Is Your Diet Detrimental to Your Overall Health?

It took a few tweaks here and some adjustments there, but you've finally found a weight-loss plan that delivers safe and healthy weekly weight loss results. It's almost a miracle. Not only does your plan curb your insatiable food cravings, but you've also noticed that you have more energy and a better attitude overall. You're feeling in total control and on top of the world.

Which is why I hate to be a "Debbie Downer," but here it goes: More than likely, your "perfect" weight-loss eating plan is not meeting your daily vitamin and mineral needs. If it's not one thing, it's another, am I right? Whether you're doing low-carb, low-fat, plant-based, low-sugar or a different plan of choice, if you're following a diet to shed pounds, you're likely lacking in key micronutrients day after day. Over time, this can in lead to nutrient deficiencies and a higher risk for debilitating diseases including cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis and birth defects. In fact, micronutrient deficiencies have also been determined to be a possible "cause" of becoming overweight and obese.

After analyzing the menus of popular weight-loss programs, separate studies published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition and Nutrients, respectively, found that several micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) were consistently deficient in all diets. In both studies, researchers evaluated diets with differing food choice approaches, including Atkins for Life (a low-carbohydrate plan), The Best Life Diet (a Mediterranean-style plan), the South Beach Diet (a lower-carbohydrate plan), DASH diet (a low-fat plan), Eat to Live (a vegan plan), Fast Metabolism Diet (a high-animal protein, low-carbohydrate plan), and Eat, Drink and Be Healthy (a weight-maintenance plan). One study nutritionally analyzed suggested meal plans for three days and the other for seven. After a three-day evaluation conducted by myself, deficiencies even appear in the SparkPeople menu plan.

The takeaway from these studies is that weight-loss plans that rely only on "whole foods" without the addition of fortified foods or vitamin and mineral supplements do not appear to allow people to meet daily micronutrient needs due to the lower calorie intake, less food intake overall and/or food group limitations.

While the inclusion of "micro" might make this seem like a small problem, denying your body all the nutrients it needs to survive and thrive could lead to impaired cognitive development (iodine), scurvy (vitamin C) or depression (iron), among other unfortunate side effects. Based on the research studies, of particular concern with many weight-loss diets are vitamin B5, vitamin D, vitamin B7, vitamin E, choline, chromium and iodine.  Depending on the selected weight-loss program, other micronutrients of concern include the following: vitamin B1, vitamin B12, calcium, copper, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese and molybdenum.

Fill in the Gaps

Now the good news: The concerns about micronutrient deficiencies does not mean you can't lose weight safely and  maintain optimal health. Rather, it's important to be picky with the eating plans you select to enhance nutrient intake from foods and use an appropriate vitamin-mineral supplement to fill in the missing gaps. By implementing the following three tips, you'll be able to lose weight without compromising your overall health.

1. Pick a weight-loss program with an eating plan that does not eliminate entire food groups. While some nutrients will probably still be lacking, the plan will promote the intake of as many micronutrients as possible. The plan should include:
  • Lean meats and protein-rich foods
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Dairy
  • Healthy fats
Choose My Plate, the DASH Diet, the Mediterranean Diet and your SparkPeople meal plan are all options that fit these criteria. That said, even these plans will likely not meet all your micronutrient needs when using a lower calorie intake for weight loss. Tip three below will help alleviate this concern. 

2. Make sure that your eating plan provides adequate calories—no fewer than 1,200 calories daily for females and 1,500 calories daily for males. If your program contains less than these calorie amounts, it should be medically managed and incorporate specially formulated fortified foods and/or nutrient supplements to ensure nutrient needs are met. If you're unsure, consider meeting with a registered dietitian or speaking with your doctor to discuss your options and develop a path to success together.

3. Since research shows that most, if not all, popular weight-loss eating plans are consistently low in some micronutrients, consider taking a multivitamin-mineral supplement every day or several times a week, depending on your needs. This small step will help fill the gap in nutrients which has been found in eating plans designed for weight loss. The supplement should contain all or most of the recognized vitamins and minerals, generally at levels close to the Daily Values (DVs), Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) or Adequate Intakes (AIs) for these nutrients. Prior to taking any supplement, talk to your doctor, primary care provider or registered dietitian nutritionist to assure that the selected supplement is appropriate and safe for you and your medical needs.

Regarding long-term health, what you eat is just as important as how much you eat, and it's important to ensure you're not missing out on key vitamins and minerals. While it can be tempting to try the latest craze in fad diets, weight loss is possible without depriving your body of the nutrients that make it strong and operate efficiently. As you research and set goals, don't let your weight-loss plan sabotage your long-term health.