What you miss when you diet

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

February 2011

Few weight-loss programs take into account the importance of maintaining an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals. Two diets that are at opposite extremes, the low-carbohydrate Atkins method and the low-fat Ornish regimen come up short on vitamins and minerals even though their authors had medical degrees.

Bariatric surgery in which patients are left with a stomach pouch about the size of a hen's egg leads to the most extreme deficiencies. Some of these patients develop mental deterioration that previous generations of physicians saw only in severe alcoholics.

Medical students learn a little about the most severe types of vitamin deficiency such as scurvy (lack of vitamin C) and beri-beri (lack of vitamin B1), diseases that are so vanishingly rare in the United States that they are unlikely to encounter them in a lifetime of practice. In contrast, micronutrient insufficiency is common, and many of the dieting patients that stream through the offices of practicing physicians are lacking in minerals such as magnesium, iron and zinc as well as vitamins A, B12, folic acid, C, K and E. All these nutrients were found to be inadequate in a significant number of patients that participated in a study that compared the Atkins, Ornish, LEARN and Zone low-calorie diet plans. In that study, only those on the Zone diet continued to have an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals.

When dieters cut back on food, reducing their intake of carbohydrate, fat and protein, they simultaneously reduce all the other nutrients that they had been getting. Dieters who reduce their calorie intake by 25 or 30 percent in an effort to lose weight cannot afford to cut back their intake of calcium, for example.

Low-carbohydrate diet plans usually restrict fruits and vegetables, especially in the so-called induction phase that lasts a couple of weeks. The loss of their rich content of vitamins C and the B-complex group is significant. Restricting whole grains leads to a lower intake of magnesium, a mineral that more than half of Americans already lack.

Compared with their Stone Age forbears, Americans are woefully lacking in dietary fiber. Some diets restrict it even more. The resulting constipation is only part of the problem. A lack of fiber also leads to decreased immunity, a poor trade-off for the loss of a few pounds of fat.

The bottom line: be sure to include a quality multivitamin/multimineral supplement in your weight-reduction program.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.