Grapefruits for Dieting?

Few foods have been associated with dieting more than the pucker-inducing grapefruit. The Grapefruit Diet has been around since the 1930s, so it’s hardly just a passing fad. Dieters have often included grapefruits or juice with their meals, to harness the fat burning potential of this fruit. Grandma swears this is how she managed to go girdle-free all those years! Even celebrities such as Brooke Shields and Kylie Minogue have been known to down grapefruits as part of their slimming routines. On the other side of the peel, we have doctors and studies that tell us the grapefruit is just a fad, and has not been proven to be effective. Could Grandma have been wrong?

The Fruit
Grapefruit got its name because it grows in clusters, similar to grapes. There are several varieties of grapefruits, and the flesh will be white, pink, or red. Color is not an indication of flavor, though, they taste about the same. The antioxidant lycopene gives pink and red grapefruit their color. Eating foods high in lycopene may help reduce the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer. Most of the grapefruit grown in the US is in Florida, but also is grown in California, Arizona, and Texas. The total US crop for the 2004 – 2005 season is approximately 2 million tons of grapefruit. At only 60 calories per half fruit, the grapefruit is a healthy addition to any diet plan, whether it burns fat or not.

The Diet
The Grapefruit Diet began as the Hollywood 18-Day Diet in the 1930s. There have been several variations of the diet since, but they are all very restrictive, very low calorie, and are based on the notion that a special enzyme in the fruit can turn your body into a fat burning machine. The diet plan usually begins with grapefruit and coffee for breakfast. Lunch and dinner are grapefruit, salad, and meat. No matter which version of the diet you have in your hands, they all say not to stray from it at all, and you must consume the prescribed amount of grapefruit before each meal. This, they claim, is a catalyst that starts the fat burning process. Will you lose weight on this diet? Of course you will! It’s a very low calorie diet, which may be as low as 800 calories per day, and so the grapefruit is not responsible. The original 18 day diet contained only 585 calories per day. No wonder Granny dropped her girdle! You’ll lose a lot of water weight, too, and will probably make yourself ill from the lack of proper nutrition if you stay on it long enough. Why does this idea persist? It’s like an old wive’s tale – time seems an indication that it must work, or no one would still be trying it. It’s just a fad, even if it’s a fad that’s here to stay a while. Even still, the grapefruit is just a fruit and it can’t hurt to include it in your diet. We do recommend eating more food that this diet calls for.

The Grapefruit Diet made headlines around the world in 2004, when a Scripps Clinic press release stated that they had proven the grapefruit diet to be a fact, not a myth. A closer look shows that the 12 week pilot study resulted in an average of just over 3 pounds lost, in total over 12 weeks. Participants were told to eat their normal diets, add grapefruit before each meal (not an example of the Grapefruit Diet) and they were instructed to increase their exercise. The less than one pound they lost each month was likely due to the increased exercise. They also may have eaten fewer high calorie foods, as a result of adding a low calorie food at the beginning of the meal. A pilot study is generally a trial to determine if a full study is needed, and the results are not conclusive.

The Pills
Many diet pills now contain Citrus Naringin, which is made from the peel of grapefruit. According to InteliHealth, the suggestion of grapefruit (naringin) for dieting is unproven and based on tradition or on scientific theories. It can boost the potency of prescription drugs to serious levels, increasing the risk of side effects and possible serious reactions. Most diet pills that contain naringin will have a warning on the label, but you must look very carefully in the fine print to find it.

The Verdict
Forget that celebrities claim grapefruits help them stay slim. It isn’t a celebrity – or even Grandma – that you want to endorse your health plan. The medical establishments still tell us that there is nothing magical about a grapefruit to help us lose weight. However, it’s a great source of Vitamin C, low in calories, and it takes a while to eat so you have a chance to fill up.


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