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A poorly constructed diet can do more harm than good.

Between the festive season indulgences and the looming sweets and treats of Valentine’s, many are trying to shed a few extra kilos. This might mean taking a fresh swing at low-carb high-fat, trying a controlled fast, or going raw.

These popular diets might hold great promise and even show impressive results, but the danger arises when we tackle these kinds of eating plans after quickly scanning the web for basic guidelines and then applying it without consulting a professional.

Dramatic changes in a diet or exercise regime can take its toll on the body and it is therefore essential to consult with a health professional first. Consulting Dietician Judith Johnson explains that “a dietitian is trained in the medical field and will be able to work with any health conditions that you may have, considering medical and nutritional requirements to personalise your eating plan.”You can visit myhealthandfitness.co.za to find a wide range of dieticieans and nutritionists in your area.

It is important to consider your particular health concerns before trying a new diet. A low-carb high-fat (LCHF) diet is currently a popular choice but according to The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa it could be dangerous to people with elevated LDL cholesterol levels, existing heart disease or elevated iron levels.

Another dietary trend that is currently making waves is controlled fasting. “Controlled fasting has been shown to be very beneficial,” says Johnson. “One way to do this is by reducing your calorie intake every second day from your normal 1500 – 2500kcal/d to half your usual intake, but still eating during the day. This changes the metabolic processes in the cell to reduce inflammation, reduce insulin production and maintain fluid homeostasis.

“The second way to ‘fast’ is to extend the time from dinner to breakfast up to 13-15hrs over night. This give your gut the rest it needs to enhance the correct gut microbiome and it helps with weight management since your body has to burn stored energy for fuel.

However, Johnson urges that fasting in general should be approached with caution. “Fasting means the restriction of foods to the body,” she explains. “Extended fasting can be harmful as it changes the electrolyte balance in the body, causes ketosis, induces protein breakdown in the body and causes fluid loss. This is not advisable in the elderly, pregnant or a diabetic person, especially on insulin.”

Even opting for a raw diet can have some setbacks. Raw veganism is plant-based diet where nothing is cooked or heated above 40°C. Instead foods are eaten fresh, dried out or fermented.

“The Raw Vegan diet has a lot of benefits,” says Johnson. “It is full of micronutrients, anti-inflammatory foods and fibre.

“The difficulty is when food choices are incorrect, causing nutritional deficiencies especially iron, B12, calcium and certain amino acids.

“Another problem can be the fibre content. The diet is very high in insoluble fibres, some of which have anti nutrients which are difficult to digest, causing bloating and flatulence if the gut microbes are incorrect.

“Most vegans will need to take a B12 supplement at some point and will need to be very careful of food selection to choose the correct plant proteins for adequate amino acids.”

Johnson warns against this diet if someone is anaemic or iron deficient, and urges careful planning for athletes.

Instead of aiming for quick fixes, strive for a lifestyle that includes a healthy, sustainable, nutritious eating plan and regular exercise. A healthy diet should provide your body with sufficient fibre, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and with energy to sustain your activity level.

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