As a registered dietitian, clients (and friends) are constantly asking me what I think of new healthy eating trends. Should they try the new Instagram-favorite diet? Should they eat kale at every single meal?
The thing is: Trends are usually fleeting. While there are exceptions (like kale, which went from trendy veg to a staple of nearly everyone’s diet!), most attract attention because they’re flashy rather than reliable.
It’s exciting to think adding one superfood to your daily smoothie will transform your energy, or that simply eliminating a food group from your diet will finally solve your weight issues. Meanwhile, the basics of healthy, sustainable eating aren’t that sexy: Eat whole foods (as opposed to packaged and processed) and fill your plate with quality sources of protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and vitamin-, mineral-, and fiber-rich vegetables.
Still, sometimes trends are totally harmless and can add a little oomph to your healthy diet, or can shake you out of a rut and put you on a healthier path. The trick is having a reliable source (no, not an Instagram model) to help you determine whether or not something is really safe, healthy, and useful.
I’ve got you. Here’s my take on three of the biggest healthy eating trends currently attracting attention.
The ketogenic diet is like Atkins amplified. Instead of just low-carb, it’s “almost no carb” and lots of fat. It was developed a long time ago as a treatment for epilepsy but has recently gotten a lot of attention for weight loss.
The goal of eating this way is to move the body into a state called ketosis. During ketosis, instead of breaking down carbs (there are none!) into glucose for fuel, the liver converts fat into ketone bodies, which become the body’s primary source of energy.
A few studies have shown it may promote weight loss, lower blood sugar, and increase insulin sensitivity in diabetics. (Taken together, that would make it great for heart health, overall.) Many people also talk about brain health benefits, but the research in that area is far from definitive.
My biggest issue with it is: Could you really stick to it, and if you could, would it ruin your life? Even further, if it’s going to be that difficult for you, is it necessary? The ketogenic diet is pretty extreme, and while it may help people lose weight during a controlled study, it may drive you nuts while navigating a world filled with office cupcakes and happy hours. A diet that makes you miserable is not going to work for you, period.
I won’t totally knock the ketogenic diet since research points to the fact that it could provide real benefits for certain people. The key is to ask yourself: Am I one of those people? If you have health reasons that make you want to try it, and eating bacon and eggs and steak salads every day sounds amazing, maybe you could swing it. If nothing makes you happier than a fresh piece of sourdough, or beans are one of the protein sources you rely on, there’s no reason to eat this way.
Celery juice is a healthy source of beneficial nutrients and antioxidants like vitamin K, vitamin C, folate, and potassium. It also contains phytonutrients with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers, like luteolin and quercetin. In animal studies, celery leaf extract been shown to lower markers of heart disease. Finally, celery is a vegetable with high water content, so it can help keep you hydrated — and there’s no risk to drinking the juice.
However, there are many claims made about its magical powers that are not based on any scientific evidence. Many people would have you believe sipping a cup of celery will instantly cure your acne, lower your cholesterol, and banish your UTI. While science certainly tells us that nutritious foods (like whole, fresh veggies!) are the foundation that good health and disease prevention rest on, we also know that no one food in isolation can make promises like that. Our super cool human bodies are just too complicated for that.
A quick word on juicing: When you juice vegetables, you essentially concentrate the nutrients into a quickly chuggable form. But you also lose all of the fiber, and fiber is super good for your gut. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with drinking it rather than chewing it, but if you chew it, you’ll also get the fiber. Also, one of the biggest claims circulating is that drinking celery juice first thing in the morning before eating is somehow better for your health than drinking it at another point in the day or eating it. There is no scientific evidence to support that claim.
Celery is good for you, so if juicing it (or eating it) is something that fits in your lifestyle and makes you happy, go for it! Just don’t expect miracles.
Intermittent fasting is a broad term that covers following a pattern of eating that involves a set amount of time where you don’t eat (or eat an incredibly restricted number of calories), followed by one in which you do. While fasting may seem extreme and irregular, proponents argue that humans actually ate this way for most of history, since hunters-gatherers ate as food was available, not at set mealtimes.
And the research on the health benefits of intermittent fasting is pretty interesting. Most people try it for weight loss, and research backs up its effectiveness. The most basic reason it can work is that you’re simply going to eat less. Fasting may also reprogram your metabolism. When your body isn’t getting energy from food, it turns to its other fuel source: stored fat. By breaking down more fat and shrinking the size of fat cells, you end up with fat loss, and as a result, weight loss. In terms of the bigger health picture, studies link intermittent fasting to reducing markers of inflammation. Research (some in animals, some in humans) even suggests intermittent fasting’s cardiovascular and brain health benefits could extend lifespan.
However, low calorie intake always comes with risks, which is why it’s important to ensure that you are getting adequate calories and proper nutrients while following this style of eating. Hunger can be a real issue, which in turn can lead to stress. Confining yourself to a specific way of eating for a short time can also lead you down a long road of yo-yo dieting, and some argue fasting can lead to disordered eating.
At the end of the day, my feelings on intermittent fasting boil down to a few questions: Is it going to be doable for you? Will it make healthy eating easier or harder for you? It’s a practice that requires regimented commitment that many people will find is too difficult to fit into their lifestyle, depending on their work hours, social life, and other factors. If you’re not super diligent, you won’t be able to reap the rewards.
If you do think it might work for you, make sure you’re still eating in a healthy way, AKA getting all of the proper nutrients from the calories you are consuming. Focusing on real, whole foods and skipping the junk will prevent nutrient deficiencies.
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