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.
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Member Comments

Great article. Thanks. Report
Good ideas - basically it comes down to an annual physical and common sense eating. Report
Thanks Report
thanks Report
My body does not process grains well and they make me severely ill. I use high quality supplements to make up for deficits. Report
I've been taking vitamins for years. I think it has helped me. Report
Thank you Report
Good things brought back that I had forgotten. Report
Thanks for the feedback. Report
What I'm taking from this article is that there is no currently available "plan" in which you can actually fully nourish your body with necessary vitamins and minerals while simultaneously starving it with radical calorie restrictions. The "solution" offered is to take a supplement --- manufactured and unregulated --- and to continue to follow one of the preferred "plans" to continue starving your body. This seems like a really odd "solution".

Since I started tracking here a number of years ago, I have never had an issue with getting in the required amount of all of the vitamins and minerals that I can track here on Spark - without the need of supplements. I have corrected and maintained healthy levels even of some vitamins and minerals that I had tested deficiencies in before starting to track. There really wasn't a "plan" needed --- just enjoying mostly home-cooked meals made from a variety of whole food ingredients --- and, of course, not dropping to unhealthful calorie levels. By keeping calories to no lower than that needed to maintain at a healthy BMI and activity level, it really isn't difficult to meet recommended intake levels suitable for that healthy body size.

It seems fairly obvious and straightforward to me that a gradual drop in intake so as to maintain healthful levels of nutrients will allow the body to adjust in size and metabolism without the risks of severe restriction , so I have to admit to wondering why this wasn't mentioned as even a possibility in the article. With so many studies and research out there now indicating that severely calorie restricted diets rarely work in the long term, and the information shared in this article that these levels of restriction can cause nutrient deficiencies and associated health issues, it seems counter-productiv
e to continue recommending them. Report
Thanks even if I might not necessarily agree 100 % doesn't mean I am not grateful. Report
Good info. TY! I track nutrients on Spark and then fill in the gaps with fortified bran cereal and supplements. Getting enough Potassium is a challenge, as i saw someone else mention. Report
I always struggle to get enough Potassium despite eating average of 8+ vegetable servings a day. Report
Maybe we should be asking why every diet is lacking in necessary vitamins and minerals - maybe because the quality of soil we're growing our food in and the quality of diet our meat was raised on has more to do with it than which diet we're finding success with. We didn't have access to all these foods year round for most of our existence as a species, and we didn't have multi-vitamins either. So our 'diet' isn't the problem, it's our food supply that is the problem. Report


About The Author

Becky Hand
Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.