6 Tips For Choosing The Best Multivitamin Supplement

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Multivitamin

Don’t Fall For Misleading Marketing Claims

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

best multivitamin supplementThere are lots of multivitamin-multimineral products in the marketplace. Every company must differentiate their product from the competition to win their market share. When that differentiation is based on quality, purity, and clinical proof the product works, I am all for it. May the best company win.  Many claim to offer the best multivitamin supplement.

However, the pressure to win market share is intense. Quality controls and clinical studies are expensive. All too often companies try to differentiate their multivitamin-multimineral products based on marketing hype and/or worthless ingredients that subtract money from your wallet without adding anything of value to your health.

With so many claims and counter claims in the marketplace, it has become almost impossible for the average consumer to know which claims are true and which are false. Everyone wants to get the best multivitamin-multimineral for their health at the least possible cost. Perhaps that is why I am so frequently asked for guidance on how to choose the best multivitamin supplement.

In this week’s article, I will give you 6 tips you can use to select the multivitamin-multimineral product that is best for you. I will tell you what to look for in a good multivitamin and which marketing claims you should just ignore.

How Are Nutritional Standards Set?

The standards for nutritional supplements are set in a two-step process.

Step 1: In the first step, The Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies of Sciences selects a committee of experts called the Food and Nutrition Board to set standards for a specific set of nutrients. They set 3 kinds of standards:

  • Recommended Dietary Allowances or RDAs are the average daily dietary intake level sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97-98 percent) healthy individuals in a group.
  • Adequate Intakes or AIs are established when evidence is insufficient to develop an RDA and are set at a level assumed to ensure nutritional adequacy.
  • Where toxicity is a potential concern, Tolerable Upper Limits or ULs represent the maximum daily intake unlikely to cause adverse health effects.
  • Just to confuse things, all three standards are all part of what is called Dietary Reference Intakes or DRIs.

Step 2: The DRIs are specific for age, gender, pregnancy & lactation. It would be hopelessly complicated to use DRIs for the nutrition labels on foods and supplements. Therefore, the FDA sets a Daily Value (DV) for the purposes of food and supplement labeling. Originally, DVs were set based on the highest DRI for a specific nutrient. However, the FDA has recently devised a new set of DV standards that will be appearing on food and supplement labels between now and July 26, 2018.

How to Choose the Best Multivitamin Supplement

nutritional supplement#1: Good Product Design Still Matters

Comparing nutrition labels on multivitamin-multimineral supplements can be tricky. Some supplements only provide 5-10% the Daily Value (DV) for some nutrients. Are those nutrients unimportant? Some supplements provide hundreds or thousands % of the DV for other nutrients. Is more better?

Often companies will quote some random scientist or one or two clinical studies to support the mix of nutrients they include in their multivitamin-multimineral supplement. Don’t fall for their marketing hype.

The only valid nutritional standards for multivitamin-multimineral products in the United States are set by the Food & Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine. They are the standards you should look for in evaluating nutrition labels.

That’s because the National Academies of Sciences is the real deal. The National Academies represents the top 1-2% of scientists in the country. To be selected to the National Academies you must be nominated by an Academy member, and voted on by the entire Academy. Selection is based on your research contributions over decades. (No, I am not a member of the Academy, but thanks for thinking that question).

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences selects the best of the best to serve on the Food and Nutrition Board. They are world renowned experts who review all the pertinent literature (not just one or two studies). They decide on which nutrients are essential and how much of them we need.

It always amazes me that some companies pretend they know more than the Food and Nutrition Board. It amazes me even more that some people believe those companies.

With that in mind, this is what to look for when comparing nutrition labels and trying to choose the best multivitamin supplement:

  • The FDA has set Daily Value (DV) recommendations for 24 vitamins and minerals (23 if the supplement is for adult men or postmenopausal women and does not contain iron). Make sure your multivitamin-multimineral has all 24. Count them. If a company leaves out an essential nutrient, they are not required to list it on the label.
  • The Food and Nutrition Board has classified several other nutrients as essential, but does not feel there have been enough studies to establish a DRI. Without a DRI, the FDA cannot set a DV. Those nutrients are represented with a “dagger” symbol on the label with the footnote “Daily Value not established.”  These are useful additions to a multivitamin-multimineral supplement, provided they are not present in excess.
  • Ignore anything companies list on their nutrition labels that does not have a %DV value or a “dagger” symbol. This is often just marketing hype. In some cases, the ingredients have no proven benefit. In many other cases, it’s just not possible to put enough of them in a multivitamin-multimineral tablet to provide any real benefit.

