The Scarsdale diet was created in the 1970s for weight loss purposes. By reducing carbs and calories, it’s meant to act as a rapid weight loss aid. People on the diet eat three meals per day consisting of 43 percent protein, 22.5 percent fat, and 34.5 percent carbohydrates. They also drink at least 4 cups of water per day. These percentages will theoretically reduce calories. This high-protein diet is intended to be followed for either 7 or 14 days. Snacking is not allowed.
This diet is intended for anyone who wants to lose weight quickly. According to the intentions of the founder of the diet, you could lose up to 20 pounds in just two weeks. However, research suggests that it may not be an efficient way to lose weight or keep it off in the long-run.
Members of the medical community, including both dietitians and doctors, advise against extreme “crash diets.” Red flags for a crash diet include the following:
- extreme restriction of calories
- limitations placed on known healthy foods
- avoidance of major food groups or macronutrients
- unsustainable food rules
The Scarsdale diet does have many unsustainable food rules and prohibited healthy foods. It also restricts fat well below 30 percent. This is the percentage recommended by many health organizations and experts for long-term health and brain function.
Extreme diets work by putting your body into a “starved” state, where it will quickly consume your own fat and muscles at a more rapid pace due to the low caloric intake. These diets carry additional health risks, especially when followed for weeks to years. These risks include osteoporosis, kidney stones, gallstones, and renal insufficiency.
A high-protein, low-carb diet can also have dangerous effects on the heart. A 20-year-long Harvard study of more than 120,000 people found that this type of diet increased the odds of someone dying from cardiovascular diseases by 14 percent. Unfortunately, a high-protein, low-carb diet may also and be deficient in fiber.
A large number of foods are restricted on the Scarsdale diet. This list of foods is extensive, but it includes:
- fatty meats like sausage, bacon, and pork belly
- any type of dairy (including butter) with fat
- all types of potatoes, including sweet potatoes
- beans and lentils
Originally, the only fruit that was allowed was grapefruit — everything else was forbidden. Another updated version of the Scarsdale diet allows for the addition of other fruits.
When following the Scarsdale diet, there are lists of certain foods that you can eat, including fats, proteins, and raw fruits and vegetables. You can eat carbs, including bread, but these should be limited.
According to the original Scarsdale diet, grapefruit was the only fruit that you could eat. This was later expanded, allowing for more fruits:
Some raw vegetables you can eat include:
Proteins that you can eat include lean meat, like chicken or lean beef, and turkey. You can also eat non-fat dairy foods and eggs.
Drinks permitted include water, tea, and diet soda. Seasonings you can add to your food include salt, pepper, herbs, vinegar, lemon, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, mustard, and ketchup.
The Scarsdale diet allows for quick weight loss, which might be considered a pro. There are, however, many more cons.
In addition to the fact that the diet is not nutritionally sound, there are numerous other pitfalls to consider. One of the biggest complaints many dieters have is the lack of flexibility in the diet. They find the meal plans to be restrictive and boring, and they find it difficult to maintain the diet even for just two weeks.
Another con is that the diet is supposed to be a crash diet — you follow it for only two weeks at a time. That means that it isn’t truly sustainable, and any weight loss plan that isn’t sustainable can lead to “yo-yo” dieting. Yo-yo dieting refers to putting all the weight — and then some — back on. This diet can be so extreme that even its founder recommended doing two weeks on, two weeks off, and then two weeks on again if you want to continue.
Because this diet only focuses on weight loss, actual health and nutrition are not taken into consideration. Diet soda, for example, is allowed, even though multiple studies have shown that it’s highly addictive and even worse for you than regular soda. Eating a well-balanced diet with healthy foods would be more beneficial.
While the Scarsdale diet may help with rapid weight loss, its results are likely temporary because the diet itself isn’t sustainable. Since many dietitians and doctors also believe that the diet is not healthy or nutritionally sound, it would be better to choose a more balanced approach.