Trendy topics in wellness: A dietitian’s perspective
When it comes to wellness trends or the next big diet, it seems like there’s either a push to pick restrictive eating plans or more generalized ‘nutrition tips’ that may not be effective. Is the Mediterranean diet really the heart-healthy secret to living a healthier, stronger life? Does intermittent fasting really help you lose weight quick and keep it off? Do probiotics help out your digestive system?
Lisa Money, RDN, offered details on some common trendy topics in wellness and nutrition, and how to know if they’ll benefit you.
The Mediterranean diet: Rich in nutrients, low in added sugars and saturated fats.
“You’ll often see the Mediterranean diet suggested not just by those ‘trendy topics in wellness’ articles in magazines, but also by doctors and registered dietitians, too,” said Money. “A recent update on clinical trials showed the Mediterranean diet is still the best overall eating pattern towards lowering your risk of metabolic disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer.”
The Mediterranean diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins like fish and poultry and also whole grains, but it doesn’t feature much in the way of added sugars, beef or even salt. Those seeking out a lower-sodium diet who still want to enjoy eating flavorful foods often find the Mediterranean diet is a great option.
Money advised her patients to stick with research-based diets instead of trends and look towards combining the Mediterranean diet with healthy lifestyle changes such as getting enough sleep and time for rest, pursuing regular physical activity and staying connected to neighbors and friends.
Many South Carolina foods found in the Mediterranean diet are easy to adopt using locally available products like beets, sweet potatoes and collard greens. The positive effects on health are worth it.
Intermittent fasting: When you eat – and when you don’t
“Intermittent fasting, or IF, is a fairly recent addition to wellness trends,” said Money. “Based on religious fasting practices or how one might eat during times of scarcity, it’s sometimes suggested as a way to help obese adults or heart patients reduce their body weight or improve their LDL cholesterol.”
Generally, people following an intermittent fasting plan eat during a specific period of around 6 to 8 hours per day but don’t eat before or after that time. It doesn’t usually involve restricting the specific types of food you eat, just when you eat them.
There are three types of intermittent fasting plans:
- Alternate day fasting: Eating 1 meal a day for 3 days a week
- Whole day fasting: Eating only 25 % of calorie needs for 1-2 days a week, with no restriction the other days. Commonly known as 5:2
- Time-restricted fasting: Meals are eaten during a 6–8-hour window, with the person fasting the remainder of the day. Known as 16:8
IF’s recent popularity seems to be based around the idea that it is an easy way to help reduce overall caloric intake by 10%, causing the body to go into a slightly under-fed state. Proponents say this is helpful for individuals looking to lower body weight or improve health without feeling like they are restricting.
But what does a registered dietitian have to say?
“A systematic review of 40 studies on intermittent fasting showed that it simply wasn’t any more effective than traditional weight-loss methods and isn’t any easier to follow,” said Money. “There was no significant improvement in health markers like blood pressure, heart rate or fasting glucose. As a dietitian, I wouldn’t consider IF appropriate for everyone. Some groups, like the elderly or very young, could lose important lean body mass, and others may find it leads to overeating or an unhealthy fixation on food. It would be especially risky for those recovering from eating disorders like anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.”
Money noted that there could be a benefit to following intermittent fasting depending on individual patients, but research just isn’t clear enough to make it something highly recommended.
Probiotics and prebiotics: What are they and what do they do?
“Probiotics are a kind of bacteria found in fermented foods like yogurt or kefir, while prebiotics are found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables,” said Money. “Probiotics and prebiotics are considered ‘friendly,’ or good bacteria, as they help your body to break down the food you eat in order to get nutrients out of it.”
Probiotics have been topping the lists of recent trendy topics in wellness for a reason, as they are often helpful for those who take strong antibiotics or who are eating a very low-carbohydrate diet, as both those things may make it more difficult for the body to break down vitamins, enzymes and even medications.
In the case of antibiotics especially, a lack of good bacteria can make you more prone to bad bacteria lowering your immune system’s ability to fight back and leave you with bacterial infections requiring even more significant care.
“While a lot of companies are marketing their probiotic products as being a kind of superfood or miracle for weight loss or preventing infections, it’s not quite that simple,” said Money. “To begin with, the concept of a ‘superfood’ is just a marketing term, it isn’t something that is based on any kind of medical study or research. This doesn’t mean that probiotics aren’t important! They absolutely are. Most scientists agree that probiotics help your body make vitamin K, folate, biotin, vitamin B12, break down carbohydrates, ferment fibers and absorb calcium and iron.”
If you’re interested in eating more probiotics, yogurt, kefir, and pickles are all examples of fermented foods. Other examples include foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, kombucha, certain cheese and even sourdough bread. All offer easy ways to get these good bacteria into your diet.
Another option, if you’re not a fan of fermented foods, is to focus on a high-fiber diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which has been shown to improve the gut biome and help with overall health.
“Probiotic or prebiotic supplements are also available, and I would suggest that anyone interested in starting a probiotic should speak with their doctor or dietitian, especially if they’re taking medications that suppress their immune system,” said Money. These supplements are not inspected by the FDA, so you are always safer consuming actual food products listed above, rather than supplements.
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