vitmain and minerals#2: Look For Balance

This is another area in which we need to be guided by the recommendations of the Food and Nutrition Board of the IOM. One of the reasons many experts recommend that people get their vitamins and minerals from foods rather than from supplements is because many supplements are unbalanced. That’s a problem because there are many cases in which too much of one nutrient can interfere with the absorption or metabolism of related nutrients. For example,

  • Zinc and copper compete for absorption. For best absorption and maximal utilization by the body, the zinc to copper ratio should be close to 1:1 based on DV.
  • B vitamins should be in balance. Look for a multivitamin-multimineral supplement that provides 100-200% of the DV for all 8 essential B vitamins. (The levels can be higher in a B Complex supplement, but they should still be in balance.)

Some manufacturers will leave out the expensive B vitamins and load up on the cheap ones. This saves them money. It also allows them to use marketing terms like “mega” or “super.”  A supplement that provides 50% or less of the DV for some B vitamins and 1,000% or more of the DV for others is ridiculous. There is absolutely no rationale for a ratio like that except to mislead consumers.

  • As for the other nutrients in multivitamin-multimineral supplements, they should not be significantly below 50% or significantly above 250% of the DV.
  • Unfortunately, the new DVs will introduce some confusion when they start appearing on supplement labels. That’s because in some cases, the new DVs are significantly different than the RDAs established by the Institute of Medicine. I would not fault a company for basing their ingredient amounts based on RDA recommendation rather than DVs. However, there is no good rationale for providing 500% DV or more for any nutrient in a multivitamin-multimineral supplement.
  • Calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous are a special case. They are bulky, so many manufacturers only provide 5-10% of them in their multivitamin-multimineral supplements. This is not ideal because many of the nutrients in a multivitamin-multimineral supplement are required for optimal utilization of calcium and magnesium in bone formation.

Many Americans get only 50% of the DV for calcium and magnesium in their diet. Thus, it makes good sense to provide 30-50% of the DV for calcium and magnesium in a multivitamin multimineral supplement. Most Americans get close to the DV for phosphorous from their diet, so the amount of phosphorous in a supplement is not particularly important.

hype#3: Don’t Fall For The Hype

In their attempts to differentiate themselves, many companies claim that they use a more natural or a better utilized form of the vitamin or mineral than their competitors. Ignore those claims. They are just marketing hype. For example,

  • In previous issues of “Health Tips From the Professor” I have debunked the claims that folate and methyl folate  are more natural, safer and more effective than folic acid. The claims that alternate chemical forms of other vitamins are more natural, safer, and more effective are equally bogus.
  • The claims by some manufacturers that they use a form of calcium that is more readily absorbed is not just misleading. It is the wrong question. Calcium in our bloodstream can do bad things (like calcification and hardening of the arteries) if it is not quickly utilized for bone formation.

Thus, the important question is how well the calcium is utilized for bone formation. Look for clinical studies showing that the calcium in their multivitamin-multimineral supplement is efficiently utilized for bone formation rather than hype about how quickly it gets into the bloodstream.

  • There is a good reason that many supplement companies continue to use ingredients like folic acid for B9, cyanocobalamin for B12, pyridoxine for B6, etc. All of them are supported by hundreds of clinical studies showing that they are safe and effective. I have no issue with companies choosing to use different forms of these vitamins. Just don’t fall for their hype that the forms they are using are somehow more natural, safer or more effective than the traditionally-used forms of the same vitamin.

buzz words#4: Don’t Fall For Buzz Words

Some manufacturers attempt to differentiate their products by claiming they are natural, organic, non-GMO, or are made from food. The companies are attaching buzz words to their product that they know resonate with the American people. Don’t believe them. Those claims are all bogus. They are marketing hype. For example,

