Nutrition and wellness are funny things.
There’s always a push to be healthier, faster, in more extreme ways. And I think that a lot of the time, we get in our own way when we try to achieve those goals.
Look. Compared to years past, we have a lot of health information available to us, and our understanding of the human body is a lot more robust that it has ever been. But that doesn’t mean that everything we read or do around our health and nutrition is going to be a good idea.
More information, especially if it’s not from the best sources or thoroughly vetted, isn’t always better. In fact the confusion and anxiety that some of these trends and ‘discoveries’ contribute to our lives can make us less healthy. That being said, some people may find them helpful, but most of us?
We can skip them.
Here are 4 nutrition trends to ignore, and 2 to keep:
Wearing a CGM if you aren’t diabetic.
Why. Seriously, just why.
With an estimated 8.7% of the US population diagnosed as diabetic, and 10.8% diagnosed as pre-diabetic, elevated blood sugars are definitely a problem.
But does that mean you need to wear a CGM if your sugars are normal?
If you’re not diabetic, and you have no issues with blood sugar, you do NOT need to micromanage your blood glucose with a continuous glucose monitor.
Blood sugar goes up and down throughout the day, which is normal. There is no value in watching it this closely if you don’t have pre-diabetes or diabetes. Regular blood tests can give you the information you need, on a larger scale.
Are you really that interested in seeing if raspberries make you sugars spike 2 points more than an apple? Or if your latte raises your sugars more than black coffee?
Yes, eating any carbs will make your blood sugars rise.
Yes, eating more refined carbs, especially on their own, will make your blood sugars rise faster.
Yes, less processed carbs will still cause your glucose to rise, but not as quickly.
And yes, ALL OF THIS IS NORMAL.
What is the expected outcome of having this information on a minute-to-minute basis, really? Are you going to change your diet to what you probably should have been eating in the first place (see below)?
The nutrition trend of drilling-down food to numbers doesn’t really help us all that much. It can make eating a lot more complicated than it has to be, and distracts us from our natural cues.
There is variability in how each of us responds to carbohydrates in our diet, but that isn’t a bad thing. One other thing to consider, besides how high your blood sugars go after a meal, is how long they take to come down to normal. Unless you really need to track all of this stuff, it’s a heck of a lot of data to collect in the name of ‘wellness.’
How about your mental health? How does ‘hacking’ everything affect that?
Blood sugars, for most healthy people, can be kept in check by following these rules:
Eat fewer refined carbs.
Eat more minimally processed ones.
Eat all carbs with a source of fat and/or protein.
Don’t bother yourself with which foods cause a minimal rise in glucose over others. That sort of stuff doesn’t change your health.
Looking at your blood sugars going up and down all day long might be interesting, but for most people, it’s not that helpful in the long run.
I also have to mention the scores of diabetics who have complained to me, in comments and via DM, about the privilege of CGM using ‘biohackers.’ Not only are these people using essential supplies that they don’t need; they’re also obnoxiously promoting the use of a life-saving device in people who don’t need it.
Taking greens powders.
Greens powders like Athletic Greens are usually sold as a way to ‘top up’ your intake of greens while ‘alkalizing’ your body, detoxing heavy metals, and calming inflammation.
Inflammation is such a buzzword, I wish people would just stop with it already. Regardless, there isn’t a lot of human research supporting supplemental antioxidants for improved health.
It’s not like there’s anything particularly wrong with greens powders, but they aren’t the magical food that they’re marketed as. My issue with this nutrition trend is more with the marketing behind greens powders than with the powders themselves.
First off, greens powders don’t replace whole fruits and vegetables. If you see any company advertising their product as giving you ‘X servings of fruit and vegetables,’ it’s a RED FLAG. Nothing gives you ‘X servings of fruits and vegetables’….except for fruits and vegetables.
You know what’s also great for our bodies? Fibre. And greens powders don’t have any of that. That’s one reason why it’s important to consume whole fruits and vegetables instead of relying on powders and supplements to do the job.
As far as the ‘alkalizing’ claim, I’ve written about alkaline diets and ‘alkalizing’ foods a lot, but just in case you haven’t read any of that, here’s the TL;DR: our bodies tightly control their pH using our lungs and kidneys. If we can alkalize ourselves with food, that would then mean that theoretically, we can also acidify ourselves.
This is a common belief among alkaline diet proponents. But they’re wrong: if this was even remotely possible, we’d all be dead by now. It’s just basic physiology.
The pH of a normal body is between 7.35 to 7.45. Any deviation from those numbers is serious business: it will land you in the hospital for life-saving medical treatment, none of which is an alkaline diet.
Greens powders do contain antioxidants, which is potentially a good thing. It’s important to remember though that being healthy doesn’t involve the consumption of as many antioxidants as possible via supplements. You can have too many supplemental antioxidants, which in turn may lead to health problems. More isn’t always better.
Health is a global thing: diet is a piece of the puzzle, but there are many, many more. Greens powders won’t rescue you from a diet that’s sub-par, and they certainly don’t ‘detox’ you in any way.
I find it amusing that a lot of companies and influencers make a big deal about promoting whole foods and demonizing any foods that are processed, then turn around and sell nutrition powders and supplements.
That makes zero sense.
