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Calorie-shifting: Just another fad diet

There are always many fad diet plans are out there — everyone is looking for a quick fix. The recent fad is “calorie-shifting” diet plans. These diets promise rapid and easy weight loss, which is always a warning sign.

A main problem with the crash diets is that when you drastically limit your caloric intake for more than two to three days, your body compensates by lowering your basal metabolic rate — the rate you burn calories at rest.

Lowering your metabolism makes it hard to keep losing weight and then even harder to keep lost pounds from returning. Calorie-shifting diets alternate caloric intakes and sometimes type of foods from day to day. Shifting-diets’ proponents claim this tricks the body into not adapting to the reduced caloric intake so that your metabolic rate would not drop.

The popular “Every Other Day Diet” plan recommends that the up days you eat only 300-500 kcal per day and on down days you eat all you want to eat. Some calorie-shifting diets involve complicated calculations, for example 1,300 calories on Monday, 500 calories on Tuesday, 1,800 calories on Wednesday, 300 calories on Thursday and 2,000 calories on Friday. Some diets require intermittent fasting with total fasting on some days.

These diet advocates say the diets work by affecting insulin hormone, which is involved in fat storage, or by activating genes that boost fat burning. Some proponents make claims that these diets can prevent chronic diseases by reducing inflammation, cholesterol and free radicals. Some say that fasting cleanses your body of toxins and semi-starvation diets prolong your life.

So far, there is no convincing evidence to support most of the claims and none of these diets demonstrated long-term weight loss or effectiveness.

Most of the studies are done in animals, including the study done in UC Berkeley in 2007, and found that alternate-day fasting does not produce weight loss. The mice simply ate twice as much on the feasting days, but potentially may have had some beneficial effects such as improved insulin and glucose metabolism and shrinkage of fat cells.

Some animal studies have found that very low-calorie semi-starvation diets can lead to increased longevity (not calorie-shifting diets), but these results have never been demonstrated in humans.

The positive results shown from a very small study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009 found that obese people who went on a near-fast on alternate days lost about 12 pounds after eight weeks. Cholesterol levels and blood pressure improved, as they would with any weight loss, but the study did not asses the affected mood, quality of life and energy levels.

Bottom line is the best way to lose and maintain weight is to follow a sensible diet plan to include whole grains, healthy fats, low-fat dairy, legumes, lean protein, colorful fruits and vegetables. Monitor portions, choose healthy snacks and avoid sweetened beverages.

Physical activity for 30-60 minutes should be part of you daily routine along with a healthy diet.

Try this hummus recipe:

• 1 -15 ounce chickpeas, drain can (reserve 1 tbsp liquid)

• 1-2 garlic cloves smashed

• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

• 1/3 cup tahini

• 1 tablespoon olive oil

• 1 bunch cilantro

• 2-3 hot green peppers to taste (optional)

• Salt to taste

In a food processor, combine all the ingredients, and make a puree until smooth and desired consistency is achieved.

Serve with baked pita chips, vegetables, crackers or bread

Please see a registered dietitian for nutrition counseling as many insurance companies now pay for the nutrition consults.

Anju Agarwal is a registered/liceneced dietitian and certified diabetes educator at FirstHealth of The Caolinas/Cardiac Rehab in Rockingham.

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