Health advantages and disadvantages of weight-reducing diets: a computer analysis and critical review

J Am Coll Nutr. 2000 Oct;19(5):578-90. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2000.10718955.


Background: Some weight-loss diets are nutritionally sound and consistent with recommendations for healthy eating while others are "fad" diets encouraging irrational and, sometimes, unsafe practices.

Objective: The purpose of the study was to compare several weight loss diets and assess their potential long-term effects.

Design: Eight popular weight-loss diets were selected (Atkins, Protein Power, Sugar Busters, Zone, ADA Exchange, High-Fiber Fitness, Pritikin and Omish) to be non-clinically analyzed by means of a computer to predict their relative benefits/potential harm. A summary description, menu plan and recommended snacks were developed for each diet. The nutrient composition of each diet was determined using computer software, and a Food Pyramid Score was calculated to compare diets. The Mensink, Hegsted and other formulae were applied to estimate coronary heart disease risk factors.

Results: Higher fat diets are higher in saturated fats and cholesterol than current dietary guidelines and their long-term use would increase serum cholesterol levels and risk for CHD. Diets restricted in sugar intake would lower serum cholesterol levels and long-term risk for CHD; however, higher carbohydrate, higher fiber, lower fat diets would have the greatest effect in decreasing serum cholesterol concentrations and risk of CHD.

Conclusions: While high fat diets may promote short-term weight loss, the potential hazards for worsening risk for progression of atherosclerosis override the short-term benefits. Individuals derive the greatest health benefits from diets low in saturated fat and high in carbohydrate and fiber: these increase sensitivity to insulin and lower risk for CHD.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cholesterol / blood
  • Cholesterol, Dietary / administration & dosage
  • Coronary Disease / diet therapy
  • Coronary Disease / etiology
  • Coronary Disease / prevention & control*
  • Diet Fads*
  • Diet, Reducing* / adverse effects
  • Diet, Reducing* / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Nutritional Status
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / diet therapy
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Risk Factors
  • Weight Loss


  • Cholesterol, Dietary
  • Cholesterol