Nutrition Hot Topics
Dangerous Detox Diets
When it comes to detox diets, there is no set-in-stone regimen that has to be followed—everyone seems to have a different opinion of what a detox diet includes, or in most cases, does not include since they can be so limiting. But, a general definition of a detox diet is a dietary regimen that involves a change in consumption in an attempt to detoxify the body by removing toxins and contaminants. Typically, a detox diet starts with a fasting period followed by a diet limited to raw vegetables, fruits, and water. The scarier part of some detox diet plans is that people suggest using herbal laxatives and colon cleansers to help “clean” the intestine and liver. This regimen can last anywhere from 7-10 days.
One of the many great things about the human body is that it automatically removes toxins that may be ingested; our kidneys and liver do a superb job of efficiently and effectively ridding our bodies of toxins. There is no evidence that supports the idea that detox diets help with the removal of toxins.
A detox diet that severely restricts calories can have serious negative side effects such as anemia, low blood sugars, and irregular heartbeats. So if you’re looking to “cleanse” your body, choose a diet based more on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, healthy unsaturated fats (found in avocados, olive oil, and nuts), and good ‘ol H20. Limit alcohol and aim for regular physical activity, and you have a great foundation for health.
Caution: Fad Diets!
Here are some key words you should be wary of to help you avoid the fad diets that won’t do you any good in the long run.
- Rapid Weight Loss: If a diet plan states that you will lose weight in no time, run away! Weight loss should be gradual to ensure lasting results. Quick weight loss indicates that you have lost muscle, bone mass, and water weight, which is not the goal of weight loss. And, you’re more likely to regain the weight if you lose it too rapidly.
- Rigid Menu: A diet that suggests you follow a rigid meal plan is not practical. Ask yourself, “Can I eat this way for the rest of my life?” If you don’t think you could, then why bother with it short term? Diets that suggest you eat an unlimited amount of a certain food (like grapefruit or cabbage), are probably not plans you will follow forever, at least we hope not. The same goes for diets that severely restrict entire food groups (like carbohydrates, Dr. Atkins). By eliminating food groups from your diet, you eliminate essential vitamins and minerals, which can’t even be compensated for by taking a multivitamin. It is best to get all of your nutrients from a variety of foods.
- No Need for Exercise: It doesn’t matter how great your diet is, physical activity is essential for optimal health and weight management. It is recommended that most adults aim for 30-60 minutes of physical activity five days a week. Find activities you enjoy doing to make exercise fun! If you need some structure to your exercise plan, talk with a personal trainer or Registered Dietitian to get a realistic, personalized plan.
Superfoods- Worth your time or Waste of money?
Superfoods have been a hot topic lately as Americans become more focused on improving the healthfulness of their diet. But what are superfoods and how can you make sure you’re not wasting money on bogus prodcuts? Read on and you’ll learn what the true superfoods are and how to avoid the products making empty promises of improving your health.
Superfoods are thought to have more health benefits than other types of food because they have high amounts of one or more beneficial components, such as antioxidants. But, as of now, there is no appropriate labeling system to help consumers distinguish between foods that are nutrient rich due to fortification during processing (like fortified cereals) and foods that are naturally nutrient rich (such as whole grain foods). The other problem with highly processed superfoods is that they are often high in added sugars, saturated fat, or sodium.
So what do you do? Instead of focusing on eating a few superfoods, try eating a “super diet”. According to the International Food Information Council (IFIC), certain foods are frequently mentioned as having important health benefits, including:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Low-fat dairy products
- Whole grains
- Oatmeal/oat bran
- Green tea
By working these foods into your daily diet, you will have a “super diet” full of natural, minimally-processed superfoods that will provide the most benefits to your health.
American Dietetic Association, Hot Topics: Superfoods
Prebiotics and Probiotics—Bacteria that’s good for you!
Bacteria usually seem like a bad thing, but in the case of prebiotics and probiotics, bacteria is good for you! There has been a lot of discussion recently about the importance of prebiotics and probiotics in the diet, but there’s not always a good description of the difference between the two.
Prebiotics are sometimes referred to as “fermentable fiber” and because they are undigestible nutrients. In even simpler terms, prebiotics are the food source for probiotics. Pre- and probiotics work as a team to keep your gut functioning at its very best! Prebiotics occur naturally in a variety of foods such as fruits (bananas & berries), vegetables (leafy greens, onions,& artichokes), and grains (barley, wheat, & oatmeal). Prebiotics can also be found in dairy products and other processed foods.
Probiotics are live bacteria cultures that help create or change the bacteria in the intestines. When you purchase yogurt at the store that contains Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, you are purchasing live bacteria cultures. Other fermented dairy foods, such as kefir (a drinkable yogurt), that contain the same cultures. Research has suggested that these probiotic cultures may help keep the immune system healthy by maintaining the “good” bacteria in your gut and also help with digestion.
So to get more of the beneficial bacteria in your diet, try eating yogurt or other fermented dairy products with both prebiotics and probiotics (also known as live, active cultures), and fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Don’t go overboard right away though, because in some cases prebiotics can cause gas…so add these foods one day at a time. And remember, it’s best to these nutrients from food sources rather than dietary or herbal supplements.
There’s another “functional” beverage on the market…relaxation beverages. So if you have too many energy drinks during the day, now you can just pick up a relaxation beverage to counteract all of that caffeine with melatonin, kava root, and other herbs. NOT!
A word of caution: There has not been any clinical testing of these products so the side effects are unknown. Kava root should be used with caution, especially for people at risk for liver problems. Melatonin is actually not approved as a food additive by the Food and Drug Administration. To get around this, these beverages companies are referring to the relaxation drinks as dietary supplements instead. Clever, eh?
So what’s your safest bet to relieve stress and wind down at the end of the day? First, avoid drinking energy drinks that will keep you hopped up on caffeine. Some energy drinks contain three times the amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee. If you’re feeling stressed, try to identify the issue and deal with it accordingly, not with a quick fix like a beverage. Try doing some exercise to help relieve stress. Not only will you get the health benefits associated with exercise, you’ll also develop a more regular sleep pattern for your body. You can also try doing other activities that are unrelated to whatever may be causing you stress. Sometimes it helps to just step away for awhile, and come back when your mind has had a breather. If you’d like a semi-quick fix for stress relief, choose an herbal tea, like chamomile, before bedtime. It’s a safer choice of beverages if you need something to help wind you down. As with all things, there are no magic potions or quick fixes, so addressing lifestyle will provide the best results in the long run.
Nutrition Hot Topics compiled and written by Vanderbilt University Medical Center Dietetic Interns Karman Meyer and Amanda Miller