co convenors of the New Zealand Dietetic Association Diabetes Special Interest Group "This is an extremely unsuitable regimen for anyone with diabetes as carbohydrates are a major component of a diabetic meal plan1. Anyone who has diabetes should consult a registered dietitian for the most appropriate advice, tailored to their own requirements."

The key problems with the low carbohydrate diet are:

- It is excessively high in fat; high fat diets tend to be higher in calories and have been linked to heart disease and some types of cancer.

- The level of protein is high. Excess intake of protein is undesirable for people with diabetes as it puts strain on the kidneys, which have to excrete the excess. For the rest of us, being on a high-protein diet in the long-term can lead to increased loss of calcium from the body, and possibly dehydration.

- Fibre intakes are likely to be low, as fibre is found in wholegrain cereal foods. Also, intake of B vitamins is likely to be low, as carbohydrate foods are a good source of the B vitamins.

- The variety in the foods eaten is likely to be limited and, therefore, nutritional intake might be compromised.

- This type of diet is very prescriptive and not sustainable in the long-term. Although weight loss may occur it is very likely that it will be re-gained once old eating habits are resumed.

- The very low intake of carbohydrate means that exercise will be difficult. We need some carbohydrate stores to help provide us with energy when we exercise, otherwise exercise of significant duration won't be possible.

- There is no good scientific evidence on the long-term effects of following such regimens; books advocating this type of diet are usually supported by testimonials rather than good quality research.

Mandy Wynne, Executive Officer for the New Zealand Dietetic Association says; "Dietitians and nutrition experts the world over agree that fad diets, such as the low carbohydrate diet, are not the way to lose weight and keep it off in the long term. Current advice from dietitians is that our diet should be high in carbohydrate foods, particularly wholegrain sources that also provide dietary fibre; high in fruits and vegetables; and low in fat."

A paper just published in the Australian Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics supports this view, stating that diets low in fat and high in carbohydrate contribute to the prevention of weight gain in normal weight people and the promotion of spontaneous weight loss in overweight people, as well as having beneficial effects on risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease." 2

ENDS

1.. New Zealand Dietetic Association Inc. The Nutritional Management of Diabetes Mellitus in New Zealand. Position Paper. New Zealand Dietetic Association Inc. April 1997. 2.. Astrup A. Dietary Strategies for Weight Management - the Importance of Carbohydrates. Australian Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics (2001) 58 suppl 1 s9-s12.

For further information contact:

Mandy Wynne, National Executive Officer of the New Zealand Dietetic Association; Telephone 04 383 9986; mobile 021 164 1491, fax 04 383 9828, email nzda@paradise.net.nz

Moira Styles, Co-Convenor of the New Zealand Dietetic Association Diabetes Special Interest Group; Telephone (evening) 03 4542001, email Moiras@healthotago.co.nz

Ruth Thompson, Co-Convenor of the New Zealand Dietetic Association Diabetes Special Interest Group; Telephone (day) 03 4747719, email RuthT@healthotago.co.nz

The New Zealand Dietetic Association, founded in 1943, is the professional Association for registered dietitians and associated professionals. New Zealand Registered dietitians are registered by the Dietitians Board. Members of NZDA work within a professional code of ethics.

The NZDA website contains all the latest information from NZDA, including recent publications and media releases, details of professional development activities, guidance on how to become a dietitian, and membership criteria for joining NZDA. The website address is www.dietitians.org.nz

Ends


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