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A tool for evaluating popular diets

Health coaches need to be aware of the pros, cons, pitfalls and possible nutritional inadequacies of the many different diets that a client may be following.

An overview of Popular diets

To help you get an overview of some common diets that you will come across, the NZ Ministry of Health has published a popular diets review with the ‘Pros and con’s of popular diets’ compared to the NZ healthy eating Guidelines.


In addition, Katz and Meller published an extensive review of popular diets title ‘Can we say what diet is best for health? (2014). Their conclusion was that the common benefit of these diets was calorie restriction and an emphasis on plant foods. It provides and excellent discussion of the different categories that diets can fall into.

Evaluating Popular diets

As diets continue to be released, is there any way we can help clients decide what’s worthwhile for them?

In 2003 Peter Williams, a senior lecturer at the University of Wollongong proposed a tool to help nutrition professionals evaluate popular diet books. You can read all about it here.


The criteria discussed form an excellent guideline to evaluate any diets that your clients may be following.

1) Nutritional adequacy: How does it compare to the recommended serves of food groups? Are any food groups missing and if they are, which nutrients are at risk?

2) Energy content of the diet: The minimum daily energy intake should not go below 1000-1200kJ

3) Promised rate of weight loss: A safe level of expected weight loss is around 0.5- 1kg per week.

4) Macronutrient content of the diet: How does the macronutrient ratio compare with those in the ADG?

• 20–35% of total energy intake from fat

• 45–65% from carbohydrate

• 15–25% from protein.

5) Use of supplements: Supplements shouldn't be recommended in place of foods, however if a diet recommends shakes as meal replacements these need to be fortified to be nutritionally adequate. Supplements that help speed up weight loss have very little scientific support.

6) Flexibility & Sustainability: Does it allow for individual food preferences and encourage behaviour/habit change that will be sustainable long term? Does it provide recipe modification suggestions?

7) Physical activity recommendations: Is physical activity encouraged in line with the National Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines?

8) Authors educational qualifications: Diets written or reviewed by nutrition experts can be confidently recommended, otherwise health/medical qualifications

9) Scientific evidence. Is it based on good quality scientific support or anecdotal evidence?

Using these criteria as a guide, health coaches can guide clients through the diet maze, helping them to choose patterns of eating that suit their preferences, goals, and ensuring they are aware of any possible nutrition gaps they need to consider.


Links to articles:

Can we say what diet is best for health? Katz and Meller, 2014

https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-032013-182351

Pros and con’s of popular diets compared to the NZ healthy eating Guidelines. https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/healthy-living/food-activity-and-sleep/healthy-weight/help-managing-your-weight/popular-diets-review

Evaluation of a tool for rating popular diet books https://dietitiansaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/60-3-evaluation-of-a-tool....pdf




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