In recent times, deciding on what to eat has grown increasingly confusing as the field of nutrition has become saturated with self-proclaimed nutrition ‘experts’ and ‘gurus’. A mountain of healthy eating advice is freely available at a single click. However, this advice should be approached with a degree of caution….just because it is printed, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is good advice! Almost every day there is a new article that promises to transform how and what we eat. It can be extremely challenging to make sense of all of this emerging information and to figure out what is fact and what is fad. Let’s take a closer look at a couple of the most common and confusing pieces of information that is out there.
Superfoods….are they really as super as we think?
The term ‘superfood’ has become a popular buzzword recently with nutrition ‘experts’ raving about the magical powers of foods such as quinoa, acai and blueberries that promise to protect us against heart disease and cancers, help us to lose weight and boost our immune system. Are these foods really as super as they are claimed to be or are we swallowing another food fad? The truth is that ‘superfoods’ is a term that has been mostly adopted by manufacturers and retailers as a clever marketing ploy.
Nutritionists, dietitians and scientists have been very vocal about trying to debunk the mystery surrounding many so-called ‘superfoods’. The reality is that most of the so called ‘superfoods’ are good for you but only when they are incorporated as part of a balanced diet. Some every day ordinary foods including wholegrains, fruit and vegetables, beans and lentils and low fat dairy all have powerful nutritional properties that often get overlooked. For example, fruit and vegetables are a rich source of vitamins and minerals which can boost our immune systems and wholegrains are the best type of fuel for our bodies as they provide a slow release of energy and are rich sources of protein and fibre. To ensure that we are consuming a balanced nutrient intake, we need to increase the variety of nutritious foods in our diets rather than focusing solely on a handful of foods that are marketed as ‘super’. The bottom line is that while superfoods are good for you, their benefits do not outweigh the benefits that can be derived from a varied and well-balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.
What is the deal with detox diets?
Another marketing strategy often used by manufacturers and retailers to create confusion is the promise of helping you to rid your body of ‘toxins’, slow down the ageing process or transform your body shape in a matter of days through a ‘miracle’ detox or cleanse. These detoxes and cleanses are incredibly restrictive and often only permit the consumption of ‘detoxifying’ drinks/shakes while excluding any type of whole foods. The majority of these detoxes have absolutely no scientific basis and result in people unnecessarily avoiding nutritious foods while they are under the impression that they are making the healthier choice. In a similar vein, it has become a trend to cleanse your body of gluten and to cut out carbs. These trends are completely unsupported by medical advice, unless a person has a gluten intolerance, gluten does not have a negative impact on the body. Furthermore, while cutting out carbs will result in weight loss, what is actually being lost is glucose energy, not fat stores. This type of loss is unsustainable and any weight lost is likely to be quickly regained. Nutritionists and dietitians strongly recommend avoiding the ‘all or nothing’ approach used in cleanses and detoxes and do not recommend cutting out a whole food group or nutrient unless there is a medical reason.
Time and time again, scientific research has shown that the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet and the Mediterranean diet can both help in improving overall heart health and reduce the risk of developing some cancers. These diets are great examples of how consuming a well-balanced diet can improve overall health. Both diets are rich in fruit and vegetables, nuts, beans and seeds and heart healthy fats, low fat dairy products, wholegrains and moderate amounts of lean meat, fish and poultry. Ultimately, it is safe to say that there are no magical superfoods or fast fixes when it comes to optimising nutrition, the key is to eat a varied and well-balanced diet!