Is Your Weight Loss Diet Causing Nutritional Deficiencies?

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
January 12, 2018
Is Your Low Carb Dieting Affecting Your Nutrition?

The American diet is notorious for processed meals, salty foods and sugary drinks. In fact, more than 80 percent of Americans eat too many refined grains and sugars and not enough fruits and vegetables, according to an NPR poll conducted in 2016.

Baby boomers are no exception. While they have been part of dozens of healthy food fads, boomers are less healthy than previous generations — and as they age into retirement, that's a troubling trend: As you age, your body becomes less efficient at absorbing nutrients, which is why older adults have higher daily recommendations for B12, folate and vitamin D. If you're a Boomer, you may have some micronutrient deficiencies that can affect your health.

And adhering to a specialized diet — like Paleo or gluten-free -- can compound the problem. If you're aging and following a trendy diet, here’s what you need to know about nutrition.

Dairy and Lactose Free

PREMISE: Eliminate dairy foods and/or lactose containing foods from your diet to prevent digestive intolerance and/or allergic reactions.

PROS: If you are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy proteins (whey and casein), avoiding dairy foods or foods that contain lactose can help you avoid unnecessary GI issues, congestion and even acne.

When you have a dairy allergy or are lactose intolerant, removing dairy and lactose products may be your only option. You can work with your doctor or a dietician to find potential alternatives like lactose-free products. And since lactose levels in foods vary, you may be able to eat some dairy products. Consult with your doctor or dietician. They may have you remove all dairy products from your diet, add one dairy food back into your diet at a time and log your reaction. This will help you identify which foods are problematic and which are not.

CONS: Dairy products are probably the easiest way of getting calcium and vitamin D into your diet. If you skip dairy products, you should find alternative source for these nutrients to help keep your bones strong. You’ll also be missing out on whey and casein which can help build and maintain muscle mass. And a new study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that drinking milk-alternatives such as almond, coconut, soy oat, rice, hazelnut or hemp milk may raise your risk of iodine deficiency, which can lead to thyroid disorders, fertility and pregnancy issues and neurodevelopmental problems in newborns.


PREMISE: Eat unprocessed, animal and plant foods that mimic the dietary habits of our hunting-and-gathering forefathers to help manage weight and prevent purported health issues associated with GMOs and modern-day additives, chemicals and preservatives.

PROS: It’s a clean diet that can help lower inflammation, curb your appetite and possibly lose weight. A handful of very small studies found that the Paleo is helpful for weight loss and improving some cardiovascular disease risk factors.

CONS: Food options are limited. For instance, legumes, grains and dairy are off limits. This makes getting adequate protein difficult for vegetarians. And without grains, many athletes will struggle having enough energy to train. You’ll also have to work harder to get calcium, vitamin D and B-complex vitamins into your diet.

Gluten Free

PREMISE: Avoid foods with gluten, the umbrella term for proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale (a wheat-rye hybrid). When we think of gluten foods, baked goods, cereals and pastas often come to mind. But gluten can also be used as an additive in sauces, processed lunch meats, soups and beverages like beer. It even shows up in some restaurant-prepared eggs.

PROS: For people who have Celiac disease, gluten inflames and flattens the villi — hair-like structures that line the small intestine — hindering the absorption of nutrients and potentially leading to osteoporosis, nerve damage and seizures. Only one percent of Americans have Celiac disease, an autoimmune condition. Another six percent have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which produces similar symptoms to Celiac disease but fewer complications. For these people, eating a diet free of gluten is a must.

Despite the low percentage of people who actually need to avoid gluten, there are a lot of products on grocery store shelves claiming to be “gluten-free” (in 2014, sales for gluten-free food rose a whopping 68 percent, according to the Whole Grains Council). But what about the rest of us? Is it healthy to stop eating gluten? Maybe, maybe not.

CONS: When gluten is replaced in processed foods, fillers like corn starch, potato starch and tapioca starch are used in its place for texture and taste. However, these starches lack fiber and have been linked with increased blood sugar. They may also be higher in fat and have more calories than foods that contain gluten.

