Actress Mishti Mukherjee’s death raises serious questions about fad diets

These fad diets focus on consumption of one kind of nutrient by reducing or avoiding the other kinds

vegan diets, nutrient deficiency, brain health, choline, infant development, proteins, BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health
A nutritious diet should contain all the three macronutrients, namely carbohydrates, protein and fat, say experts. Representational image: iStock.

The death of 27-year-old actress Mishti Mukherjee on October 2 due to renal failure has raised questions about the efficacy and health benefits of fad diets such as Keto, Paleo, Atkins, and vegan. It is claimed that the death of the actress from Bengal could have been a result of the Keto diet she followed.

These fad diets focus on consumption of one kind of nutrient by reducing or avoiding the other kinds. In Paleo diet, for example, a lot of protein has to be taken while reducing carbohydrates. The Keto diet concentrates more on fat and less on carbohydrate. The Atkins diet pushes people to consume protein and fat more and discourages  carbohydrates. Vegan diet allows eating of only plant-based food and shuns animal food completely.

Medical and nutrition experts say that consuming only one particular type of nutrients will affect health in the long term.

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“A nutritious diet should contain all three macronutrients, namely carbohydrates, protein and fat,” said Dr V Mohan, chairman and chief diabetologist, Dr Mohan’s Diabetes Specialities Centre in  Chennai. “The other nutrients such a vitamins and minerals are considered as micronutrients. Modern fad diets like Keto propose avoiding carbohydrates. That is bad for our health. But, the prevalent dietary practice in the country that provides more of carbohydrates and is the opposite of  Keto diet, is also equally bad.”

Most people in the country take rice and wheat, which are rich in carbohydrates and make up for up to 70 percent of the nutrition in the diet. “Then, we take 20 per cent of fat and only 10 per cent of protein,” he said. “This is not a balanced diet and it is unhealthy. The consumption of excess carbohydrates adds weight especially in the belly and results in diabetes and heart diseases. The proponents of Keto diet almost avoid carbohydrates and focus more on fat. They take 75 per cent fat and 25 per cent protein. This increases cholesterol and protein levels and causes heart or renal failures. In the case of the actress, the increased protein levels could have affected her kidneys,” said Mohan.

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Dr Raj Mohan, an advocate of paleo diet, said people should consult an expert and undergo preliminary tests before embarking on fad diets.

“Normally, our body gets energy from carbohydrates and fat. Carbohydrates provide glucose and fat provides ketone. Proteins are not converted into fuel for energy but help in the bodybuilding process. People consume carbohydrates for taste. But, it won’t satiate hunger, so you take excess carb — instead of taking three idlies, you take six idlies. But with fat, even a little amount can satiate hunger. In our body, red blood cells, some parts of brain and eyes depend on glucose. So the diet should contain at least 15 per cent carbohydrates,” he said.

The Keto diet, which is more than a 100 years old, is still used as to manage diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Dementia and multiple sclerosis, added Raj Mohan.

“It’s brain-friendly, so children with problems of fits and seizures get treated with this kind of diet. But, they are treated under the supervision of an expert,” he said. “Those following fad diet must undergo tests regularly,” he said.

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G Poppu, who regularly writes on nutritious food, said instead of going to the  extremes — consuming excess carbohydrates or completely avoiding it, people should choose a middle path. “People must eat any kinds of millets, pulses, vegetables and fruits they get in their location. In the Delta districts in Tamil Nadu, people get only rice. So they can consume that and there is no need to go in search of millets. Likewise, in the southern districts, people cultivate more millet. So, instead of going for rice, they can eat millets because their bodies are adapted to it. People today lead a sedentary lifestyle. So, irrespective of the diet followed, everyone  must do some physical labour or exercise,” he said.

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