Fad Diets: Health or Hype?

Seems like there’s always a new lose-weight-quick scheme every time you turn around -- but are these plans safe and effective, or are you better off with traditional diet strategies? Read on as our experts explore four popular diet trends. (And before you try any weight-loss plan, get your doctor’s okay first.)

Fad #1: Juicing

The skinny: Toss a few of your favorite fruits and vegetables into a juicer and sip your low-calorie ‘meals.’

Is it safe? Yes, so long as you use caution, since this diet is severely calorie-restrictive. “A diet that’s focused on fruit and vegetables is nutritionally inadequate,” says Alison Massey, RD, a dietitian at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.Be prepared to be hungry, too, if you plan to have nothing but juice three times a day. “Juice alone doesn’t give you the sense of fullness you get when you eat a whole fruit or vegetable, including skin, seeds, peel and fiber,” says Sharon Palmer, RD, a dietitian and author of The Plant-Powered Diet. “This is what offers you more nutrients and gets absorbed more slowly into your bloodstream.”

Bottom line: If you want to try juicing, your best bet is to use it as a substitute for one meal – say, breakfast – and to include a variety of fruits and greens. For the rest of the day, eat a balanced diet that includes protein and complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and beans. If you’re diabetic, keep the fruit content of your juices to a minimum, as those natural sugars can cause a spike in blood glucose levels -- and be sure to discuss your juicing plan with a doctor.  

Fad #2: Green Coffee Bean Extract

The skinny: Touted as a miracle fat burner, green coffee bean capsules (extract of coffee beans that haven’t been roasted) contain chlorogenic acid, which is believed to slow the release of glucose into the body after a meal. Despite this, there’s also a fair amount of controversy over whether this actually works.

Is it safe? It’s too soon to say. Despite manufacturer claims that green coffee bean extract is a great way to lose weight, not many studies have been done on it to back them up. “There just isn’t enough science in humans to say that it’s effective,” Palmer says.

Bottom line: Skip this until there’s better evidence to support the idea that coffee beans can help you shed pounds.

Fad #3: SENSA

The skinny: Otherwise known as the ‘Sprinkle Diet,’ the concept of this plan is that you merely sprinkle this ‘patented’ blend of maltodextrin, tricalcium phosphate and silicate (available in either a sweet or salty flavor) onto your food. Since this ingredient combo promotes a feeling of fullness, you’ll ideally eat less and lose weight by taking in fewer calories.

Is it safe? While the ingredients in this product have been deemed safe by the FDA and the concept of this diet is interesting in theory, you may find that sprinkling is still more trouble than it’s worth. Common side effects that accompany the use of this product include stomachaches, headaches, nausea, constipation and heartburn. In addition, it’s debatable if this product even works. “There’s not much clinical research (that isn’t done by the company) supporting SENSA’s effectiveness regarding weight loss,” Massey says.

Bottom line: Insufficient research plus possible unpleasant side effects equal a verdict of: give this a pass.

Fad #4: The Paleo Diet

The skinny: This popular new eating plan is based on the concept that our cave ancestors stayed healthy and slim by eating only what they could hunt and harvest. Meat, fish, eggs and fresh produce are staples of this diet; cereal, bread, legumes, dairy, salt and potatoes are out.

Is it safe? Not necessarily, especially if you have cardiac issues. “A modern-day Paleo [short for Paleolithic] diet, which puts an emphasis on meat, isn’t an optimal diet for heart disease and cancer prevention,” Palmer says.

Bottom line: Giving up even healthy starches and dairy products for good seems pretty unrealistic, which is why our dietitians give this one a thumbs-down. “I don’t think it's very sustainable,” Palmer says. “It's very difficult to eat this way for the long term.” A better alternative: Cut down on sweets and substitute white bread and pasta for 100% whole grain versions, and you’ll see success without feeling deprived.

At-Home Solutions for Summer Health Woes!

Summer is a time for days at the beach, pool and park -- don’t let itchy rashes or burned skin be a wet blanket on your fun. But before you run to the pharmacy for a standard over-the-counter remedy, give your home cabinets a gander.  That’s right: A bottle of apple-cider vinegar or a gallon of milk packs surprising healing powers. Check out these natural remedies for six common summer skin problems. (Note: If any of these don’t appear to be working after 24 hours, or if your symptoms worsen, consult your doctor.)