  • There is no standard for “natural” so companies are not required to provide any evidence to back up their claim. If they claim that their product is natural, ask for a detailed list of the source and processing method for all their ingredients. If they are unwilling or unable to provide you with that information, don’t believe their claim of natural.
  • “Organic” certification for a supplement simply means that ingredients come from crops raised using organic methods. It is no guarantee of purity. Organically grown crops can still be contaminated if the air, soil or water is contaminated from any nearby pollution source. For example, ground water pollution is the major source of the heavy metal contamination often seen in rice-derived ingredients. It is far more important to select your supplement based on rigorous quality control standards that assure it is pure.
  • A “non-GMO” designation is useful for foods and for protein, but it is meaningless for the ingredients in a multivitamin-multimineral supplement. Those ingredients have been extensively purified. They contain no genetic information. They are chemically indistinguishable from purified ingredients obtained from GMO sources. If you would like more detailed information about the GMO controversy, I have provided a balanced perspective on GMO in a recent video.
  • Claims by some companies that their vitamins are derived from foods are completely bogus. That is a physical impossibility. For example, let’s look at what it would take to provide the DV for just 3 of the nutrients in a single multivitamin pill, assuming they started with the best food sources of those 3 nutrients:
  • It would take 1 cup of cooked lentils, 2 cups of cooked spinach, or 4 cups of cooked broccoli to provide the DV for folic acid.
  • It would take 1 cup of sunflower seeds, 1.5 cups of pistachio nuts, or 7 ounces of cooked tuna to provide the DV for vitamin B6.
  • It would take 5 ounces of cooked chicken breast, 1 cup of peanuts, or 6 cups of green peas to provide the DV for niacin.

That’s just 3 nutrients and one multivitamin tablet. You do the math. If they will lie to you about their vitamins coming from foods, they will probably lie about other things as well.

#5: Don’t Fall For Scare Tactics

Some companies try to scare you into buying their products by claiming their competitors are using unsafe ingredients. These claims are usually bogus, but it is useful to understand where this misinformation comes from.

dark sideThere is a lot of unfounded hysteria on the internet about product ingredients. Much of this hysteria has been fueled by a few well-known bloggers. I believe their intentions were pure in the beginning. They started by warning the public about truly dangerous ingredients like artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners.

However, blogging has a dark side. To capture a large audience, your blog posts need to be sensational every week. As the weeks go by it becomes harder and harder to find subject matter that is both sensational and accurate. That’s when some bloggers go over to “the dark side.”

They become more concerned about the size of their audience than the accuracy of the information they post. They start vilifying ingredients that are perfectly safe as long as the manufacturer purifies them correctly and tests them for purity. These are ingredients which might be of concern for products made by a company with poor quality controls, but pose no concern for products made by a company with high quality control standards. In other words, they should not be spreading hysteria about the ingredient. They should be focusing on some of the real quality control issues in our industry.

To help you sort through all the hysteria about product ingredients, I have previously published a two-part series on ingredients in which I sorted through the claims and divided common ingredients into the good, the bad, and the ugly.

clinically proven#6: Demand Proof

This is the most important tip of all. Many companies make wild claims about their products but feel no need to back up their claims. Ignore their hype and demand they give proof to back up their claims.

  • If they claim their products are pure, ask how many quality control tests they run on their products.
  • If they claim their products work, ask for proof. Ask for clinical studies:
    • That have been done with people, not with animals, cell culture, or test tubes*
    • That have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
    • That have been done with their product, not studies done with another product.

*Animal, cell culture and test tube studies are valid if they are used to identify a potential mechanism of action, but should not be cited as proof the product works. For ethical reasons, I prefer companies that do not use animal studies.

 

The Bottom Line: 6 Tips For Choosing The Best Multivitamin Supplement

 

Everyone would like to get the best multivitamin-multimineral for their health at the least possible cost. However, there are lots of multivitamin-multimineral products in the marketplace. The pressure to win market share is intense. Quality controls and clinical studies are expensive. All too often companies try to differentiate their multivitamin-multimineral products based on marketing hype.

With so many claims and counter claims in the marketplace, it has become almost impossible for the average consumer to know how to choose the best multivitamin-multimineral product. In this week’s article, I give you 6 tips you can use to select the best multivitamin supplement for you. I will tell you what to look for in a good multivitamin and which marketing claims you should just ignore.

