Diet myths die hard — especially the decades-old notion that you can dig yourself out of your weight problems by using a grapefruit spoon. Nothing against grapefruit; in fact, eating more of it probably would do you good, and at least one research study affirms that for some people, grapefruit can be a sensible addition to a weight-loss plan. However, the American Dietetic Association states that “there are no foods or pills that magically burn fat.”
The “grapefruit diet” has been around in various forms since 1930, according to a website that promotes one of the current variations. Besides consuming three daily servings of grapefruit and grapefruit juice, which allegedly “encourages the fat-burning process,” you are allowed eggs, salads, meat, fish and milk. While it suggests a more balanced eating plan as a possible option, the website promises that if you stick to the more restrictive grapefruit diet, you can lose 10 lbs. in 12 days.
The American Dietetic Association cautions against any weight-loss plan that makes you eat lots of just one food, whether it’s grapefruit, cabbage soup or special diet cookies. You’ll be bored by the monotony and won't get all of the nutrients you need. Better strategies include eating smaller portions, exercising regularly, eating a healthy balance of foods and snacks, and aiming for a gradual weight loss of 1 to 2 lbs. per week. On a crash diet, you can lose water and even bone and muscle, and are likely to regain the weight quickly, the ADA advises.
One small study does seem to lend weight to the notion of grapefruit as a good diet food. It was published in the "Journal of Medicinal Food" in 2006. The researchers noted that among 91 obese patients, those who consumed fresh grapefruit, a grapefruit capsule or grapefruit juice before meals lost more weight than did those who were given a placebo. The 12-week study found more significant weight loss — about 3 lbs. -- and improved blood sugar levels in those who ate fresh grapefruit. Researchers concluded that while “the mechanism for this weight loss is unknown,” it was reasonable to include grapefruit in a weight-loss diet.
Without a follow-up study, it’s hard to pinpoint the reasons for the results of the 2006 grapefruit study, said Patrick M. O’Neil, director of the Weight Management Center at the Medical University of South Carolina. While reporting a modest weight loss, the researchers “found nothing to indicate that grapefruit helps you burn fat or increases the caloric burn,” he noted. But one factor might be that grapefruit provides some bulk, water and fiber with very few calories, said O’Neil, who has discussed the study with its lead researcher. The study also states that grapefruit’s acidity might help dieters by helping the stomach empty a little more slowly.
The National Institutes of Health outlines a healthy weight-loss diet that emphasizes fruits — like grapefruit, which is rich in vitamin C — as well as vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, lean meats and poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts. While exercise burns calories, neither grapefruit nor other foods will speed up your metabolism to burn fat or calories, according to the NIH.
If you do want to eat more grapefruit, you should know that it can trigger reactions with certain medications, warns the American Academy of Family Physicians. Effects of the medications can be elevated in your body even days after you eat grapefruit — or some types of oranges, such as pomelo and Seville. These include drugs for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart arrhythmia, depression and HIV. Talk to your doctor if you have questions, the AAFP advises.