alternative diet programs center on the belief that you can improve your health
by eating or avoiding certain foods. Alternative approaches to nutrition vary
widely. Some alternative diets have been developed as a way to stay healthy.
Others have been suggested as therapies for specific illnesses, such as cancer
and heart disease. Most programs emphasize dietary changes plus lifestyle
changes, such as routine exercise and stress reduction.
examples of alternative diet programs include:
The Pritikin diet.
This diet is intended to prevent or reverse heart disease. The diet is nearly
vegetarian. People who follow this diet are allowed to have several ounces of
fish or chicken and small amounts of low-fat dairy products each day. The diet
encourages eating high-fiber foods like whole grains and fruits and vegetables.
The diet is extremely low in fat and cholesterol. It also encourages daily
The macrobiotic diet. This
vegetarian diet is intended to improve overall health and is claimed—without
evidence—to help cure diseases, including cancer. Brown rice and whole grains
are the foundation of the macrobiotic diet. The diet encourages you to eat
certain fresh vegetables and vegetable-based soups. The diet discourages
high-fat foods, foods that are extremely cold in temperature, and most animal
products, including dairy products and eggs.
Orthomolecular medicine. Orthomolecular medicine encompasses
several different medical practices, including diet therapy. Orthomolecular
diet therapy is based on the idea that the use of naturally occurring
substances (such as vitamins,
amino acids, trace elements,
electrolytes, and fatty acids) can prevent and treat
disease. Its practitioners believe that an imbalance of specific nutrients in
the diet causes various diseases, such as
The McDougall plan. This diet is thought to reduce a person's risk of developing
health problems such as allergies, heart and kidney disease,
osteoporosis, diseases of the stomach and intestine,
and cancer. The McDougall diet is strictly vegetarian, based solely on grains,
vegetables, fruits, and beans. Meats, eggs, and dairy-based foods are not
eaten. This plan also emphasizes the importance of moderate exercise, adequate
sunshine, clean air and water, and comfortable surroundings.
The elimination diet. This diet involves not eating a
food that you think may be causing you to have an allergic reaction or symptom.
You replace the food with another source of the same nutrients. For example, if
you think corn is causing you a problem, you replace corn with another
carbohydrate, such as rice. If allergy symptoms go away after the food is taken
out of your diet, and then they come back when the food is eaten again, a
diagnosis may be made. This diet is generally done with the guidance of a
doctor or a dietitian.
The rotation diet.
This diet is useful for you if you have allergies to a variety of foods.
Ideally, you eat foods you are not allergic to on a 4-day rotation basis. This
allows your body a recovery period before the same food is eaten again. It also
reduces the likelihood of you developing an allergy to more foods. This diet
can be quite restrictive, and it is generally done with the guidance of a
doctor or dietitians.
The Ornish program.
Like Pritikin, this diet was developed to reverse heart disease. The Ornish
program is a very low-fat, vegetarian diet. Fewer than 10% of the calories in
this diet come from fat. The diet is high in fiber. It does not allow dairy or
meat products, oils, or fats. This program also focuses on reducing stress and
getting regular exercise. Some people who are concerned that the diet is too
high in carbohydrates believe that the biggest benefits of this program are
from stress reduction and social support.
What are alternative diets used for?
diets attempt to improve physical and/or mental well-being. Many alternative
diets claim to prevent or cure diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. But
alternative diets have not been studied enough to prove that they work.
Some alternative diet
programs are safe when practiced in moderation. But diets that severely limit
food choices or exclude entire food groups can lead to nutritional deficiencies
or other health problems.
Children, pregnant or nursing women,
and people with chronic illnesses should not start any alternative diet without
first consulting a doctor.
Always tell your doctor if you are
using an alternative therapy or if you are thinking about combining an
alternative therapy with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be
safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on an
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Hubbard SK (2008). Medical nutrition therapy for food
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Katz DL (2008). Food allergy and intolerance.
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National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (2010). Food allergy: An overview. Available online: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/foodallergy/documents/foodallergy.pdf.
Primary Medical Reviewer
Adam Husney, MD, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
Marc S. Micozzi, MD, PhD - Complementary and Alternative Medicine
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.