  • Start with the nutrition label. A good multivitamin-multimineral supplement should contain all 24 essential nutrients recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine (23 if the supplement is without iron). Anything else is probably marketing hype.
  • Make sure the nutrients are in the correct balance. Again, your evaluation should be guided by the Institute of Medicine.
  • Don’t fall for the hype. Many companies claim that they use a more natural, safer, or better utilized form of the vitamin or mineral than their competitors. Ignore those claims. They are usually just marketing hype
  • Don’t fall for buzz words. Some companies attempt to differentiate their products by claiming they are natural, organic, non-GMO, or are made from food. The companies are attaching buzz words to their product that they know resonate with the American people. Don’t believe them. Those claims are all bogus. They do nothing to improve your health. They are marketing hype.
  • Don’t fall for scare tactics. Some companies try to scare you into buying their products by claiming their competitors are using unsafe ingredients. These claims are usually bogus.
  • Demand poof. This is the most important tip of all. Many companies make wild claims about their products but feel no need to back up their claims. Ignore their hype and demand they give proof to back up their claims.
  • If they claim their products are pure, ask how many quality control tests they run on their products.
  • If they claim their products work, ask for proof. Ask for clinical studies:
    • That have been done with people, not with animals, cell culture, or test tubes.
    • That have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
    • That have been done with their product, not studies done with another product.

For more details about each of those tips, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (4)

  • Shirley Davis

    |

    Please put me on your mailing list for your “Health Tips From the Professor”. I use to be on this list but have not received any for a long time!

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Dear Shirley,
      I have added you back to the “Health Tips From the Professor” subscription list as you requested. I have checked with the IT Gods, and it appears that the most likely cause of you being involuntarily “opted out” of the emails is that someone you forwarded the email to opted out. If they opt out, it also opts you out.
      If you want to avoid this problem, just send them the link that is included in each issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”. Click on the link yourself and then copy-paste the URL into an email to them along with a message as to why you are sending them the link.
      Dr. Chaney

      Reply

  • Lisa Smith

    |

    Hi Dr. Chaney. Thank you so much for speaking on the OPA call last night. I would love to subscribe to your newsletter if you would be so kind. Also, I have a question about this statement above:
    Claims by some companies that their vitamins are derived from foods
    are completely bogus. That is a physical impossibility.
    Shaklee vitamins are whole-food supplements right? So what does that mean?
    Thank you for clarification. Much appreciated. Lisa

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Dear Lisa,
      This is something I addressed in one of my series of 6 Facebook Live videos giving a bit more detail about my “Choosing the Best Multivitamin” article. Basically, I have sympathy for people in the field. I don’t hold them responsible for this misconception. It originated long ago from some field person without any scientific background and has been repeated over and over long enough that it has become one of those nutrition “myths” I talk about. In fact, the term “whole-food supplement” is meaningless. There is no standard for whole-food supplement.
      However, I do have problems with companies that make those claims, because they know better. They are trying to deceive their customers. No reputable company makes that claim. Dr. Shaklee always said that he made his supplements “as natural as it was possible to make them”. Shaklee has stood by that claim. What that means is that Shaklee has a long list of ingredients they won’t use because they are not natural enough. It means that you won’t find any artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors or preservatives. It also means you will find bioflavonoids along with vitamin C, mixed tocopherols along with d-alpha-tocopherol, etc.
      I do not claim that Shaklee is the only company with those high standards. However, Shaklee has given me access to the list of ingredients they will not use (before you ask, I did not retain the list, and I don’t remember all the ingredients on the list. I was, however, impressed by it’s thoroughness.) Shaklee has given me access to their quality control specifications. I have spoken to Shaklee scientists. I can verify that their products are of the highest quality and as natural as possible. No other company has given me that kind of access, so I cannot compare other companies to Shaklee.
      Dr. Chaney

      Reply

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Latest Article

What Is The Best Diet For You?

Posted May 23, 2017 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Sorting Through The Dueling Diets

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

battle over best dietDiets are a lot like politics in today’s world. Everyone is absolutely convinced their diet is the best and absolutely convinced the other diets are terrible.

Remember the nursery rhyme: “Jack Sprat could eat no fat. His wife could eat no lean…”? Today’s diets remind me of that. They run the gamut from no fat to no carbohydrates. Surely, both extremes couldn’t be healthy. Or could they?

Some diets eliminate whole food groups. That couldn’t be a good thing. Or, could it?

So, what is the best diet for you?

In today’s article, I will give you the pros and cons of these dueling diets. Before I do that, however, let me give you some principles to put things into perspective.

