The Sirtfood Diet: What is it and is it safe?
We investigated the science behind the Sirtfood Diet to see if it has any health or weight loss benefits.
Since its inception in 2016, the Sirtfood Diet has been at the center of a whirlwind of controversy. It has all of the characteristics of a fad diet: extreme calorie restriction, magical’superfoods,’ and a reliance on liquified foods for weight loss results. While none of these things are inherently harmful, when presented as a “miracle weight loss solution,” they can lead to unhealthy eating habits.
The diet focuses on increasing your intake of sirtuins, a type of protein that acts as an epigenetic regulator and has been proposed to have anti-aging and anti-disease properties, as well as the potential to extend human lifespan. While this all sounds great, does the three-week diet have any effect on your health?
We spoke with some nutrition experts about the Sirtfood Diet and broke it down into its bare essentials to see if it actually works.
WHAT EXACTLY IS THE SIRTFOOD DIET?
The Sirtfood Diet is based on research on sirtuins (SIRTs), a group of seven proteins found in the body that have been shown to regulate functions such as metabolism and inflammation, according to Rob Hobson, registered sports nutritionist and head of nutrition at Healthspan.
“Since certain plant compounds may help to increase the level of these proteins in the body, foods containing them have been dubbed’sirtfoods,'” he explains.
The Sirtfood Diet is based on the idea that sirtuins, also known as SIRTs, can aid in rapid weight loss, disease resistance, and successful aging. According to a study published in Biogerontology (opens in new tab), a healthy and balanced diet already contains a high concentration of sirtuins. The article also discusses the high sirtuin content of curcumin (the pigment that gives turmeric its yellow color).
“The diet’s creators claim that sirtuins are a group of proteins found in the body that can regulate several functions including metabolism,” says Kristen Smith, MS, RDN, LD, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson. “The Sirtfood Diet is divided into two phases that make up a three-week dietary plan.”The first phase lasts about seven days and focuses on a low-calorie diet primarily comprised of green juices. The second phase of the diet is more relaxed, removing the calorie restriction and requiring the dieter to focus on sirtfood-focused meals.”
ON THE SIRT FOOD DIET, WHAT CAN YOU EAT?
Smith claims that the first phase of the Sirt food diet consists primarily of drinking green juices throughout the day. “However, as the diet progresses,” she says, “dieters are encouraged to eat foods high in sirtuins.” Arugula, buckwheat, celery, kale, dates, strawberries, and walnuts are sirtuin-activating foods, according to the diet’s authors.”
The following foods are naturally high in sirtuins:
- Green leafy vegetables (spinach, argula, kale, parsley and lovage)
- Green tea
- Strawberries and blueberries
- Red wine
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Dark chocolate
Sirtfood juices will include kale, celery, rocket, parsley, green tea, and lemon, according to Hobson. “Meals could include chicken green vegetable curry or prawn stir-fry with soba (buckwheat) noodles,” he says. “From days four to seven, energy intake is increased to 1500kcal per day, which includes two sirtfood green juices and two sirtfood-rich meals.”
HOW DOES THE SIRTFOOD DIET WORK?
The Sirtfood Diet encourages participants to limit their calorie intake to 1000kcals for the first three days of ‘phase one,’ a week-long period in which they drink a lot of green juice and exercise every day. For the remainder of phase one, your calorie intake is increased to 1500kcals. For most people, this is still a significant calorie deficit.
The second phase lasts two weeks and encourages dieters to eat a sirtfood-rich diet with no calorie restriction.
The calorie restriction phase is supposed to force the body to produce more sirtuins, and the sirtuin-rich green juices are supposed to increase sirtuin intake.
IS THE SIRTFOOD DIET ACTUALLY BENEFICIAL?
Sirtuins are important for protecting our cells from metabolic stress and reversing the biochemical impact of acetylation on proteins in a variety of tissues, including the liver, heart, muscles, and adipose tissues, according to a review published in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism(opens in new tab) (fat stores).
However, Smith informs us that human subjects research is limited. “Unfortunately, human studies to validate the sirtfood diet have been limited, making it difficult to recommend the diet to anyone,” she says. “I usually don’t recommend short-term dietary interventions that eliminate entire food groups.” Short-term dietary interventions that exclude certain food groups do not teach people how to eat for the long term. When implementing any type of dietary intervention, it’s critical to choose something that you can stick with in the long run.”
While incorporating the above-mentioned sirtfoods into your diet will not harm you (in fact, some, such as dark chocolate or kale, are also high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals), the diet’s calorie restriction can have a negative impact on physical and mental health.
According to a study review published in the Annual Review of Physiology(opens in new tab), calorie restriction can be an effective way to improve health outcomes in laboratory animals, with the caveat that conditions during research are controlled. We don’t know how calorie restriction affects sirtuin production in mammalian bodies because we don’t have a controlled and monitored environment outside of a lab (which includes humans.) Lab animals on calorie restricted diets still receive a complete nutritional profile, and there is no guarantee that a person on a sirtfood diet will not develop a nutritional deficiency if not monitored.
Hobson adds that the science behind sirtfoods is still in its early stages, and that the extreme calorie restriction is the reason people lose weight. “The idea of turning on your’skinny gene,’ as this diet is frequently portrayed in the media, is not really supported by very strong research, and the diet overall is pretty restrictive in terms of both foods and calories, which may make it difficult to stick to,” he says.
“While the foods in the plan may be healthy, no long-term human studies have been conducted to determine whether eating a diet rich in sirtfoods has any real health benefits in terms of weight loss.”
ARE THERE ANY HAZARDS WITH THE SIRTFOOD DIET?
Smith criticizes the sirtfood diet for being too extreme. “The sirtfood diet lacks structure and long-term guidance on how to maintain healthy eating habits,” she says. “Repeated exposure to restrictive diets, such as the sirtfood, increases the likelihood of developing long-term disordered eating habits.” There is always a risk of nutritional deficiencies when a diet restricts any food group.”
According to a review published in the journal Antioxidant and Redox Signaling(opens in new tab), a complete understanding of the role of sirtuins in stress response and cell resilience is required to understand how they function. Given this, an extreme diet based on complex metabolic principles may not be the best way to lose weight. Increase your intake of sirtuin-rich foods, as research shows they can reduce oxidative stress and even inflammation, according to a Frontiers in Endocrinology(opens in new tab) article, but pause before reducing your caloric intake to 1000kcal per day.
Hobson adds that during the first stage of the diet, hunger may be an issue. “Given the diet’s short duration, I see no real health risk in a healthy person other than hunger and food boredom,” he says. “I wouldn’t recommend this for anyone with diabetes, and it may be difficult if you’re very active.” In the first stage of this plan, I would anticipate side effects such as headaches or lightheadedness.”
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