As 2015 comes to a close, let us remember all of the diet fads that have graced our lives…and now we can put to rest. These eating trends offered some hip excitement, providing fodder for water cooler banter and giving more job security to nutritionists and personal trainers. Yet they have as little longevity as a Snapchat photo and as weak science as a member of the Flat Earth Society. It’s best to let these fizzle out with the corked champagne:
From the very serious reality of Celiac Disease came a celebrity-inspired revolution that has relabeled everything from Cheerios boxes to vanilla ice cream. Perhaps we shouldn’t be taking nutrition advice from Gwyneth Paltrow?
“Gluten-free” labeled foods are often loaded with more salt, fat, and refined carbohydrates than traditional versions. Studies have shown gluten-free diets offer no advantage in long-term weight-loss and might even cause weight gain. Other side effects can include less healthy gut bacteria. Often by cutting gluten, we cut out fiber, one of the healthy nutrients your body uses to clean itself. The mass-marketing of gluten-free apple pie and donuts has distracted our basic need to eat whole, unprocessed foods. We’ve lost sight of naturally gluten-free foods like bean, lentils, rice, potatoes, and oats in favor of labels promising us health.
The real sufferers of this fad are those with Celiac Disease. Someone with a true gluten allergy can suffer from stomach pain, diarrhea, joint aches, fatigue, and skin rashes. There are no medications or surgeries available to treat Celiac so the only solution is a gluten-free diet. While a gluten-free menu might suffice for a diner dabbling in the diet, a Celiac-safe kitchen requires intensely stricter sanitation to avoid any chance of cross-contamination.
2) Coconut Oil
Ounce for ounce, coconut oil has more saturated fat than bacon or butter. It’s plant-based, which means it often becomes the favored fat for vegans seeking rich flavor, but that doesn’t make it healthy. In fact, 92% of the fat in coconut oil is saturated. That is MORE saturated fat than beef lard, butter, and even bacon. Saturated fat is responsible for raising your LDL cholesterol and clogging arteries. Any claims on weight loss, longevity, or Alzheimer’s lack scientific data to back it up. Plus, at $10-$16 per pound, it’s expensive.
Still got some in your cabinet you don’t want to toss? Mix with cane sugar to make a moisturizing face scrub. Just keep it for external use only.
3) Juice Cleanse
This oxymoronic phrase highlights just how little we understand about the body. The body does a great job of naturally detoxifying itself. Organs like the liver and kidneys function to continuously flush out toxins. Fiber also helps cleanse the body and regulate blood sugar. Fiber is like a big scrubby sponge, lapping away at the walls of your large intestine to wipe out gunk as it makes its way out of your body.
Juice is pure sugar water, without any fiber. Fruits and vegetables are stripped of their scrubby sponges, leaving you with an energy spike that then leads to an energy crash. Rather than the massaging rhythm of a cleansing whirlpool, you have a super-slick water slide that gives you a short, fun ride…and then leaves you with a long, lethargic hike back up the stairs to the top.
Rather than a juice cleanse, just eat whole fruits and vegetables. Make soups, blend smoothies, or just dice up a pineapple. You don’t need to buy a $200 juicer. Just eat an apple.
4) Glass of Wine a Day
There is strong correlation that suggests even one glass of alcohol increases your risk of breast cancer, liver cancer, and colorectal cancer.
Alcohol is a toxin. Toxins destroy your body. They cause free radicals, which can lead to cancer.
Alcohol inhibits the protective qualities of folic acid, which inhibits your body’s ability to fight cancer.
Alcohol can impair the absorption of other nutrients. It causes poor decision-making, spikes your blood glucose level, and dehydrates you. It is empty sugar calories.
While we want to believe it’s good for us because it’s a Dionysian treat, it is NOT a health food. Save it for the bacchanal.
I have written about the harms of a strictly Paleo diet, particularly when it comes to raising your risk of heart disease. Paleo diets tend to remove fiber-rich plant foods like whole grains in place of fatty animal proteins like salmon and beef. There is little science to support any benefit of adopting a Paleo diet. In fact, there is 14 years and 1.45 million participants who will point to its harmfulness.
6) “Clean” Eating
I’ve heard this more recently, as someone will tell me they eat “cleanly”. They’ll often go on to talk about grass-fed meats, wild caught salmon, and organic blueberries. Clean eating also focuses on eliminating processed foods banning any packaged foods with more than two ingredients on the label. Advocates encourage eating local, drinking plenty of water, and slowly down to savor your meals.
As a chef, this sound like a delicious way to eat. I agree that we should all be more aware of where our foods come from, avoid processed foods, and take the time to enjoy dinner. However, items still on the “clean” list include skim milk, cheese and yogurt. Anyone who has seen a dairy cow at work knows there is nothing “clean” about milking an udder. The same goes for butchering a steer or catching and fileting a salmon. To that fact, organic potatoes and mushrooms are usually covered in dirt.
At the end of the day, there are the same number of calories per pound in a grass-fed burger as a conventional burger. While eating “clean” can be beneficial in reducing the amount of processed and packaged foods we consume, it can be expensive and difficult to follow for anyone eating out.
On a personal note, I don’t particularly like the connotation that my meal may be “dirtier” or “cleaner” than yours. Food should bring us together, rather than divide our tables.
Let us lay these diet fads to rest. Let us employ the Common Sense Diet for a healthy, sustainable life:
More whole-grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils.
Less refined flours, sugars, and oils.
Drink water when you’re thirsty.
Get sleep when you’re tired.
Stay active and exercise.
For some listening fun, please check out the On the Media podcast from 12/25. Listening to food scientists dig at pop culture food claims provided great inspiration for this post.
University of Wisconsin Health: The Reality Behind Gluten-Free Diets, http://www.uwhealth.org/nutrition-diet/the-reality-behind-gluten-free-diets/31084.
Nutrition Action Health Letter: Coconut Oil: Lose weight? Cure Alzheimer's? Clog your arteries? by BY DAVID SCHARDT, June 2012. http://www.cspinet.org/nah/articles/coconut-oil.html
Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa: Is Coconut Oil Bad For You? By Eugenia Killoran, https://www.pritikin.com/your-health/healthy-living/eating-right/1790-is-coconut-oil-bad-for-you.html
The Nourished Life: 15 Coconut Oil for Skincare Recipes, http://www.livingthenourishedlife.com/2013/04/coconut-oil-skin-recipes
Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine: Ask the Expert: Alcohol, http://www.pcrm.org/health/cancer-resources/ask/ask-the-expert-alcohol
Plants-Rule: Low-Carb, High-Animal Protein (“Paleo”) Diet Increases Your Risk of Heart Disease: Truth in Numbers by Katie Simmons, http://www.plants-rule.com/blog/low-carb-high-animal-protein-paleo-diet-increases-your-risk-of-heart-disease-truth-in-numbers
Clean Eating Magazine: What is Clean Eating? http://www.cleaneatingmag.com/food-health/food-and-health-news/what-is-clean-eating/
Cooking Light: Seven Principles of Clean Eating, http://www.cookinglight.com/eating-smart/smart-choices/clean-eating
WebMD: The Eat-Clean Diet Review, by Wendy Lee, Reviewed by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on December 11, 2013. http://www.webmd.com/diet/a-z/eat-clean-diet