General Principles For Evaluating Diets

How do you sort out the claims and counterclaims associated with the various diets? More importantly, how do you know which of the claims are true and which are misleading? Here are some general principles to help you separate the wheat from the chaff.  What’s the right diet for you?

We are omnivores. We can adapt to a wide variety of diets and do reasonably well. That means most people will do well on any of these diets short term.

wings proteinAnything is better than the standard American diet (SAD). It is high in sugar and refined carbohydrates. It is also high in saturated and trans fats. That is why proponents of every diet can claim that you will feel better and be healthier when you switch to their diet.

Processed and convenience foods are part of the problem. Most diets recommend “clean eating” (elimination of processed and convenience foods). Any diet that eliminates processed and convenience foods is likely to help you lose weight and get healthier. Caution: As soon as a diet becomes popular, food manufacturers rush in to provide pre-packaged, convenience foods to support that diet. Avoid the temptation to use those foods. Big Food Inc. does not have your best interests in mind. They are not your friends.

Most diets lead to a fairly rapid initial weight loss. This is because they restrict food choices and eliminate processed foods. When you eliminate familiar foods from someone’s diet, they instinctively eat less without even thinking about it. This rapid initial weight loss is part of the allure of almost every diet program. However, over time most people start adding back some of their favorite foods or find new foods they like, and the weight comes back.

Weight loss leads to improved blood parameters irrespective of diet composition. That is why every diet, no matter how bizarre, can claim it lowers your blood pressure, improves your blood sugar, lowers your cholesterol, and lowers your triglycerides.

Long term weight loss is virtually identical on every diet. Numerous clinical studies have compared long term weight loss on low fat diets, low carbohydrate diets, and virtually everything in between. Initial weight loss is more rapid on the low-carbohydrate diets. However, at the end of one or two years there is not a dime’s worth of difference in weight loss between any of the diets. The exception is the Vegan diet. Long term Vegans typically weigh less than their meat-eating counterparts, probably because the foods in the Vegan diet have low caloric density (fewer calories per serving).

Healthy carbs and healthy fats are more important than low carb or low fat diets. Ignore the claims and counter claims about low fat and low carb diets. Focus instead on diets that provide moderate amounts of whole grains instead of refined grains & sugar. Also focus on diets that provide moderate amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, especially the omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, instead of saturated and trans fats.

Focus on well balanced meals rather than individual foods. For example, moderate amounts of healthy carbohydrates will have relatively little effect on blood sugar and triglyceride levels as part of a plant-based meal that provides plenty of fiber and protein. However, those same carbohydrate-rich foods by themselves may cause a spike in both blood sugar and triglycerides.

best diet for youPlant-based diets rule. The Ornish diet (a very restrictive form of the Vegan diet) is the only diet that has been shown to reverse atherosclerosis in some people. The Vegan diet and the Mediterranean diet, which is largely plant-based, have been shown to be healthy long term. On the other hand, we simply don’t know whether low carbohydrate diets are healthy long term. Those clinical studies have not been done.

Saturated and trans fats are not your friends. They increase inflammation, which can have many serious long-term health consequences. In addition, the foods that are rich in saturated fats are often acid-forming foods, which can upset your acid-base balance.

We have 5 food groups for a reason. Each food group provides valuable nutrients (vitamins a & minerals) and phytonutrients. You may be able to replace the missing nutrients with supplementation, but you are unlikely to replace the phytonutrients with supplements – even those supplements that claim to be made from whole foods. You should be concerned about the long-term health consequences of any diet that eliminates whole food groups.

Low fat diets aren’t necessarily healthy. Whole food, low-fat diets like the Vegan diet are extremely healthy. However, as soon as health experts started recommending low-fat diets, Big Food Inc. stepped in to offer convenient low fat options. They simply replaced the fat with refined carbohydrates, sugar, and a witch’s brew of chemicals (Remember the part about Big Food Inc. not being your friend?). As a result, the low-fat diet consumed by most Americans is anything but healthy.

The supposed advantages of low carbohydrate diets are misleading. Low carbohydrate diets look very good when you compare them to the Big Food Inc version of the low-fat diet. However, when you compare them to something like the Vegan diet the advantages disappear.

Avoid sugar-sweetened and diet beverages. This should go without saying. Choose water instead. Add carbonation and/or a little lemon or lime juice for flavoring if necessary. Fortunately, most of the major diets exclude sugar-sweetened and diet beverages.

