Fad Diets and What they Claim

Thinking about going on one of these popular diets? Get the 411 and decide if it is right for you.

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Although diets never really go out of style, the new year is always a time when more people are looking for new ways to shed a few pounds. Here's an overview of a few popular diets right now; find out why they (might) work, what you can and can't eat on each and our final verdict on our overall perception of their success.

The Paleo Diet, Loren Cordain, PhD (Wiley, 2010)

The premise: This eating plan tries to mimic how humans ate before the advent of agriculture and farming, hence the term Paleo diet. The typical modern diet — full of processed grains, oils, sugar and dairy products — is at the root of human disease, say advocates.

What you can eat: Fresh fruits, vegetables (but not potatoes), meats, seafood, nuts, seeds and unrefined oils. Paleo proponents advocate wild and grass-fed meat and fish, since they tend to have a better ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats.

What you can't eat: Grains (whole or refined), dairy and legumes — categories of food that do offer healthful nutrients. Also off the table are sugar, salt and processed foods (things most people could stand to eat less of in their diets).

The Verdict: What our Paleolithic ancestors actually ate is controversial, as are the benefits of the diet. On the bright side, this diet advocates huge amounts of vegetables and fruit, which provide a lot of fiber, but you could fall short on magnesium (found in grains) and mood-boosting carbs. Plus, there's little data to suggest it works for weight loss, although it may help to stabilize blood sugar levels.

The Belly Melt Diet, Editors of Prevention (Rodale, 2012)

The premise: This diet proposes that your internal clock might be out of whack, causing you to retain weight, especially in the belly area. By identifying and catering to your natural rhythms, you can control your hunger hormones. Getting sufficient, good-quality sleep and eating at regular times can keep hunger in check and help you lose weight, say the authors.

What you can eat: A three-day, 1,200-calorie meal plan jump-starts weight loss (the "reset" phase), followed by a 1,500-calorie-per-day plan ("reshape") that you use until you meet your goals (and possibly to maintain your goal weight). You get three meals and three snacks a day to keep your hunger at bay. The book offers suggested meal plans as well as a blueprint for whole food-based meals that offer a balance of protein, carbs and fat to keep you satisfied. (For example, a snack that’s one dairy item and half a piece of fruit; or a lunch that's one protein serving, one and a half to two vegetable servings and one-half a serving of a healthy fat.)

What you can't eat: Processed foods that deliver refined sugar and additives, which the authors say "mess with your body clock."

The Verdict: The diet is based upon current research on factors that influence hunger and satiety. The meal plan is nutritionally balanced and offers plenty of protein, fruits and veggies, plus whole grains at each meal — all ingredients that should keep you feeling full. The plan is a bit dairy-heavy, so if you’re lactose-intolerant or not a fan of milk, this might not be the best plan for you. It also combines exercise — an essential for optimum health and weight loss.

The 17 Day Diet, Dr. Mike Moreno (Free Press, 2011)

The premise: This diet comprises three 17-day cycles, followed by one lifelong cycle. It starts off as a low-carb, low-fat diet and then builds in some whole grains, starchy vegetables, moderately lean proteins (such as pork chops and Canadian bacon) and ultimately some low-fat dairy products and some fats. Some treats are allowed as long as they're light or sugar-free.

What you can eat: The first phase is most restrictive — lean proteins, low-carb vegetables, low-sugar fruits, a couple servings of probiotic foods (sauerkraut, low-fat yogurt) a little bit of oil and sugar-free, low-fat condiments. You eventually add in occasional servings of whole grains, some more healthy fats and an alcoholic drink a day (if you drink). Along with this comes an increase in daily exercise, from 17 minutes up to 45 to 60. You drink lots of water as well as green tea or some coffee. There are also cultural variations for different ethnic cuisines.

What you can't eat: Sugar, sweets and fried foods are always off-limits. Bread and pasta, nuts and alcohol are eliminated in cycles one and two and then allowed in small amounts starting in cycles three or four. When you do get to eat carbs, you have to eat them before 2 pm.

The Verdict: The diet is so restrictive that you might miss out on some important nutrients. The restrictiveness might also make it hard to follow, especially in the long term. And, as Dr. Mike points out in chapter 6: "You will always be on some kind of diet." This is discouraging if you're just trying to lose weight right now or you aspire to have more control over your eating habits.

The 8-Hour Diet, David Zinczenko and Peter Moore (Rodale Books, 2012)

The premise: Take it easy (slow down, relax more, sleep in) and you might just lose weight. That's what author and Men's Health editor Dave Zinczenko says worked for him. Drawing upon new research on the benefits of intermittent fasting, Zinczenko says you can eat pretty much whatever you want and lose weight. The catch? Confine your eating to just eight hours a day and fast for the other 16. You need only do this for three days, he says. Combine that with eight power foods and eight minutes of daily exercise and Zinczenko says you'll start to see results.

What you can eat: Whatever you want and however much you want. That said, you should get one serving each of eight "8-Hour Power Foods" daily. Four of these are "Fat Busters" (foods high in protein, fiber and healthy fats), which are lean meats (including chicken, eggs and fish), nuts, yogurt, dairy and legumes. The other four are Health Boosters (foods high in vitamins and minerals for better overall health) — berries, other fruit, green veggies (like spinach), whole-grain breads and cereals.

What you can’t eat: Nothing’s off-limits as long as you eat it within an eight-hour window of your other meals. While you’re fasting you also can’t drink any caloric beverages, but you can have coffee or tea and even add a little milk or sugar.

The Verdict: The only real restrictions in this diet apply to when you eat, not what. As a result, it may be easier to sustain than other diets. Also, it promotes healthy eating habits and strategies — another thing that gives you more control over your eating. Though Zinczenko says you need only to follow this three days a week, he also says adhering to it more often will help speed up results.