We all want a quick fix when it comes to weight-loss, but are diet products safe? Dietitian Caitlin Reid reveals the truth.
Over-the-counter weight-loss products is one of the fastest-expanding areas in nutrition: worldwide, there are more than 50 individual dietary supplements and over 125 commercial combination products (a weight-loss product that must be combined with another ‘device’, such as a healthy eating plan or exercise program to achieve the intended affect). So do they really give you the edge for losing weight you’re looking for or are they doing you more harm than good? We take a closer look at some of the more popular products on the shelves.
Shakes and bars
'Nutritious and delicious’, these bars are said to ‘kick-start’ and ‘maximise’ your weight-loss.
From Tony Ferguson to Optifast and Optislim, shakes and bars come in many flavours. But they are not created equal. Some, such as Optifast, are nutritionally complete products that are used in conjunction with seeing your doctor. But others, such as The Biggest Loser Club Meal Replacement products, contain inadequate amounts of vitamins and minerals and are extremely low in kilojoules.
If you’re thinking about including these in your diet, always read the fine print on the labels. Even though they may claim to be a meal replacement, there’s usually a disclaimer on the pack stating that they should be eaten ‘as part of a healthy eating plan’. In other words, they’re not nutritious enough to be your only dietary source, with other low-kilojoule nutrient-dense foods needing to be included to meet your daily nutrient requirements.
Herbal weight-loss pills
‘High potency weight-loss’ designed to ‘maximise the body’s fat-burning ability and weight-loss potential’.
These pills contain everything from guarana and green tea, to bitter orange and chromium. While a review of the research has found that using caffeine and ephedrine (a herbal stimulant) together is effective in causing weight-loss, these two stimulants also cause potent adverse effects when combined – such as diarrhoea, twitching, dizziness and nausea.
Although bitter orange is now being promoted as the ‘safer’ alternative to ephedrine, and chromium is thought to enhance fat-burning and metabolism, the effectiveness and long-term safety of all herbal weight-loss supplements are unknown. It’s best to steer clear.
Fibre weight-loss pills
‘Reduces fat absorption and body fat stores – naturally’.
These products, such as FatBlaster FatMagnet, supposedly ‘absorb’ fat in the stomach before it is metabolised, which is a claim attributed to chitosan, a type of natural fibre extracted from the shell of crustaceans. While a review of 15 studies has found evidence that chitosan is effective in the short-term treatment of overweight and obesity, many of these trials have been of poor quality with variable results.
Unfortunately, reviews of only the high-quality studies suggest the effect on weight-loss is minimal. Furthermore, the research concluded that these dietary supplements are not recommended for over-the-counter use, so use them only under medical supervision.
'Helps you eat less, naturally.'
These products, such as Aliten, are sold as single-serve mini cups from chemists. They contain a combination of oat and palm oil emulsified in water. Fat emulsions work by passing through the small intestine undigested, slowing the movement of food through your digestive system. This leaves you feeling satisfied and, subsequently, reduces your kilojoule intake.
The few studies conducted in this area show that people who take fat emulsions report reduced hunger for up to eight hours or more and eat between 10–22% less at subsequent meals. But whether these products achieve long-term weight-loss still needs to be determined. Consult your doctor before taking any of these products.
New labelling guidelines for weight-loss medications
The Australian government is currently developing additional guidelines regarding citation of evidence for companies that claim their products aid weight-loss. If these additional guidelines are approved, we may soon see stricter requirements on the claims permissible on these weight-loss products. Packaging will also need to refer to the importance of a kilojoule-controlled diet, physical activity and the consultation of a qualified healthcare practitioner. And weight-loss claims might only be made in reference to those who are overweight (with a BMI between 25 and 29.9) but not obese. This highlights the serious nature of using these products for weight-loss.
Summing it up
The best way to achieve long-term weight-loss is by implementing lifestyle changes, however if you are considering taking any of these diet products, consult your doctor first. These ‘solutions’ might promise the world, but if weight-loss was really as simple as popping a pill or slurping down a shake, we wouldn’t be seeing the current obesity epidemic that is sweeping the world. Remember: there is no quick fix.