Prickly Heat

Mild cases of this heat-induced rash tend to disappear on their own. In the meantime, to relieve the intense itch, try swabbing the area with a cotton ball soaked with equal parts apple-cider vinegar and water to kill the bacteria that causes the rash. For additional comfort and to prevent future breakouts, wear loose-fitting clothing, shower or bathe immediately after exercising, and dust your chest, thighs and other rash-prone areas with cornstarch baby powder.

Insect Bites

For most bites or stings, Prevention magazine suggests rubbing peppermint essential oil into the center. This cools the bite and increases blood flow, bringing relief. Just be sure to wash your hands afterward. If you don’t have peppermint essential oil, try rubbing an ice cube or holding an ice pack on the area for a similar effect, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ava Shamban from the TV show The Doctors. For mosquito bites, dabbing on rubbing alcohol or ammonia also helps, Shamban says. (If you don’t have access to either, a small dab of hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol also works.)

For tick bites, Shamban recommends making a paste for the bite with equal parts apple-cider vinegar and cornstarch. The vinegar tightens the skin, acts as an antiseptic and contains antibiotic properties to help prevent Lyme disease, Shamban says. However, if you notice a red bullseye-shaped rash forming, see your doctor right away.

Sunburn

Mix equal parts whole milk and cool water and apply gently to the sunburn with a washcloth to remove the sting, according to Ranella Hirsch, M.D., a Boston dermatologist.

Swimmer's Ear

The Mayo Clinic also suggests adding 1 tsp. (5mL) of a homemade mixture of equal parts white vinegar and rubbing alcohol to each ear to promote drying and prevent bacteria growth. Tilt your head to the side after each application to allow the drops to drain, then dry the outer part of the ear with a soft cloth or towel.

Poison Ivy

Renowned integrative-medicine pioneer Dr. Andrew Weil says that rinsing affected areas with lots of cold water immediately after exposure, as well as washing with rubbing alcohol, can reduce the symptoms of poison ivy. Another easy remedy: making a thin paste from baking soda and water. “It’s good for a lot of itchy things,” says JoAnn Chambers-Emerson, a registered nurse and educator for the Florida Poison Information Center-Tampa.

Blisters

If walking in sandals or flip-flops leaves your feet blistered, head for the medicine cabinet. Apply hemorrhoid cream to relieve itching and burning, and swab the area with an antiseptic mouthwash to accelerate drying, according to Prevention magazine. (Never try to pop a blister.) To protect your feet in the future, swipe them with a little antiperspirant or pat them with foot powder.

Eight Fitness Tips to Get in Shape for Summer

Does the thought of slipping into shorts or a swimsuit leave you panicked? No sweat. With these easy fitness tips, there’s still time to get in summer-ready shape without going on a crash diet.

Taking small steps will put you in the right direction, says Heidi Powell, personal trainer, life coach and co-transformation specialist (with husband Chris Powell) on Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition. Here are her eight best fitness tips to get you ready for the season:

1. Make a Small Change -- And Stick To It

“Make one goal to yourself at a time,” says Powell. “Maybe it's removing soda from your lunch or moving for five minutes a day. Just make it attainable and commit to it.”

Once you master that first goal, you can add another to it, and so on. “When you do what you say you're going to do, the scale will follow,” says Powell.

2. Be Realistic

As much as we’d all love to drop 10 pounds in a week -- especially as summer approaches -- it's not very doable without going to extreme measures.

“Instead, strive to lose one percent of your body weight a week,” says Powell. “That's a healthy goal.” 

3. Watch Your Calories

Nutrition is more than half the battle in weight loss. And while you don’t have to obsess over every bite, you do need to be aware of how many calories you’re taking in. The average woman should aim for 1,500 calories a day.


