The Pros and Cons of Fad Diets

Everyone wants a weight-loss shortcut: Just eat this food and follow these rules to make the pounds melt away. But fad diets aren’t so simple. They are restrictive and difficult to sustain. Before you try one, understand its pros and cons.

Keto Diet

The Ketogenic diet forces the body to burn fat for fuel, a state known as ketosis. The diet requires that you eat lots of saturated fat (like cheese, heavy cream, butter, bacon, red meat, and poultry with skin), some unsaturated fat (like nuts, seeds, and avocados), and miniscule amounts of carbohydrates (as few as 20 grams per day) from fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Some variations of the Keto diet allow more carbs than others.

Pros: The diet is associated with quick weight loss and short-term blood sugar control. And, there is solid evidence it helps reduce seizures in people with epilepsy.


  • The healthiest diets align with the USDA’s guidelines at
  • Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, ¼ with whole grains, and ¼ with protein.
  • The Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets are associated with long-term benefits for heart and brain health, as well as weight loss.

Cons: There’s no clinical evidence that a Keto diet keeps weight off or helps chronic disease in the long term. Conversely, the diet increases the risk for constipation because of a lack of fiber, causes fuzzy thinking because the brain needs carbs, increases kidney or liver problems from being overworked to metabolize large amounts of fats and protein, and increases LDL (“bad”) cholesterol because of the high intake of saturated fat. It results in a nutrient deficiency from missing foods such as whole grains.

Atkins Diet

A version of Keto, Atkins limits carbs until you reach your target weight. Then, they are slowly added back in, unless weight is regained.

Pros: Atkins is designed for short-term weight loss.

Cons: There’s no evidence Atkins works in the long term. The diet has the same risks as a Keto diet.

Paleo Diet

Paleo mimics a theoretical caveman’s diet. That means no dairy, whole grains, legumes, refined sugar, alcohol, or processed foods. You can eat all the meat, fish, poultry, non-starchy vegetables (potatoes are discouraged), fruits, nuts, and seeds you want.

Pros: The diet is linked to short-term weight loss and improvements in blood pressure and cholesterol control.

Cons: There’s not enough evidence to show that this diet supports long-term weight loss or improved health. Cutting out entire food groups is a risk for nutrient deficiency. Eating lots of saturated fat increases the risk for high LDL cholesterol and heart disease.

The Zone Diet

The Zone diet tries to keep blood sugar levels from spiking or plummeting. It restricts calories and requires a balance of nutrients (40 percent carbs, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat) at each meal or snack to stay within the “zone.”

Pros: Lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables are encouraged; starchy vegetables, refined bread products, and saturated fats are discouraged.

Cons: Studies are mixed about whether the Zone’s nutrient ratio works and helps people lose weight.


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