 

The Pros and Cons Of The Major Diets

It is not possible to cover each diet in depth in a single article, so this is meant to be a very brief overview of the major diets.

Low Fat Diets

The Dean Ornish Diet. This is a variation of the Vegan Diet that eliminates all oils, even vegetable oil.

Pros:

  • Whole food, plant-based diet.
  • All the advantages of the Vegan diet, plus it is the only diet shown to reverse atherosclerosis.

Cons:

  • Very restrictive.
  • Long-term adherence is low.

 

vegetablesThe Vegan Diet. This is a whole food, plant based diet. It uses plant proteins instead of meat and plant substitutes for dairy and eggs.

Pros:

  • Whole food, plant-based diet.
  • Associated with lower blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides, and inflammation.
  • Clinical studies show that the onset of major diseases like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are delayed by at least 5-10 years. People on this diet live healthier, longer.

Cons:

  • Long-term adherence is relatively low, but some people stick with this diet for a lifetime.

 

Healthy Fat, Healthy Carb Diets

The Mediterranean Diet. This diet emphasizes fresh fruits & vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, seeds, legumes and olive oil. It includes cheese, poultry and eggs in moderation.

whole food dietPros:

Cons:

  • Not designed specifically for weight loss. You will need to watch portion sizes and track calories if you want to lose weight on this diet.

 

The DASH Diet. This diet was specifically designed to help reduce the risk of hypertension and stroke. It is similar to the Mediterranean diet except that it restricts sodium and includes a wider range of lean meats and low-fat dairy products. It does not specifically include olive oil.

Pros:

  • Whole food diet.
  • Clinically proven to lower blood pressure  as effectively as some blood pressure medications.
  • Relatively easy to follow. Includes foods familiar to Americans.

Cons:

  • Not designed specifically for weight loss. You will need to watch portion sizes and track calories if you want to lose weight on this diet.

 

Low Carb Diets

meat protein dietThe Paleo Diet. The Paleo diet is supposedly based on the diet of our paleolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors. The diet is high in protein & fat, and low in carbohydrates. The diet eliminates grains, sugars, refined oils, dairy, legumes, and starchy fruits & vegetables. Most of the protein comes from meats, but the animals must be grass-fed. This reduces, but does not eliminate, saturated fat and gives a modest increase in omega-3 polyunsaturated fat. Thus, the meats included in this diet are healthier than the meats in other low carbohydrate diets. However, it does not turn red meats into health foods.

Anthropologists tell us that the premise of the Paleo diet is faulty. The diet of our paleolithic ancestors was highly dependent on the foods available in their environment. Some were hunters and gatherers. Others lived in areas where fruits & vegetables were prevalent and game was scarcer. Still others lived in areas where starchy root vegetables were an important part of their diet. Furthermore, the enzymes required for digestion of starches are inducible. We can easily adapt to the introduction of grains into our diet.

Pros:

  • Whole food diet.
  • The Paleo diet is associated with several short-term benefits including weight loss, improved blood sugar control and reduced cholesterol, triglycerides & blood pressure.

Cons:

The Atkins Diet. The Atkins diet is the granddaddy of the low-fat diets. It is a very low carbohydrate diet that restricts sugars, grains, high carbohydrate fruits and vegetables. The allure of the diet is that it includes as much fatty meats and saturated fats as you want.

Pros:

  • The Atkins diet is associated with several short-term benefits including weight loss, improved blood sugar control and reduced cholesterol, triglycerides & blood pressure.

Cons:

  • There are no studies evaluating the long-term benefits and risks of the Atkins diet.
  • Weight loss at the end of one or two years is no better than for the low-fat diets.
  • The high intake of saturated fat has the potential to increase the risk of heart disease and cancer.
  • It is a very restrictive diet. Long-term adherence to this diet is poor.

The Ketogenic Diet. The Ketogenic diet is even more restrictive than the Atkins diet. I have covered the pros and cons of the Ketogenic diet in a recent post, so I will refer you to that article, Is the Ketogenic Diet Safe for details. In short, the Ketogenic diet has some short-term benefits and some potential long-term risks. Ketone supplements mimic some, but not all, of the short-term benefits of the Ketogenic diet. Their long-term health risks are unknown.

