Is your diet dangerous?

A poorly constructed diet can do more harm than good.

Trying Times

Between the festive season indulgences and the looming sweets and treats of Valentine’s, many are trying to shed a few extra kilos. This might mean taking a fresh swing at low-carb high-fat, trying a controlled fast, or going raw.

These popular diets might hold great promise and even show impressive results, however, the danger arises when we tackle these kinds of eating plans after quickly scanning the web for basic guidelines and then applying it without consulting a professional. Dramatic changes in a diet or exercise regime can take its toll on the body and it is therefore essential to consult with a health professional first.

Expert Aid

Consulting Dietician Judith Johnson explains that “a dietitian is trained in the medical field and will be able to work with any health conditions that you may have, considering medical and nutritional requirements to personalise your eating plan.”

You can visit to find a wide range of dieticieans and nutritionists in your area.

It is important to consider your particular health concerns before trying a new diet. A low-carb high-fat (LCHF) diet is currently a popular choice but according to The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa it could be dangerous to people with elevated LDL cholesterol levels, existing heart disease or elevated iron levels.

In the Fast Lane

Another dietary trend that is currently making waves is controlled fasting. “Controlled fasting has been shown to be very beneficial,” says Johnson. “One way to do this is by reducing your calorie intake every second day from your normal 1500 – 2500kcal/d to half your usual intake, but still eating during the day. This changes the metabolic processes in the cell to reduce inflammation, reduce insulin production and maintain fluid homeostasis.”

“The second way to ‘fast’ is to extend the time from dinner to breakfast up to 13-15hrs over night. This gives your gut the rest it needs to enhance the correct gut microbiome and helps with weight management since your body has to burn stored energy for fuel.”

However, Johnson urges that fasting in general should be approached with caution. “Fasting means the restriction of foods to the body,” she explains. “Extended fasting can be harmful as it changes the electrolyte balance in the body, causes ketosis, induces protein breakdown in the body and causes fluid loss. This is not advisable in the elderly, pregnant or a diabetic person, especially on insulin.”

The Raw Route

Even opting for a raw diet can pose some challenges. Raw veganism is plant-based diet where nothing is cooked or heated above 40°C. Instead foods are eaten fresh, dried out or fermented.

“The Raw Vegan diet has many benefits,” says Johnson. “It is full of micronutrients, anti-inflammatory foods and fibre. The difficulty is when food choices are incorrect, causing nutritional deficiencies especially iron, B12, calcium and certain amino acids.”

“Another problem can be the fibre content. The diet is very high in insoluble fibres, some of which have anti nutrients which are difficult to digest, causing bloating and flatulence if the gut microbes are incorrect.”

“Most vegans will need to take a B12 supplement at some point and will need to be very careful of food selection to choose the correct plant proteins for adequate amino acids.”

Johnson warns against this diet if someone is anaemic or iron deficient, and urges careful planning for athletes.

Instead of aiming for quick fixes, strive for a lifestyle that includes a healthy, sustainable, nutritious eating plan and regular exercise. A healthy diet should provide your body with sufficient fibre, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and with energy to sustain your activity level.

About My Health and Fitness

My Health and Fitness is a rich source of articles to help you become the best version of yourself. From diet to exercise and general health, our content contributors (including Biokineticists, Physiotherapists, and Fitness Professionals) will cover all your frequently asked questions and more!

If you would like to become part of our content team as a health and fitness professional, please email us at

Disclaimer: Our articles are not meant to replace any medical advice as given to you by your doctor or healthcare specialist. Always consult your doctor before trying out a new exercise routine or making drastic changes to your diet, especially where pre-existing conditions are applicable.

About Judith Johnson

Judith Johnson is a Consulting Dietician who runs a successful private practice in Cape Town from the Wellness Warehouse in Kloof st and the CTG centre in town.

She focuses on sports nutrition (having trained at the Australian Institute for sport) diabetes care, weight management, functional nutrition therapy, holistic well being and Natural and complementary Medicine.

Judith has joined the Centre for Translational Nutrigenomics in Cape Town which is the first of its kind in SA, where she tests your genetic profile to provide gene based personalized nutrition. She has been using the Nutritional Live Blood Analysis as an assessment tool for many years.

Through her own journey with health challenges, she discovered the benefits of mind, body and soul wellness.

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