Nutrition trends come and go and recent fads have included sprouted grains, low-sugar foods, full-fat dairy, coconut oil, sustainable diets and clean eating.
This can become quite confusing for individuals seeking to make healthy eating choices, especially when one bit of advice seemingly contradicts another. The following analysis of what’s popular in the world of nutrition will help you in your journey toward a healthier you.
Superfoods such as chia seeds, berries, quinoa and ginger usually contain high levels of particularly beneficial nutrients. Although these foods are nutritious, they should not be used as a quick fix to compensate for a diet full of processed foods. Superfoods tend to be fairly expensive but may save you money on medical expenses in the long term, if they’re included as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Be aware that a number of so-called “superfoods” lack strong scientific backing, with companies claiming an exaggerated nutrient content or health benefit. Superfoods are sometimes even promoted as having the ability to prevent or cure diseases such as cancer. However, there is no one magical food that can sustain us or prevent all health problems. The term “superfood” is often used as a marketing device, so do your own research on the product or talk to a nutrition expert such as a dietitian, who can help you identify false advertising and health claims.
Superfoods should not be a substitute for a healthy diet and lifestyle. Rather than choosing individual superfoods, aim for a “super diet” that contains a wide selection of different coloured fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seeds. By eating a variety of these nutrient-dense foods, your body will get the nutrients it needs for good health.
All wholegrains could be considered “ancient,” since their origins can be traced back to the time when God created the world. However, the term “ancient grains” tends to refer to grains that have remained largely unchanged over the past several hundred years. Modern wheat, for example, would not be considered an ancient grain, while spelt would be.
Other examples of ancient grains include quinoa, amaranth, wild rice, teff (a tiny grain the size of a poppy seed) and millet. Some of the main nutrients in these grains include protein, complex carbohydrates, dietary fibre, B-complex vitamins, iron, calcium and zinc.
This trend is worth embracing, because a variety of grains will give you a range of nutrients as well as provide you with different flavours and textures. Many products are available today that list wholegrains as part of their ingredient list. However, keep in mind that the terms wholegrain and ancient grains are sometimes used to simply market a product, so check the labels before filling your shopping cart with them. When choosing products, consider the percentage of wholegrains they contain (as recorded on the ingredients list) and especially check the sugar, fat and salt content on the nutritional panel. This is particularly important when looking at processed foods such as cereals, crackers and granola bars. Choose wholegrain pasta and bread, use wholegrain flours when baking, and try to in-corporate cooked wholegrains into your meals on a regular basis.
Smoothies are a quick and convenient way to top up your fruits and vegetables. Depending on the ingredients, smoothies can vary in their fat, protein, carbohydrate, vitamin and mineral content. As with juicing, it’s easy to get too much of some nutrients or too little of others when consuming a mostly liquid diet in contrast to a diet that consists mostly of solid foods. Nutrient deficiencies may also result if individuals rely solely on smoothies for an extended period of time.
A diet that consists mainly or only of smoothies is also unlikely to be as satisfying as a diet that includes solid foods. This is partly due to the fact that solid foods take longer to eat, especially if you take the time to chew properly. The chewing process allows time for your brain to receive the message from your stomach telling it that you’re full. Therefore, eating solid foods is an important part of feeling full and it also contributes to mental and emotional wellbeing. A diet mainly based on smoothies is not helpful for promoting long-term dietary satisfaction—it can quickly become boring and may take the joy out of meal times!
Smoothies are a good option to incorporate into a healthy eating plan, but they aren’t recommended as the only kind of long-term dietary solution. When making smoothies, experiment using a variety of whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, seeds or oats, and avoid or limit high sugar and fat additions such as ice-cream, cream, sugar or honey.
From a nutritional standpoint, both organic and conventionally grown foods can be a part of a healthy, balanced diet. It’s a personal choice whether to purchase organic foods, be it for the environmental benefits, to reduce the use of chemicals or taste preferences. And not everyone has access to or can afford organically grown fruits and vegetables. Whenever possible, try to grow your own. This allows you to avoid or limit the use of chemicals and it encourages you to spend more time outdoors and lead a more active lifestyle.
The nutritional concerns in our society tend to be derived mostly from not eating enough whole, plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seeds) and too many processed foods and animal products. So an emphasis needs to be placed on eating adequate amounts of unprocessed, plant-based foods, whether organically or conventionally grown.
Eating clean means eating whole foods in their most natural state and limiting anything that has been processed.
Although the term clean eating is relatively new, the principles of this way of eating are not. It encourages people to read labels and look for foods that are low in sugar, fat and salt. It promotes drinking plenty of water and avoiding high-energy drinks such as juices and soft drinks. The principles of clean eating also encourage people to be more active and to reduce their carbon footprint by eating produce that’s seasonal and local. It involves not rushing meals and encourages families to sit and eat together.
Individuals would benefit from implementing most of the principles promoted by clean eating. However, not all foods that are considered “clean” should be consumed in abundance or on a regular basis. For example, “clean sugars,” which include raw honey, maple syrup, date sugar and evaporated sugar cane juice, should be treated like any other sugars, and thus should be used sparingly, because they’re high in energy (kilojoules) and relatively low in other nutrients.
Part of a healthy lifestyle
Making lifestyle changes is never easy, but taking the right steps can help set you up for a healthy and happy life while saving unnecessary expense, stress and diet “flip flopping.”
A healthy eating plan is supported by all other areas of a healthy lifestyle, including regular physical activity, drinking plenty of water, abstaining from harmful substances (including alcohol and caffeinated beverages such as energy drinks, tea and coffee), exercise, rest, getting plenty of fresh air and adequate sunlight, and trusting in God, who created and sustains us.
As you come across different dietary trends, take a step back and objectively evaluate the food or diet to see whether it’s a fad and whether it’s worth pursuing. Work on making changes to your lifestyle as a whole rather than just changing what you eat.
Spotting a fad
Typically a fad diet may have some or all of the following characteristics:
- It excludes or severely restricts certain foods, food groups or nutrients, such as carbohydrates.
- It promotes a one-size-fits-all approach.
- It promises a quick fix, even a miraculous result.
- It focuses on short-term changes to eating and exercise habits rather than long-term changes.
- It encourages purchasing miracle pills or supplements, often expensive, such as those advertised as “fat burners” or “metabolism boosters.”
- It makes claims based on a single study or purely on testimonials.
- It implies that food can change body chemistry.
- It has rigid rules that focus on weight loss.
Meal ideas using wholegrains
- Try quinoa salad.
- Add leftover cooked grains to patties.
- Use brown rice instead of white rice.
- Serve any type of grain with curry or stir-fry.
- Add barley or brown rice to a soup or casserole.
- Try creamed quinoa instead of creamed rice.
- Add cooked grains to smoothies.
- Serve cooked grains (such as millet or quinoa) with milk and fruit.