Gut health for weight loss
Also: Talking about ‘sensitivities’ and the selling of elimination diets
Every single nutrition MLM has suddenly come out with a new ‘gut health’ supplement, and of course, there’s the new Beachbody Gut Health Protocol, which I wrote about here.
‘Hacking’ our gut to lose weight is the new thing. And although gut health and weight are probably linked, here’s what we don’t know:
- What the optimal microbiome looks like for each individual.
- Which gut bacteria help with weight loss.
- What exactly we need to eat to get the correct balance of those bacteria.
Those three things are pretty important, and without knowing them, anything we do in relation to gut health and weight is basically a shot in the dark. It’s simple: the research just isn’t there yet. We’ll get there someday, but today isn’t that day.
Add that to the fact that there’s a lot of noise around ‘food sensitivities’ and elimination diets, and gut health has become really lucrative for a lot of people who want to sell nutrition programs.
‘Food sensitivity’ isn’t a real medical diagnosis, and is often used by alternative practitioners to diagnose vague symptoms. Immunologists recognize food intolerances, which are GI-mediated, and food allergies, which are mediated by the immune system.
It’s a red flag when someone starts talking about food sensitivities, food sensitivity testing (which isn’t valid – see my review of Everlywell test kits here), and half hazard ‘elimination diets’ that aren’t supervised by someone with a legitimate qualification *ahem* Beachbody coaches *ahem*
Gut health is important, but ‘hacking’ it isn’t necessary. The bottom line is this: eating a varied diet that’s full of plants is probably the single most helpful thing you can do for your gut. It may not result in weight loss, but you’ll still be ahead of the game.
Sh*tting on seed oils
You can’t go anywhere on social media right now without running into a keto/low carb/whoever person talking about the dangers of seed oils.
Seed oils, which include canola (also, GMOs! Hexane! OMG!), sunflower, corn, and soybean, have taken a lot of criticism lately, which I get…mostly because there are a lot of people who don’t understand science or are biased in some way.
Somehow, those people have large audiences who take what they say as truth. That’s unfortunate.
Let’s take this point by point:
GMOs have never been shown to be harmful to human health. I wrote in-depth about organic vs conventional food here.
Hexane is a chemical that’s used in the processing of some oils, but by the time the oil is in the store, the amount of hexane that remains in it is almost nonexistent. The dose makes the poison.
Still, a lot of people hear ‘chemicals!’ and they have a knee-jerk reaction.
You all know that everything is made up of chemicals, right?
Lastly, there’s the inflammation thing. According to self-proclaimed ‘experts’ on Twitter, seed oils contain a lot of omega-6 fats, which promote inflammation. Er, except they don’t.
In fact, human trials show that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated ones (aka seed oils) appears to reduce inflammatory markers.
Would you believe me if I told you that there is no convincing human evidence that supports the thinking that omega-6 are inflammatory?
It’s true: there exists no such studies. Alan Flanagan of Alinea Nutrition has laid out all of the research in his Instagram highlights, and Food Science Babe has posted a lot about it as well. Both are trustworthy and excellent sources for nutrition content.
It’s funny how we don’t want to talk about the overconsumption of ultra-processed foods that contain seed oils; we just want to spit out a blanket statement that ALL SEED OILS ARE BAD and draw the conclusion that rising rates of disease are due to seed oils alone.
Everyone is different, but to say that nobody should be eating seed oils for these reasons, is really irresponsible. It’s also elitist, because seed oils are inexpensive. The same people who recommend avoiding seed oils often tell people to eat grass-fed meat and organic produce, too.
These things are also not necessary for good health, but the recommendation falls within the narrative that only certain foods – expensive, niche ones – are healthy, and everything else is ‘toxic.’
You know what’s really toxic? Being constantly anxious about what you’re eating because you’re getting bad nutrition advice from some bro dude or quack doctor on the internet.
Eat a variety of oils (except for trans fats, those will always be unhealthy).
Don’t listen to people who employ fear mongering tactics about food to further their agendas.
I wrote more about seed oils here.
Keep these nutrition habits:
Getting these habits down before making any changes to your diet
Let’s all take a step back from nutrition ‘hacks’ and the latest weight loss fads, and FOCUS on the following nutrition habits:
Getting enough plants – at least two large handfuls, twice or more a day.
Eating fewer ultra-processed foods.
Eating plenty of fibre-rich grains and fruits and vegetables.
Making sure each of your meals has around 25 grams of protein (how much protein do you need? I wrote about it here).
Cooking more and eating fewer restaurant meals.
Being consistent, whatever that means for YOU.
Aside from diet, if you’re interested in overall wellness, here are some basics to focus on that give big payoffs:
Move towards a place where body size isn’t the end game
As a culture, we’ve gotten lost in the thinking that losing X amount of pounds, and looking a certain way, is the only way to health and happiness. Now, we’re having trouble getting ourselves unstuck from it.
Here’s a few thoughts:
- Nobody cares what size pants you wear. People are (or should be) more interested in what kind of a person you are. If someone cares more about your weight than who you are, they’re not worth your time anyhow.
- I support weight loss, but I don’t and never will support weight loss that comes from strict diets, punishing regimens, and a laser-focus on weight, with success being measured in pounds lost. All of these can further damage your relationship with food and your body, and are mostly unsustainable.
- Figuring out your ‘why’ and negative core beliefs is the number one step to changing your thought process around eating, weight, and your body. You can get started with this post, Three Checks to do Before You Lose Weight.