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Avoiding the Temptation of the Fad Diet

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Have you ever fallen for a crazy fad diet? You’re not alone. From cabbage soup to cayenne pepper, people have come up with strange and even harmful ways of losing weight.

But maybe all that is about to change. Recently, Dr. David Katz at Yale University’s Prevention Research Centre was asked by Annual Reviews (a publisher of peer-reviewed science and medical journals) to take a survey of all the commercially-marketed mainstream diets. Those included low-carb, low fat, Mediterranean, Paleo, vegan, and other diets. Their goal was to discover which diet was the best for health.

What did they find? That real food is best for overall health and long life, and that fad diets are just that — fads. “A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”

If that advice sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve heard it before. Michael Pollan, New York Times food columnist and author, expressed it simply by saying “Eat. Not too much. Mostly vegetables,” in his article “Unhappy Meals.” In it, Pollan outlines the transition from food to nutrients — as food manufacturers tried to claim more market share, they began advertising specific ingredients or ingredient combinations for health. But the side effect of this “nutritionism,” in place of actual nutrition was a culture of reduced-fat everything, and widespread obesity among first-world peoples with access to those packaged goods. As Pollan said: “The good news is that, to the carrot eater, it doesn’t matter. That’s the great thing about eating food as compared with nutrients: you don’t need to fathom a carrot’s complexity to reap its benefits.”

This is why Pollan advises us to shop at the edges of the grocery store, where fresh produce, lean meats, and dairy lives. Only after loading up on these whole, fresh foods should we buy up packaged goods — and stick to whole grains like brown rice and quinoa. (If you need a guide to whole grains and how to prepare them, Serious Eats has you covered.)

So, go forth. Shop. Eat. In fact, eat seven or more servings of fruit and veggies a day, and you’ll live a whole lot longer, and feel a whole lot better.