A diet that emphasizes dark chocolate, red wine, kale, berries, and coffee? It either sounds like the best possible road to wellness and weight loss, or too good to be true. But wait, it gets better: According to the creators of the Sirtfood Diet, these and other so-called “sirtfoods” are purported to activate the mechanisms controlled by your body’s natural “skinny genes” to help you burn fat and lose weight.
Boasting a list of delectable foods you probably already love, and bolstered by reports that Adele used it to lose weight after having a baby, the Sirtfood Diet sounds understandably appealing.
But not to ruin your chocolate-and-red-wine high here, but the science doesn’t actually support the diet’s biggest claims. Which isn’t to say that eating sirtfoods is a bad idea . . . but, as with all diets that sound too good to be true, you should look at this one with serious scrutiny. Here’s what you need to know about what sirtfoods can and can’t do for you.
First of all, what the heck is a sirtfood?
Developed by U.K. nutrition pros Aidan Goggins and Glen Matten, the Sirtfood Diet emphasizes plant-based foods that are known “sirtuin activators.” Basically, when you nosh on the plan’s key ingredients, you stimulate the proteins encoded for by the SIRT1 gene, which Goggins and Matten have dubbed “the skinny gene.”
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SIRT1 and sirtuin proteins are believed to play a role in aging and longevity, which may be related to the protective effects of calorie restriction. The claim behind the Sirtfood Diet is that certain foods can activate these sirt-mediated pathways sans the restriction, and thereby “switch on your body’s fat-burning powers, supercharge weight loss, and help stave off disease.”
Along with red wine, dark chocolate, berries, coffee, and kale, sirtuin-promoting foods include matcha green tea, extra virgin olive oil, walnuts, parsley, red onions, soy, and turmeric (a.k.a. fantastic flavors and go-to healthy treats).
There’s some science behind the claims of sirtfoods’s benefits, but it’s very limited and rather controversial.
The science on the sirt frontier is still super new. There are studies looking into the SIRT1 gene’s role in aging and longevity, in aging-related weight gain and aging-related disease, and in protecting the heart from inflammation caused by a high-fat diet. But the research is limited to work done in test tubes and on mice, which is not sufficient evidence to say that sirtuin-boosting foods can have weight loss or anti-aging capabilities in a living, breathing human body.
Brooke Alpert, R.D., author of The Sugar Detox, says there’s research to suggest that the weight-control benefits of sirtfoods may come in part from the polyphenol-antioxidant resveratrol, often hyped as an element in red wine. “That said, it would be impossible to consume enough red wine to get benefits,” she says, noting that she does frequently suggest resveratrol supplements to her clients.
And some nutrition experts aren’t psyched about the way the Sirtfood Diet plan works.
According to top dietitians who’ve assessed the plan, the Sirtfood Diet is missing some important elements for a healthy, balanced regimen. Goggins and Matten’s diet plan involves three phases: a few days at 1,000 calories per day, made up of one sirtfood-heavy meal and green juices; a few days of two sirtfood meals and two juices a day, for a total of 1,500 calories; and a two-week maintenance phase of sirt-y meals and juices.
Keri Gans, R.D., author of The Small Change Diet, says that she’s “not crazy about anything that runs in phases.” Usually, the shorter phases create a deprivation stage, which just leads to overeating later on. “When you’re restricting, anyone is going to lose weight at the start of a diet,” she explains. “But we can’t sustain that eating pattern long-term.”
According to Lauren Blake, R.D., a dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, when you’re hydrating and juicing a lot without a ton of calorie intake, weight loss is expected, “but it’s typically fluid loss,” she explains. So while one may shed pounds on the diet, it’s likely to be temporary and might have nothing to do with sirtuins at all.
The verdict? Sirtfoods are great to have in your diet, but they shouldn’t be all you have.
There’s absolutely no reason you can’t add some sirtfoods into your eating plan, says Alpert. “I think there are some really interesting things here, like the red wine, dark chocolate, matcha—I love these things,” she says. “I love telling people what to focus on instead of what to nix from their diet.” If it tastes indulgent and it’s healthy in small quantities, why not?
Gans says she’s a fan of a lot of the foods on the sirt list, including staples of the Mediterranean Diet—the gold standard of scientifically-backed healthy eating—like olive oil, berries, and red wine. “I can get behind foods rich in polyphenols and antioxidants,” she says.
Blake agrees that there’s plenty to love about the foods included in the diet, especially the trendy ingredients like turmeric and matcha that feel fresh and help make eating fun and interesting. “I’m seeing a lot of plant-based foods that really shine, and are filled with phytonutrients,” she says. “Those are anti-inflammatory, and good for you.”
However, all the nutrition experts suggest rounding the diet out with some lean protein and healthy fats, such as more nuts and seeds, avocado, and fatty fish like salmon. Mix up your salad game, too, with more types of veggies, spinach, and romaine lettuce in addition to the kale and red onions. Bottom line? Most of the sirtfoods are A-OK to eat and healthy for you, but just don’t swear by the diet to activate any “skinny gene” just yet.