4. Eat Real Food

Forget the packaged diet dinners and low-fat snacks. “You can’t out-train bad food,” says Powell.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are higher in nutrients than processed meals -- plus, they’re rich in fiber, which will keep you feeling fuller longer. Lean meats like turkey are high in protein and will help you burn more fat while building muscle mass. And yes, you can put some steak on the grill -- just eat it in moderation. “The calorie count is higher in red meat, so opt for three-ounce portions instead of the four ounces you would eat of chicken or fish,” Powell says.


5. Don’t Skip Carbs

“Chris and I both have wristbands that say I <3 carbs!” says Powell. “Carbs fuel the body for weight loss.” Just remember that not all carbohydrates are created equal: White bread, rice and sweets are nutritionally poor, but sweet potatoes, brown rice, steel-cut oats and whole-grain bread are both delicious and healthy.


6. Work Out at Home

You don’t have to commit to a gym to get your exercise. Powell, a busy mom of three, says she’s lucky if she goes to the gym once a month. Instead, she focuses on fat-blasting moves she can do from the comfort of her home…which is where her next two tips come in!

7. Learn to Love the Burpee

“I have a love-hate relationship with burpees,” admits Powell. They’re tough, but “they hit nearly every muscle in the body and get your heart rate up.”

To perform this whole-body exercise, start by squatting with your hands on the floor in front of you. Kick your legs back into a push-up position, jump back into the squat, and then jump to a standing position. You can modify the move by doing the push-up on your knees or going directly from the push-up to a standing position. 

8. Try Interval Training

For the optimal metabolism-boosting workout, sprint on a track or treadmill as fast as you can for 30 seconds, rest for 90 seconds, and then sprint again. Ten sets of sprints will give you a heart-thumping 20-minute workout -- plus your body will continue to burn calories at a higher rate for the rest of the day. “You put your body in an oxygen debt, so the body has to overcompensate and work harder to oxygenate the body,” says Powell.

By making easy changes and following these fitness tips, you’ll be confident and beach-ready before 

New Year, New Exercises!

It’s a new year and, once again, “getting fit” or “staying in shape” is at the top of your resolution list. But if the thought of spending hours on the treadmill or doing a zillion sit-ups leaves you feeling totally unmotivated, you’re in luck.

The latest workout trends will help you avoid the same old routine and have you hitting your goals in no time. Try these suggestions from fitness expert Kim Lyons, former trainer on NBC’s hit show The Biggest Loser and Dr. Phil’s Ultimate Weight Loss Challenge.

Small Group Fitness Classes
Whether it happens in a park, a school gym or a staircase in a hotel, structured classes with a limited size are a hot workout in 2014. The small class size allows instructors to spend more time focusing on each participant to help correct form and maximize outcomes. Plus, classes are a fun way to stay in shape.

“It's a great way to keep each other motivated,” says Lyons. “This is going to be popular because people are supporting each other instead of paying big money to a gym.”

Home Workouts
Between long hours at work and responsibilities at home, finding time to go to a gym or class can be tough. That’s one of the reasons Lyons says that this year, people are going to kick it old school -- by exercising at home. “Jump ropes, medicine balls, kettlebells -- these can all be stored easily in your home and taken with you should you need to travel,” says Lyons. “These exercises are also the most effective when you only have a short amount of time to work out.”

No money for equipment? No problem! Lyons suggests using your own body weight and furniture to make one of the best exercise circuits. “The couch is great for tricep dips and incline pushups, while a chair can be used for one-legged squats,” says Lyons. “There are so many things you can do at home.”

Fusion Classes
If you get easily bored with the same old workouts, mixing it up is the perfect remedy. This year will find exercisers heading to fusion classes that combine different disciplines. The result: an interesting mix of cardio and resistance, training such as Piloxing -- a combo of boxing with Pilates. “The best part -- if you don't like one aspect of the class, you won't be scared away from it because you know it'll change quickly,” adds Lyons. “It's the best of both worlds.”

Functional Training
Instead of hopping on an elliptical machine for 30 minutes or doing a seated bicep curl on a weight-lifting machine, 2014 will be more about exercising using movements that combine functional strength while shaping and training the body for performing life's daily activities with ease. Functional fitness includes exercises such as walking lunges, bicep curls with light weights, and doing half-squats on a BOSU ball to improve balance, coordination, force, power and endurance to make performing daily living activities easy. Many gyms offer functional fitness classes, or look for an independent class near you.

