HUMANS are hardwired for gimmicks. From clean eating to coconut yoghurt to spirulina (did we mention clean eating?) we are bombarded with a host of health trends promising to make us feel better, our waistline trimmer, or live longer.
But are these trends worth the fuss?
SPIRULINA — THUMBS DOWN
Granted, it does have three times more protein than red meat and is a plant source of vitamin B12 (bonus for vegans), a typical serving size of this blue-green algae extract is only 3g — a tiny amount that won’t contribute greatly to your nutrient intake.
Additionally, some would question whether the B12 found in spirulina can interfere with the absorption of the active form of this vitamin, so the result of sprinkling this powder into your smoothies may ultimately make your B12 levels worse.
Verdict: For $20 or more per 100g packet, surely you would be better off buying other plant sources of protein, like nuts, legumes and whole grains, which have more protein (and vitamins and minerals) in smaller quantities of food that won’t send you broke.
COCONUT YOGHURT — THUMBS DOWN
Thanks to social media, coconuts are in and dairy is out. But unless you have a medically diagnosed lactose intolerance, there is no real advantage to eating coconut-based products instead.
Just like coconut cream and milk, coconut yoghurt is high in saturated fat. Compared to natural or Greek yoghurt, it also has very little bone-strengthening calcium and is low in protein — which is what you want for a satisfying snack.
Verdict: With triple the amount of saturated fat (compared to full fat dairy) and minimal protein and calcium, coconut yoghurt is not as healthy as it seems. Ensure portion control and limit servings.
CHIA SEEDS — THUMBS UP
These tiny seeds (like no other seed) provide a useful amount of iron, magnesium and calcium, and are a rich source of omega-3 fats, important for heart health and brain function (although there’s question as to whether the omega-3 in chia are readily used by the body compared to that found in fish).
The outstanding fibre content is higher than that of flaxseeds (linseed) or sesame seeds which can help lower cholesterol, control blood sugar and insulin levels and suppress the appetite to promote weight loss.
What’s more, their neutral flavour means they won’t alter the taste, making them a perfect addition to just about any foods like yoghurt, muesli or homemade muffins for an added nutrition boost.
Verdict: for such a small serving, chia has impressive nutrition credentials so worth the hype (and expensive price tag).
EAT CLEAN MOVEMENT — THUMBS DOWN
Clean Eating (with its equally popular social-media moniker #eatclean) is an ubiquitous phrase returning over 34 million results on Instagram. But does anyone know what this actually means? No.
Should you be concerned that your hashtag-free food is actually dirty or “unclean”? The reality is that while ‘eating clean’ may sound like something we should be aiming for, it’s a concept devoid of any scientific meaning.
To “eat clean” also assumes a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition and add too much focus on what people shouldn’t be eating (as with any fad diet) — an implication of which can create an unhealthy relationship with food.
Verdict: While there’s nothing wrong with striving to eat healthy (whether that includes “sugar free”, “wheat free”, “dairy free”, “gluten free”, “fructose free”, or “grain free”), the problem is when it’s taken too far, can lead to a more clinical problem, such as an eating disorders or anxiety.
Kathleen Alleaume is a nutritionist and founder of The Right Balance.
Originally published as The diets that need a reality check