Gwyneth Paltrow’s announcement that she has the beginning stages of osteopenia (low bone mineral density) has led to speculation that her low vitamin D levels may be a consequence of her macrobiotic diet.
Now, a lot of people are thinking twice about their own diet schemes.
We’ve written before about how liquid cleanse diets can dehydrate you and hurt your heart. However, there are plenty of diets that are less extreme but still potentially harmful to your health.
I spoke to two experts: Dr. Felicia Stoler, a registered dietitian and host of Honey, We’re Killing the Kids! on TLC, and Marjorie Nolan, a New York City–based registered dietitian, certified personal trainer, and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. They both agree that there is a lot that dieters should look out for.
“Any kind of crash diet or fast weight-loss plan should be a red flag,” Nolan says. “You’ll miss out on nutrients, weaken your immune system, and set yourself up to get sick.”
And it’s not a myth that crash diets slow down your metabolism and you end up on a yo-yo cycle. “Even if you eat a diet that’s adequate in calories, if it cuts out an entire food group, you’re setting yourself up for problems,” she says.
Here are other things dieters should watch out for:
Following a macrobiotic diet. A macrobiotic diet can be adequate, but it’s difficult to get enough protein, calcium, and calories if you don’t plan carefully, Nolan explains.
“You may not get enough protein for your muscles to rebuild themselves. And if you don’t get enough calcium or protein, in general, your body’s not able to use vitamins and minerals properly.”
Taking vitamin supplements to make up for nutrients you don’t eat. “A lot of people think that if they take supplements, they’re OK. That’s a huge misconception,” says Nolan. If your weight-loss plan is too low in calories overall, the vitamins and minerals aren’t going to make it into your cells, and your body won’t be able to use them efficiently.
Going on a gluten-free diet. “Sometimes people get a little grumble in their tummy and so they self-diagnose as being gluten intolerant, and they wipe out an entire food group. They also wipe out essential nutrients the body needs,” says Stoler.
People who are gluten intolerant can get those nutrients by eating other whole grains that don’t contain gluten, such as quinoa, rice, or amaranth.
And, going gluten-free doesn’t mean you’ll lose weight. “A gluten-free diet can be very healthy,” says Nolan, “but it is not necessarily very low in calories or fat.”
For example, compared with regular bread, gluten-free bread is much denser because the protein that would normally come from wheat is removed. That equates to a calorie count that is 30% to 40% higher than in gluten-containing products.