x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

A slippery dietary slope

Food for thought The Morning Banana Diet has captivated Japan. Its popularity has led to banana shortages across the nation.

The Morning Banana Diet may not be ideal.
The Morning Banana Diet may not be ideal.

Grapefruit, cabbage and bananas - what do these foods have in common? They've all been part of diets promising quick and easy weight loss. The cabbage soup diet and the grapefruit diet were both big news in the Eighties and Nineties. While health professionals have since discredited both, the popular desire for quick-fix eating plans remains strong. Now, the Morning Banana Diet has captivated Japan. Its popularity has led to banana shortages across the nation - and the news has now spread, making headlines around the world.

The concept is simple: eat only bananas and drink room-temperature water for breakfast and you will lose weight. Aside from the morning banana, diet followers are encouraged to avoid desserts and dairy products, to drink plenty of water and to be in bed by midnight. The diet does not restrict the type or amount of food that is consumed at other meals throughout the day, and does not prescribe physical activity.

Its simplicity is appealing, but does it work and is it safe? While no clinical studies have been conducted on the diet to gauge its effectiveness and safety, as is the case with many fad diets, it does raise a few nutritional red flags. Firstly, the cornerstones of healthy eating are variety and moderation. While bananas are an excellent source of potassium and a good source of fibre and vitamin B6, encouraging followers to eat only bananas at breakfast means healthy foods that provide other nutrients are being displaced from the diet. Many fad diets exclude entire food groups. In this case, dairy products, which are an important source of calcium, are shunned.

Secondly, while the diet does promote the eating of breakfast, it misses the mark in other ways. Studies have shown that eating breakfast is associated with a lower body mass index (BMI), a measurement comparing weight and height. In fact, a study from the University of Massachusetts Medical School published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that skipping breakfast was associated with an increased prevalence of obesity.

The reason is two-fold; eating breakfast kick-starts the metabolism and helps you burn more calories throughout the day; it also prevents you from running on empty and making unhealthy food choices when you are famished. However, the key to a healthy breakfast is consuming a range of foods that will help keep energy levels up. Bananas are high in carbohydrates and a natural source of sugar. While less so than their processed counterparts, natural sugars still cause a fairly rapid rise and fall in blood-sugar levels. As a result, bananas provide immediate satiety, but don't have the staying power of, say, protein and fat. A more balanced and fulfilling breakfast would include a piece of whole grain toast, a tablespoon of nut butter and some milk, or yogurt in addition to the banana.

Finally, any healthy weight-loss plan should encourage physical activity - something the Morning Banana Diet doesn't do. Weight loss aside, regular physical activity plays a key role in preventing chronic disease and should be a part of any healthy lifestyle. As with any fad diet, extreme measures can lead to immediate weight loss, but the sticking point is whether or not this can be maintained. As soon as the novelty wears off and you resort to old habits, the weight will very likely come back. In fact, it's not unusual for followers of fad diets to regain even more weight than they lost. This only speaks to the importance of making healthy and sustainable changes to your eating habits.