Following a minimal diet means eating only the nutrients you need to survive and only the calories your body needs to function. Although it’s similar to a low-calorie diet, eating minimally involves paring down every aspect of meals and snacks to truly eliminate all excess. It’s a common strategy to lose weight, but other people try it in an effort to become healthier and extend their lives.
Minimal diets feature foods that are extremely low in calories, such as fresh vegetables and fruits. MyPyramid.gov states that these foods can lower the risk of obesity as well as drop risks for stroke, heart attack, diabetes, cancer, kidney stones and bone loss. Additionally, in a report from BBC News, Dr. Leonie Heilbronn of Louisiana State University led a study that indicated prolonged calorie restriction reversed the majority of markers of aging in people.
A minimal diet may have tremendous benefits, but it isn’t without negatives. In an article for "USA Today," UCLA evolutionary biologist John Phelan noted that a minimal diet is close to starvation and that people who follow it consistently experience crankiness as well as a loss of libido. For food lovers, lowering calories so dramatically can be especially difficult because it means going without desserts, snacks and other treats.
The National Institutes of Health states that a balanced diet contains daily servings of nonfat dairy, lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and most people eating a minimal amount of calories, fat, protein and carbohydrates adhere to those recommendations and just limit the amount of food they eat. Others stick to eating mainly raw vegetables and salads so that they can eat larger volumes of food without many calories. A small number of people following minimal diets eat small servings of fast food and other calorie-rich options and little else.
According to the Weight-Control Information Network, minimal diets are sometimes used to spur weight loss in obese or overweight patients. On a medically supervised minimal diet, people may be able to lose up to five pounds5 lbs. per week. Functioning successfully on so few calories, as little as 750 to 1,000 per day, is not recommended for people who are not under medical supervision.
More research is needed to verify that extreme calorie restriction and minimal diets may be able to prolong human life spans or reverse aging effects. Such basic diets are not beneficial for everyone, especially people who are underweight or suffering from chronic illness. Some people who follow minimal diets may experience malnutrition or nutrient deficiencies if they do not get an adequate balance of vitamins and minerals. Before trying a minimal diet as a weight loss method or starting any new eating plan, talk with a physician.