Low Carbohydrate

PREMISE: Limit your intake of carbohydrates, particularly from grains, fruits and starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn and squash to help control insulin levels and promote weight loss, which can also help lower blood pressure and risk for type 2 diabetes.

Well-known variations of this diet include Atkins, which involves ridding your diet of almost all carbohydrates and slowly reintroducing them over the course of four phases. At the beginning of the plan, you eat protein at each meal and three servings of fat each day.

PROS: You should be able to lose weight without feeling hungry. It will also help eliminate empty calories from refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice and white semolina pastas.

CONS: Drastically cutting back on carbs can lead to bone loss, nutritional deficiencies and trigger ketosis, a metabolic process that helps your body compensate when it doesn’t have enough blood sugar for energy. Carbohydrates are your body’s primary fuel source and are broken down into sugar and fiber during digestion.

When there’s not enough sugar to provide energy, your body will begin burning stored fat. This might sound like a good idea if you’re trying to lose weight, but the tradeoff is a build-up of acids, known as ketones, and it can lead to ketosis. You may experience side effects such as headaches, fatigue, weakness, muscle cramps, rapid breathing, shortness of breath, excessive third, frequent urination, skin rashes and GI distress.

Experts don’t believe eating a high protein/low carb diet on a short-term basis can damage to your kidneys, but they’re unsure of the long-term effects on your kidneys. Protein contains nitrogen, which your body doesn’t need, so it’s eliminated through the kidneys. Too much nitrogen over time can over burden the kidneys and cause damage.

If you decide to take a break from eating a low-carbohydrate diet, you may experience a “yo-yo” diet effect. While low-carb diets tend to help with weight loss initially, most people gain the weight back when they stop the diet, studies show. Adding carbohydrates back into your diet too quickly, can trigger your body store large amounts of fat.

Atkins isn't the only low carb diet. Here's information on several other well-known diets.

Dukan: is a divided into four phases. The first two help you lose weight, while the second two help you maintain and stabilize your weight. During the first week your diet consists of lean protein and a very small portion of oat bran for fiber. But as you move through the phases, the plan becomes a little more flexible, allowing for some fruits, vegetables and grains.

PROS: You can lose weight quickly during the first two phases. You’re allowed to eat a wider range of foods during the third and fourth phases of the diet, which slows down the weight loss but helps prevents malnutrition.

CONS: The more weight you need to lose, the longer you’ll need to stay in phase one, raising your risk for malnutrition. And like the other low-carb diets, there’s a chance you’ll experience the side effects of ketosis and yo-yo dieting.

Ketogenic: is a low-carb, moderate protein, high-fat weight loss diet. There aren’t any phases -- you follow the protocol until you’ve reached your weight-loss goal.

PROS: You can lose weight rapidly.

CONS: Severely curbing your carbohydrates can lead to nutritional deficiencies and ketosis. Some experts warn that a high-fat diet can raise your risk for cardiovascular disease. And the limited food selection on this diet can get boring rather quickly and lead to nutritional deficiencies.

South Beach: is considered a modified low-carb diet because the carbohydrate restrictions isn’t as strict as with other low-carb diets. But the diet does call for less carbs, more protein and more healthy fats than a standard diet. It’s broken down into three phases -- craving elimination phase, long-term weight loss phase and maintenance phase -- and classifies carbohydrates as “good” or “bad” carbs, helping followers make healthier food choices.

PROS: The diet is associated with weight loss, albeit a little slower than other low-carb diets, and lowering cholesterol levels.

CONS: Severely curbing your carbohydrates can lead to nutritional deficiencies, ketosis and yo-yo dieting.

If you’re concerned about your nutrition, talk to your MDVIP-affiliated doctor. As part of your MDVIP Wellness Program, your doctor can customize a wellness plan for you and your needs. Your doctor also may suggest taking a vitamin or supplement. Don’t have an MDVIP-affiliated doctor? MDVIP has a nationwide network of physicians. Find one near you and begin your partnership in health »


This content was last reviewed and updated during February 2021.

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About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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