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Spoof Diets Blog

Guest post by Leah Fitzsimmons, Biochemist and VoYS member

30th July 2014

Leah Fitzsimmons, Biochemist and VoYS member

The world of dieting can be mind-boggling; should I be cutting out carbs, fats, dairy or sugar? Is my steak a great source of protein or is it going to give me a heart attack? Do I eat enough superfoods? Do I take the right supplements? Do I need to detox? The reams of advice, celebrity endorsements, scientific-sounding claims and astonishing results claimed on the internet can be difficult to make any sense of.  In order to highlight the lack of scientific evidence there is to support many diet claims, Voice of Young Science launched their Spoof Diets project.

The project involved getting scientists to analyse both “real” fad diets and diets that had been made up, debunking some of the claims they make. In addition, a quiz challenges you to distinguish between the “real” and spoof diets, illustrating just how ridiculous some popular diets can be.

As a medical biochemist, my part in the project was to look at the science behind the anti-ageing diet, which advocates becoming ‘sugar-free’ because sugar ‘robs you of your youth’. We all know that we shouldn’t eat too many sugary foods like cake and chocolate, so perhaps banning sugar is the way forward? Not unless you’ve got a death wish. Sugar is an essential part of the diet and some cells in your body are only able to metabolise sugars – eating no sugar at all would be fatal. So how do sugar-free dieters get on? Well, fine actually because the fruits, nuts, dairy, alcohol and other foods that the diet allows all contain sugar, making the ‘sugar-free’ premise of the diet flawed and misleading.

It is the same story for the majority of diet advice: there is an element of truth, masked by misinformation. Unsurprisingly, finding out those elusive weight-loss secrets almost always requires parting with your cash. The cold hard truth is that to lose weight you need to balance calories in with calories out.

The oldest advice remains the best: moderation. Use impartial sources such as NHS Choices, Change4Life or your GP for guidelines for a healthy, balanced diet, keep track of exactly what you eat (there are lots of free apps for this), and exercise – even dancing round the house counts, as long as you get a sweat on! Remember, the fads never, ever work and could end up being harmful. Next time you’re tempted by a quick fix or miracle diet, demand proper scientific evidence, or ask us here at Voice of Young Science to Ask for Evidence for you!


Leah Fitzsimmons is a Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham. She specialises in cancer biology and virology.

For more coverage on the Spoof Diets project, see the comments and coverage page.

Other blogs written by VoYS members:

 Dr Anusha Seneviratne's blog, Weighing up Dodgy Diets


Ask for evidence button

VoYS pinboard

  • Top tip 1: Ask for Evidence. If you’re being sold a product or asked to believe a claim then you deserve to know whether it’s based on evidence – or imagination.

  • Top tip 2: Detox. It’s a marketing myth – our body does it without pricey potions and detox diets.

  • Top tip 3: Superfood. There is no such thing, just foods that are high in some nutrients.

  • Top tip 4: Cleansing. You shouldn’t be trying to cleanse anything other than your skin or hair.

  • Top tip 5: If it sounds too good to be true… it probably is.

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