What you need to know about popular diets

Losing weight can help lower your chances for cancer if you’re overweight or obese.

But not just any weight-loss plan will give your body the nutrients it needs to fight off diseases like cancer.

Below, I’ve separated out the good from the bad among popular diets.

Good nutrition is not a fast fix

Diets that make the “good list” encourage long-term change. They also give you a variety of options from all food groups. Here are some examples of diets that encourage long-term eating changes.

Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean-style diet makes our “good” list because it encourages people to make a life-long commitment to good nutrition.

This diet also meets many of the dietary guidelines used for preventing cancer and heart disease. These include:

  • Making fruits, vegetables, nuts and other plant-based foods a big part of every meal
  • Choosing healthy fats, like olive and canola oils, instead of butter
  • Flavoring foods with herbs and spices instead of salt
  • Limiting red meat and alcohol intake
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week

The whole-body approach

This type of diet focuses on eating six to seven small meals each day, instead of the standard three large meals. It makes the “good” list because it offers these cancer prevention benefits:

  • Adding fruits, vegetables and whole grains into at least half of your daily meals
  • Encouraging eating lean protein
  • Limiting foods high in fat
  • Including daily physical activity

Crash diets lead to crash endings

“Trendy” usually means the latest fad, and fads are temporary. So, if you hear a diet described as “trendy,” that’s usually a red flag.

That’s because “trendy” diets usually don’t provide the nutrients your body needs on a daily basis. Here are some examples of trendy diets that fall short.


Gluten is a protein found in most whole grain foods, like wheat, rye, barley and oats. Gluten-free diets are becoming a popular trend. When you go gluten-free, you stop eating foods containing whole grains. But, unless you have celiac disease, you shouldn’t go gluten-free.

Here’s why: whole grains are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. They protect our cells from damage that may lead to cancer.

Crash diets

Yes, crash diets promise rapid results. But, rapid results don’t promise long-term health. In fact, losing more than two pounds a week can damage your body. That’s because crash diets cause you to lose muscle mass first instead of fat.


Don’t follow diet plans that tell you to completely “cut the carbs.” Sure, you should limit your carbohydrates to maintain a healthy weight. But, if you completely cut them out, you also cut out your body’s primary energy source.

Even worse: you deprive your body of some important cancer-fighting carbohydrates — vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans.

Instead of going carb-free, choose your carbohydrates wisely. Pick whole grains rather than cakes, cookies and other foods made with processed or refined grains and sugars.

Moderation is the secret to success

Maintaining a healthy weight requires a life-long commitment. And, the secret to long-term success is moderation.

So, talk to your doctor about a nutrition plan that works for you. And, find ways to fit in at least 30 minutes of activity every day.

Then, stick to it. Your body will thank you.

Daxaben Amin is a senior clinical dietitian in the Department of Clinical Nutrition at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=558041620 Vikas Desai

    THE most moronic of these is the widespread use of gluten free diets, every numbskulll with IBS or just a tummyache thinks they have celiac disease, start a gluten free diet feel “better” and have bmi’s that skyrocket after which leads them to believe they have a hormonal imbalance.

  • Anonymous

    Cheapest diet ? Eat smaller portions .

    • http://twitter.com/JasonBoies Jason Boies

      Agreed on that one.  I’ve lost weight simply by cutting my portion sizes.  Tried the Gluten free thing, not for me.  Between smaller portions and cutting out the late night snacking, and the gym 3-4 times a week, I’ve gotten in much better shape.  No miracle diet required. :P

  • Anonymous

    There are no nutrients in grains that you can’t find elsewhere.  If someone wanted to avoid grain products, it’s not that hard to replace those nutrients.
    Why are RD’s still trashing butter? 

  • http://twitter.com/livewellthy Stewart Segal

    My patients have been dieting for 30 years and are still obese.  Guess what diets aren’t?  Diets aren’t successful.  The word diet should be a noun.  Your diet belongs to you.  The goal should be to define what your diet is and then refine it on a longterm plan.  “DIets and Other Unnatural Acts” teaches people how to “Chicken Step” to a healthy lifestyle.

    Accepth who you are, then work on being a better you!

  • Anonymous

    As someone with celiac disease, I wanted to point out that a gluten-free diet does not have to be (and shouldn’t be) unhealthy and devoid of whole grains. While I don’t really understand why someone would eat gluten-free without a medical need to do so (it sure makes social situations awkward and drives up your grocery bill), those of us who do have to avoid gluten can still eat quite a few whole grains. There are three whole grains we can’t eat – wheat, barley, and rye. A minority of us can’t eat oats, but many of us can tolerate certified wheat-free oats. I eat plenty of quinoa, flax, millet, amaranth, teff, brown rice, sorghum, and other healthy whole grains that most people haven’t even heard of. Yes, most pre-packaged gluten-free food is full of sugar and fat and not much else, and should be largely avoided, but there are plenty of naturally gluten-free options around that make it possible for us to get all of the vitamins, minerals, and fiber that we need.

  • Shri Devi

    A really useful article on misconceptions of dieting and losing weight..A kind of eye-opener!
    Thank you Dr.Kevin Pho.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UDJTUH45CFUC6LKCBLB6FGRDKU Diane

    I have unknowingly been following the “whole body” approach since my teenage years when I danced many hours a week and played in band and kept a crazy schedule. It just made since to eat healthy as a dancer (I wasn’t a pro and didn’t have “body issues” so I did swing by the 7-11 for those unhealthy snacks on my free days + I did walk 2 &1/2 miles home with a trombone in tow back in the day when they didn’t bus you until you lived 3 miles from school and life was simple). Later in college a nutritionist was called in when I had problems with low blood sugar on the bagel and cereal diet in a school with no meal plan so she helped with the protein and fruit/veggies while living out of a dorm fridge. PBJ can become a gal’s best friend…

    All that stuck with me 20 years later and I’m still around the 20 BMI. So I’ll give that one high credit if you are eating good food. And I would think it would also work great for most health care providers to eat small nutritious meals/snacks throughout the day as you can. Simple, whole foods, using the stairs, any other tricks for getting in that exercise in 5-10 minute bursts. All your exercise in a days work and you’re never really hungry either.

  • http://twitter.com/GreatPilates Judith Farmer

    I don’t see doctors, but If I did I would pick someone who walks the talk of health and balance. Dr. Kevin seems to. Thank you for confirming what I teach in my weight loss program.

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