Diets – do you know the myths from the facts?

10 March 2017 | Healthy living

Rachel is part of World Cancer Research Fund's Health Information team. As part of her job, she helps health professionals to feel more confident in raising awareness of cancer prevention and supporting people to reduce their risk.

We’re constantly bombarded with all sorts of diets promoting instant weight loss. With so many of these diets around, how do you know where to start or what will work in the long term?

Let’s have a look at some common features of these diets and whether it’s worth you giving them a go.

Skipping meals

Skipping meals can lead to feelings of low energy, and can cause cravings for high-fat and high-sugar foods. It can also mean you’re missing out on key nutrients you need to stay healthy.

This type of diet is too hard to maintain in the long term and even if you lose weight in the short term, it can result in weight gain once you start eating normally again.

Eating certain foods to help you burn fat

Unfortunately, no food can actually help you to burn fat. The important thing is eating fewer calories than you use up.

Basing diets on low-calorie foods such as fruit and veg, wholegrains and pulses will help to lower your calorie intake.

Cutting out carbohydrates

Many believe that carbohydrates are fattening. In fact, gram for gram, carbohydrates contain less than half the calories of fat. However, carbohydrate-rich meals such as rice or pasta dishes can be high in energy because of the toppings commonly added to them and large portion sizes.

You should aim to eat two portions of starchy carbohydrates at each meal, equivalent to two medium slices of bread or four new potatoes.

Not snacking

Eating healthy snacks between meals can actually help you to control your appetite and provide you with important nutrients. Fruit, vegetables, nuts and low-fat yoghurt are some great choices.

Focusing on low-fat foods

Basing your diet on healthy low-fat foods such as vegetables, fruit and wholegrains is a great place to start. Foods that claim to be ‘low-fat' must contain no more than 3g of fat per 100g. However, some low-fat foods may contain high levels of sugar, so it’s important to check the label.

Don’t feel bad if you’re not losing lots of weight in one go – it takes time and it can be hard.

Even if it is possible for you to lose weight quickly, it’s not always healthy. You’re also likely to put it straight back on once you stop your diet.

Gradual weight loss through a combination of a balanced diet and physical activity is a more realistic and sustainable option.

A safe rate of weight loss is between 0.5kg to 1kg (1lb to 2lb) each week. For a typical man, this means sticking to a calorie limit of no more than 1,900kcal a day, and 1,400kcal for a typical woman.

And remember – by trying to become a healthy weight you’ll be on your way to reducing your risk of 11 common cancers, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Where next?

> Download free resources, including our new Weight matters booklet

> Sign up for our Activ8 healthy living plan

Rachel Clark | 10 March 2017