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Low-carb diets are all the rage. They’ve become one of the most popular approaches to weight loss and healthy muscle gain. But what are the pitfalls? Food Republic reviews four of today’s most fashionable carb-curbing plans and weighs up the pros and cons.

4-hour Body diet

Want to lose 20 pounds in 30 days? Easy, “Just stay up all night and binge eat,” according to Tim Ferriss of the 4-hour body diet.

Calling it his “Slow-Carb” diet, the first rule of Ferriss’ plan is to say goodbye to white carbs: bread, rice, pasta, cereals, and potatoes; even healthy whole grains and oats.

His program also recommends eating the same four meals (legumes, meat and vegetables) over and over for six days straight. On the seventh day, Ferriss advises dieters to binge-eat as much as they like. The method behind this madness? To stop your metabolic rate slowing down from extended calorific restriction.

Next up on Tim’s controversial smorgasbord is to avoid soft drinks, to only consume water and low-calorie drinks. But, according to Ferriss, two glasses of red wine every day will help you burn fat.

Other components to the diet include taking ice-cold baths and cutting out fruit almost completely. “Humans don’t need fruit six days a week,” says Ferriss. “If our ancestors were from Europe, how much fruit did they eat in the winter 500 years ago?”

Pros Cons
  • It includes lots of green vegetables and legumes, both of which boast health benefits in plenty.
  • Its limited menu and repetitive meals make it simple to follow.
  • Cold baths and showers can increase circulation and burn calories.
  • It advocates drinking two glasses of red wine a day, which has proven health benefits for men (women should only drink one glass).
  • Red wine contains an antioxidant named resveratrol that has been shown in some studies to help promote energy and to help burn fat.
  • Fruit is eaten once a week—a far cry from the recommended five fruit/vegetable servings a day.
  • Eating junk food once a week may have psychological health benefits and help stop your metabolism slowing, but it is nutritionally detrimental.
  • Eating legumes at every meal may cause gas.
  • Limiting many vegetables and almost banning fruit could cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies if followed long-term.
  • Losing 20lbs of fat in 30 days has been deemed clinically impossible.
  • Tim Ferriss is not a health expert or nutritionist.
  • Women drinking two glasses of red wine a day will be drinking more than the nationally recommended limit, although this might make for a happy dieter.

The Primal Blueprint Diet

Go back to your caveman roots and you’ll be in perfect health. That’s the belief of Mark Sisson, creator the Primal Blueprint, who thinks we should reprogram our genes by reliving our hunter-gatherer days.

Vibrant health, boundless energy, and effortless weight-loss is the aim of the game here. All you have to do is follow these 10 paleolithic principles from our Barney Rubble forefathers. And cut out grains, legumes, dairy products, and all processed foods while you’re at it.

  1. Eat lots of animals, plants (insects optional)
  2. Move around a lot at a slow pace
  3. Lift heavy things
  4. Run really fast every once in a while
  5. Get lots of sleep
  6. Play
  7. Get sunlight every day
  8. Avoid trauma
  9. Avoid poisonous things
  10. Use your mind
Pros Cons
  • It includes a high intake of fruit and vegetables and some healthy fats.
  • Monitoring your portion sizes over a week instead of at every meal allows for fluctuation.
  • It encourages the consumption of organic and free-range animal products.
  • Cutting out all processed foods limits sugar and salt intake.
  • Whether our ancestors were actually healthier than us is debatable.
  • It’s not great for vegetarians.
  • Over-consumption of red meat and dairy products is a risk in this plan and could contribute to heart problems and high cholesterol.
  • The exercise program recommends intense cardio workouts occasionally, which may not suit everyone and does not tally with general health recommendations.

P90X Diet

If you haven’t seen the advertisements for this exercise-based diet program then you probably haven’t turned your TV on recently. P90X is a diet program and home exercise regime, including 12 DVDs, that claims to transform your body from “regular to ripped” in 90 days.

Designed to promote “muscle confusion,” the plan continually changes your exercise routine to avoid a “plateau effect” and to maximize results.

The diet plan involves three stages: Phase 1 (Fat Shredder), Phase 2 (Energy Booster), Phase 3 (Endurance Maximizer).

Phase 1 involves four weeks of eliminating almost all carbs and reducing your calorie intake.

Phase 2 reintroduces two complex carbohydrate portions a day.

Phase 3 allows more carbs and lets you choose between following recommended meal plans or opting for a portion-based diet from a recommended food list.

Pros Cons
  • Including recipes and meal plans is good for those who prefer to follow a regime.
  • It offers online support, which increases the likelihood of success.
  • It comes with a 90-day, money-back guarantee.
  • The low-carb portion of the diet is short-term, which avoids the possible problems associated with long-term low-carb dieting—e.g., higher saturated fat intake.
  • Many dieters report low energy levels and fatigue in Phase 1.
  • The changes and meal planning may be hard to keep up with.
  • The intensive workout program will not suit everyone.
  • Some of the recommended food list is not in line with health advice: e.g., peanut butter, which is full of saturated fat and especially bad for people with high cholesterol levels.
  • The home-based exercise plan is unsupervised.

No-Grain Diet

Alcohol, sex, sugar—we all know the stuff that we’re supposed to have in moderation, which is why the addictive evil in Dr. Joseph Mercola’s diet may come as a surprise to some. The simple grain (and I’m not talking hops and wheat in beer) is completely off the menu here. Good old-fashioned cereal, rice, pasta, bread, even the haloed whole-grain is off limits. According to Mercola, an addiction to grains is the reason we’re increasingly overweight and unhealthy.

The diet comes in three phases. “Start Up,” where you ditch fruit, sweets, starchy vegetables, and grains for three days and eat every two hours.

This is followed by the six-week “Stabilize” phase, which is the same idea served up three times a day. During this stage, the diet recommends you exercise five times a week.

The third stage is the “Sustain” phase where dieters can reintroduce starchy vegetables, honey, and those grains that are deemed healthy, like buckwheat and quinoa.

Pros Cons
  • There is a questionnaire to help tailor the diet to the individual.
  • Healthy whole-grains are not cut out forever.
  • The approach addresses psychological cravings and some of the pitfalls of a low-carb diet, like how to get enough fiber.
  • It provides a choice of detailed meal plans to suit the individual.
  • Cutting out fruit goes against recommended health advice.
  • Avoiding carbs long-term can be hard when socialising and eating out.
  • It may not suit vegetarians.
  • Over-consumption of red meat and dairy products can be a risk and contribute to heart problems and high cholesterol.
  • There is a risk of the dieter not getting enough fiber unless they make sure they incorporate enough vegetables and/or a flaxseed supplement.

So which of these four diets would we recommend? Probably none of them. All four diets agree that limiting or cutting out white, refined carbohydrates is a good idea. Health professionals also agree. So when it comes to the rest (no grains, frequent meals, caveman living, or gimmick binging), it’s all just fancy packaging and oh-so-hip-hype. We’d recommend moderation, healthy eating, and regular exercise. It’s your call, of course, so if you do decide to try out one of these diets, let us know how it goes in the comments.