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CSIRO, Raw, Atkins, No-Sugar or 5:2? Low fat or low carb? Diets swing in and out of fashion, depending on their celebrity following, TV shows such as The Biggest Loser and fashions in nutrition (sugar is out, fat is in). From someone like me with a love of cooking and nutrition, what sort of diet works best for weight loss is one of the most common questions I get. So which of these five popular diets could suit you?

1. CSIRO Total Wellbeing
This is the original plan from CSIRO by Australian researchers Dr Manny Noakes and Dr Peter Clifton. This diet swaps some carbs for protein but is not an Atkins no-carb approach. If you enjoy eating lean meat, fish and eggs, but want a diet that's nutritionally sound, this is the diet for you.

Is it for you?
Yes if you enjoy eating a high-protein, low-carb dinner at night. You’ll eat fish/chicken/beef done in interesting ways with capsicum, bok choy and broccolini, but no potatoes or rice. Alcohol is allowed but only 1 or 2 glasses a week.

Nutrition shortfalls?
It’s not for vegetarians, but encourages you to eat lots of vegetables. Overall the CSIRO diet takes a sound approach to weight loss with convincing research to back up its promises.

2. Raw
You lose weight by chewing, chewing and more chewing. Raw uncooked food means a diet of salad leaves, spiralised or grated vegetables, fruit and nuts. No grains or legumes as these have to be cooked for us to digest them, no barbecues as these are heated well above 40 degrees C (body temperature) which the Rawists believe will ‘destroy’ the life force in food.

Is it for you?
Only if you already steer clear of meat and chicken and don’t mind lots of salads, juices and vegan alternatives such as cashew cheese for dairy cheese.

Nutrition shortfalls?
Protein, omega-3 fatty acids, iron and zinc. Vitamin B12 if you avoid all animal products such as milk and eggs.

3. Atkins
Created by Dr Robert Atkins, this is the original high-protein, no-carb diet, which claims to strip weight off in its early phase once you stop eating any bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, fruit and sugar.

The Atkins Diet involves high protein foods such as meat, eggs and cheese, but culls all carbs from your diet

It’s copped a lot of criticism over the years for the effect of this much protein on kidney function and bone turnover. Also there is a possibility that this high meat intake could raise the chance of bowel cancer. I think this is unlikely as long as you don’t char your meat and say 'no' to processed meats such as sausages, ham and bacon.

Is it for you?
Yes if you like eating a lot of meat, cheese, butter and bacon. The protein accounts for much of the success of the diet as meat adds satiety and helps control hunger.

Nutrition shortfalls?
Fibre (which keeps us feeling full and maintains healthy bowel habits), vitamin C if you don’t eat enough fresh vegetables, folate.

4. Quit Sugar
More balanced than Paleo as it allows whole grains such as brown rice and quinoa, legumes and unsweetened dairy, no-sugar-diets are all the rage. Generally, they work because you cut out more than just sugar.

Donut -eat -sugar -wyza -health
Slash your sugar intake from junk foods that give you little nutritional value

If you say ‘no’ to chocolate and ice-cream (sugar plus fat) or to muffins, sweet biscuits and desserts (sugar plus fat plus flour), you get rid of extras which supply only kilojoules but little nourishment.

The big baddies this diet eliminates are the soft drinks, cordials and energy drinks that are ‘liquid calories’ and are too easy to consume.

Is it for you?
It’s a good starting point, but easy to become obsessive. Don’t stress about the minor sources of sugar in sauces (which are small) or honey/maple syrup/agave drizzled over high-fibre oats or calcium-rich yoghurt.

Nutrition shortfalls?
Not many, as sugary foods have little in the way of nutrition.

5. 5:2 Fasting Diet
Made popular by Michael Mosley, UK medical journalist and presenter for the BBC, the fasting diet enforces a fast day of 500 calories or less for two non-consecutive days of the week.

On this day, you eat little, cutting your calories to only a quarter of your usual intake which is roughly 2000 kilojoules (500 calories) for women and 2400 kilojoules (600 calories) for men.

This fasting is not only for weight loss but appears to extend the life span by reducing the risks of diseases common in old age.

Is it for you?
Only if you don’t mind the hunger pangs on the fasting days. And don’t go overboard and gorge on your eating days.

It suits anyone who hates formal diets with their prescribed meal plans as well as busy people who need a “light” day after an indulgent meal out.

Nutrition shortfalls?
None if you’re sensible and stick to regular meals. However, it doesn't teach you how to eat long term and how to re-train your taste buds.

Bottom line
Whichever diet you decide to use, ask yourself: can I stick to this for more than three days? Use the diets as a “boiler plate” and add your own variations depending on what you can afford, what’s in the fridge and what you enjoy.

Ultimately there is no perfect diet for everybody. Some people will fare well on more protein, some will fare better eating more carbs, some on salads, some just by cutting out seconds and some just keeping portions modest.

Whether you opt to cut out fat or cut out carbs, good research shows that weight loss is about equal after six months due to an overall negative calorie balance.

Further reading:
CSIRO Low Carb Diet Study – the facts
Click here to listen to an easy-to-read overview of the low-fat or low-carb debate spoken by a dietitian (note there is an ad at the beginning)
Click here for more detail on intermittent fasting

Which popular diets have worked for you?

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