POUND Classes
Zumba is so 2013. This year, the heart-pumping hot trend will have you POUND away the, well, pounds! POUND, the hottest group fitness jam session, is designed to capture the exhilarating feeling of rocking out. It’s the only workout that fuses the most challenging series of core, leg and upper-body conditioning moves with cardio interval training and, most importantly, the fun (and distraction) of drumming. Through continual upper body motion using lightly weighted drumsticks, you'll be a calorie-torching drummer in a beat.

Photo: Corbis Images

Menu Makeover: Healthy Thanksgiving Dishes

Let’s talk turkey about overstuffing -- and we don’t just mean your Thanksgiving bird. America’s harvest holiday has become an excuse to gorge on everything from chips and dip to towering slices of pumpkin pie.

“It’s common for many people to eat 2,000-plus calories in one sitting,” says Marjorie Nolan Cohn, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (That’s the amount that a sedentary 30-year-old woman needs in a day, according to the National Institutes of Health.)

The fault’s not entirely due to wobbly willpower; research at Cornell University and elsewhere shows that we’re encouraged to overeat by the abundant variety and tempting aromas of dishes and the heaping serving bowls -- not to mention the urgings of well-meaning relatives. But you don’t have to give in to gluttony. Whether you’re cooking or going to Grandma’s house, try these healthier takes on Thanksgiving dishes and other calorie-busting tips:

Don’t go hungry.

Be sure to begin the day with a stick-with-you breakfast, like oatmeal with raisins and apples. If dinner doesn’t start till late, eat a light lunch that includes protein, such as a tuna sandwich or scrambled egg whites. “It’s nearly impossible for people to choose wisely when they’re starving,” says Cohn, the author of Overcoming Binge Eating for Dummies.

Start smart.

If you’re the host, offer sensible snacks as your guests arrive -- popcorn, salsa, hummus and raw veggies, steamed shrimp -- or bring them along, if you’re the guest. And if you’re serving wine or beer -- better caloric bets than mixed drinks -- opt for tall, skinny glasses rather than wide-bottomed ones; research suggests you’ll pour yourself less without even realizing it.

Foil the fat.

Look for ways to reduce or cut out the butter and oil in your Thanksgiving dishes where you can, says noted food writer Jan Turner Hazard, co-editor of the culinary website Kitchen Gadget Gals. Chicken broth or Greek yogurt will make your mashed potatoes just as creamy, for instance. Hazard also suggests using the helpful fat-cutting gizmos you’ve probably tucked into the back of your kitchen drawers, such as the fat separator and salad-dressing mister.

Don’t pass the potatoes.

Several studies show that we eat more food when it’s close at hand. So instead of passing the serving bowls around the table set your Thanksgiving dishes out on a buffet or kitchen counter, where guests will have to work harder to get those second helpings. “At a buffet, it’s much easier to know what you’re eating, and how much of it,” says Cohn.

Lighten up on the classics.

Your dinner may not be complete without green-bean casserole, but you’ll cut calories and add flavor by using low-fat milk instead of creamy canned soup and topping it with sautéed caramelized onions. To help lighten your meal, try to tinker with at least one of your traditional recipes. The Mayo Clinic and Cooking Light magazine offer numerous healthy Thanksgiving recipes based on old favorites, including cider gravy, cornbread stuffing with turkey sausage, maple-roasted sweet potatoes, and frozen pumpkin mousse pie.

Take your time.

Leave the gobbling to the turkeys. Going too fast makes you eat more because the brain needs time to register that your stomach is full, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. So slow down. Catch up with family members and say thanks for the blessings of the past year. “If you focus more on the company and sharing a wonderful time with those around you, you’ll likely have more fun,” says nutritionist Elisa Zied, RD, author of the forthcoming book Younger Next Week.

Work it off.

Instead of diving straight into dessert, work off some of those calories and speed your digestion by taking a walk around the neighborhood. Or pitch in on cleanup -- Weight Watchers.com estimates that a 160-pound person burns about 140 calories an hour bustling around the kitchen!