 

What Is The Best Diet For You?

what diet is right for youWe are all different, so there is no perfect diet for everyone. Want to know how to find a diet that works for you?  Here are some things to think about.

  • If you are like most Americans, almost any of these diets is better than your current diet.
  • The good thing about all the diets reviewed in this article is:
    • They replace refined carbohydrates & sugars with healthier alternatives (The best of the diets also replace saturated & trans fats with healthier alternatives).
    • They emphasize whole foods rather than processed and convenience foods.
    • They eliminate sugar-sweetened and diet beverages.
    • They emphasize fresh vegetables and most include fresh fruit.
  • If you are looking for rapid initial weight loss:
    • The very restrictive diets at either extreme (very low fat or very low carb) are best because they eliminate familiar foods from the diet.
    • The very low carb diets are slightly more effective than low fat diets initially because of water loss, but weight loss on most low carb and low fat diets is identical after 1-2 years.
    • Because both the Mediterranean and DASH diets involve many familiar foods, you will need to pay more attention to portion sizes and total calories on these diets if your primary goal is to lose weight.
  • If you are looking for long term weight control, the Vegan diet is best, probably because most foods in the Vegan diet have low caloric density. Multiple studies have shown that Vegans weigh less than their meat-eating counterparts.
  • If you are looking for long term health benefits:
    • The Vegan and Mediterranean diets are clearly your best choices. They are backed by multiple clinical studies showing they reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia and other diseases.
    • The DASH diet is probably equally healthy. However, because it was designed to control blood pressure, most clinical studies have focused only on how well it reduces blood pressure.
    • There is no evidence that the low carb diets have any long-term health benefits, and there is reason to suspect they may have some long-term health risks.
  • I have serious concerns about long-term health risks for any diet that:
    • Eliminates whole food groups.
    • Is high in saturated and trans fats.
  • The effectiveness of any diet is dependent on how well you stick with it:
    • The long-term adherence to any of the very restrictive diets (either low carb or low fat) is low, although some people do stick with the Vegan diet for a lifetime.
    • Adherence is best with the Mediterranean and DASH diets, probably because many of the foods are familiar and readily available.

 

The Bottom Line

 

In this article I have reviewed the major low fat diets (the Dean Ornish diet and the Vegan diet), the major healthy carb, healthy fat diets (the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet), and the major low carb diets (the Paleo diet, the Atkins diet, and the Ketogenic diet). In summary:

 

  • If you are like most Americans, almost any of these diets is better than your current diet.
  • The good thing about all these diets is:
    • They replace refined carbohydrates & sugars with healthier alternatives (The best of the diets also replace saturated & trans fats with healthier alternatives).
    • They emphasize whole foods rather than processed and convenience foods.
    • They eliminate sugar-sweetened and diet beverages.
    • They emphasize fresh vegetables and most include fresh fruit.
  • If you are looking for rapid initial weight loss:
    • The very restrictive diets at either extreme (very low fat or very low carb) are best because they eliminate familiar foods from the diet.
    • The very low carb diets are slightly more effective than low fat diets initially because of water loss, but weight loss on most low carb and low fat diets is identical after 1-2 years.
    • Because both the Mediterranean and DASH diets involve many familiar foods, you will need to pay more attention to portion sizes and total calories on these diets if your primary goal is to lose weight.
  • If you are looking for long term weight control, the Vegan diet is best, probably because most foods in the Vegan diet have low caloric density. Multiple studies have shown that Vegans weigh less than their meat-eating counterparts.
  • If you are looking for long term health benefits:
    • The Vegan and Mediterranean diets are clearly your best choices. They are backed by multiple clinical studies showing they reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia and other diseases.
    • The DASH diet is probably equally healthy. However, because it was designed to control blood pressure, most clinical studies have focused only on how well it reduces blood pressure.
    • There is no evidence that the low carb diets have any long-term health benefits, and there is reason to suspect they may have some long-term health risks.
  • I have serious concerns about long-term health risks for any diet that:
    • Eliminates whole food groups.
    • Is high in saturated and trans fats.
  • The effectiveness of any diet is dependent on how well you stick with it:
    • The long-term adherence to any of the very restrictive diets (either low carb or low fat) is low, although some people do stick with the Vegan diet for a lifetime.
    • Adherence is best with the Mediterranean and DASH diets, probably because many of the foods are familiar and readily available.
  • For more details, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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