The 500-calorie diet is an extreme form of a very low-calorie diet (VLCD), significantly reducing daily caloric intake to around 500 calories. This diet often involves replacing regular meals with liquid supplements, meal replacement shakes, and bars for a specified period. It’s designed to help the body utilize stored fat for energy, leading to rapid weight loss.

Overview of the 500 Calorie Diet:

  • Intermittent Fasting: Often part of a 5:2 intermittent fasting plan where two non-consecutive days a week are limited to 500 calories, and normal calorie intake (around 2000 calories) is maintained on the other five days.
  • Meal Replacements: Use of dietary supplements or meal replacement products is common.
  • Medical Supervision: Due to its restrictive nature, it should be followed under medical supervision.

Popularity and Usage:

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2017–March 2020), over one-third of adolescents and nearly three out of five adults in the US consume dietary supplements. Lifestyle blogger Jaya Jha successfully lost weight using a 5:2 calorie-deficit diet, demonstrating its potential efficacy.

Scientific Backing:

Studies suggest that hypocaloric intermittent fasting can aid weight loss in overweight and obese individuals. However, more research is needed to confirm these findings.

Sample 500-Calorie Meal Plan’

Note: Always consult with a doctor or nutritionist before starting a VLCD.

Breakfast Options:

  1. Decaffeinated tea, skimmed milk, or black coffee without sugar (8 ounces)
  2. Small banana + ricotta cheese
  3. Hard-boiled egg + wheat bread toast
  4. A cup of green tea (if hungry before lunch)

Lunch Options:

  1. Salad with a light dressing
  2. Blueberries and Greek yogurt
  3. Vegetable soup made with cabbage, spinach, broccoli, or any leafy vegetable
  4. Grilled chicken or fish + grilled broccoli and carrot
  5. Lettuce wraps with fish/mushroom/chicken/tofu

Dinner Options:

  1. Chicken or mushroom clear soup
  2. Broccoli and grilled turkey/tofu tossed in a little chili garlic oil
  3. Egg white omelet with mushroom and spinach
  4. Stir-fried veggies with red bell pepper, carrots, broccoli, tofu, and beans

Benefits of the 500-Calorie Diet

  • Rapid Weight Loss: Helps shed pounds quickly by utilizing stored fat for energy.
  • Metabolic Benefits: May help revamp metabolism and accelerate fat oxidation.

Health Risks of the 500-Calorie Diet

1. Nutritional Deficiencies:

  • Can lead to deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals.
  • May cause nausea, fatigue, diarrhea, intolerance to cold, menstrual irregularities, and hair loss.
  • Reduces immune system efficiency.

2. Muscle Loss:

  • Prolonged VLCD can lead to skeletal muscle loss, giving a “slim-fat” appearance and making skin loose and droopy.

3. Metabolic Changes:

  • Long-term VLCD can slow down metabolism, leading to weight gain once normal eating resumes.

4. Decrease in Bone Mass:

  • May reduce bone mineral density and bone strength.

5. Development of Gallstones:

  • Increases the risk of gallstones and potential need for gallbladder removal.

6. Deficiency of Healthy Fat:

  • Restricts healthy fats necessary for absorbing fat-soluble vitamins, leading to deficiencies.

Who Can Follow the 500-Calorie Diet?

  • Suitable for individuals with a BMI over 30 under medical supervision.
  • Often prescribed to obese patients before bariatric or laparoscopic surgery.

Who Should Avoid the 500-Calorie Diet?

  • People with heart disease, diabetes, kidney diseases, gout, and gallstones should avoid VLCD.

Foods to Eat on the 500-Calorie Diet

  • Non-starchy Vegetables: Broccoli, carrot, beetroot, scallion, cabbage, lettuce, parsnip.
  • Preparation Methods: Salads, sautéed, stir-fried, and blanched foods.
  • Dairy: Full-fat milk and yogurt.
  • Fruits: Fresh fruits and freshly pressed juices (avoid high GI fruits).
  • Salad Dressing: Olive oil, lime juice, salt, and pepper.
  • Proteins: Pre-cooked chicken and shrimps.
  • Vegetables: Pre-washed veggies.

Foods to Avoid on the 500-Calorie Diet

  • Processed Foods: Sausages, salami.
  • Canned Foods: Canned veggies and fruits.
  • Drinks: Energy drinks, soda, bottled fruit juices.
  • Dried Fruits: Avoid dried fruits.
  • Sugary Foods: Cake, pastry, pancake, and candies.

Conclusion

While the 500-calorie diet can lead to rapid weight loss, it carries significant health risks if followed unsupervised. It’s crucial to approach such extreme diets with caution and under the guidance of healthcare professionals to ensure nutritional needs are met and to avoid adverse health effects. For sustainable weight loss, a balanced diet and regular exercise are recommended.