Hype vs. fact: The reality behind 2019’s most popular nutrition trends
Are eggs good or bad for you? Are plant-based meats healthier than meat? Or can one ingredient really make you lose weight? With the constant stream of nutrition and diet stories hitting the news, sometimes it’s hard to know what’s hype and what’s real.
To help you cut through all the noise, Sean Hashmi, MD, physician and regional director of weight management and clinical nutrition for Kaiser Permanente Southern California, shares insights on some of 2019’s most talked about nutrition trends.
Trend: Plant-based meats are popping up everywhere. They’re now available in restaurants, fast food chains, and grocery stores. So, what is it? Plant-based meats are made from plants but are meant to taste (and look) like meat. They’re targeted at meat-eaters — not just vegetarians — and positioned as a way to eat less meat and help the environment.
The facts: Meatless meats are high in salt and saturated fat. “Plant-based meats have almost 4 times the salt as beef does, and essentially the same amount of saturated fat as you would find in beef,” says Dr. Hashmi. “It’s also a highly processed food where chemicals are used to extract the protein, which is a huge concern.” These fake meats aren’t a good nutrient source. Meatless meat lacks the fiber you would get from simply eating real plants.
Verdict: Pass on the plant-based meats. “I wouldn’t jump on this bandwagon,” Dr. Hashmi says. If you want to eat less meat, he suggests eating plant-based whole foods like vegetables, fruits, and legumes. Plus, there’s no data on the long-term effects of these artificial meats — and there won’t be any useful data for another 4 to 5 years.
Trend: There’s been a lot of talk in the media this year that eggs are bad for you. It all started with the release of a study published in the March 15 issue of JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association) that said eggs are bad for your heart. The researchers found that the dietary cholesterol in eggs is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and early death.
The facts: Many people in the science and medical communities took issue with the methods and data used in this highly publicized study. “One of the biggest issues with this study is that they only asked participants what they eat one time during the 17-year study,” explains Dr. Hashmi. Over the course of 17 years, it’s likely that eating habits changed for the participants. So only asking them once about eggs is not conclusive. In addition, he says, the researchers didn’t look at other health factors like exercise, sleep, or diet. Maybe it was another health factor, like the amount of red meat the person was eating, not the amount of eggs, that affected their heart health.
Verdict: Eggs are still a hotly debated food in nutrition circles. That’s because there’s research showing they’re both good and bad for you. But you don’t have to swear off eggs completely. You can still eat eggs in moderation. “But if you don’t exercise, and you smoke and eat a lot of red meat, then the cholesterol in eggs may have an impact on your cardiovascular health,” says Dr. Hashmi. So, consider your lifestyle factors and, remember, moderation is key.
Trend: To drop pounds quickly, people are going on a cucumber-only diet for 1 to 2 weeks. The diet consists of replacing all meals with cucumbers. You can pair the cucumber with a few proteins. But the goal is to stick to cucumbers because they’re low-calorie.
The facts: You will lose weight on this diet — but it’s not healthy or nutritious. “You’re restricting your calories on a massive scale with a diet like this,” says Dr. Hashmi. “You will lose a lot of water weight, but once you stop the diet all your body wants to do is eat.” You’ll gain all the water weight back, and oftentimes you gain more weight back then where you started.
Verdict: Don’t do it. This diet is extremely restrictive and not sustainable. It’s not a long-term solution to healthy eating or weight loss. Any diet that promises quick weight loss like this is too good to be true. “Instead of looking for a quick fix, it’s better to try to learn how to eat healthy, well-balanced meals and change habits,” Dr. Hashmi says.
Trend: While there are several approaches to intermittent fasting, the general idea is to cycle between periods of eating and periods of fasting or not eating. One option is to eat only during an 8-hour period, like 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and then fast for 16 hours. Another popular method is eating a very low number of calories 2 consecutive days of the week, and then eating normally the other 5 days. The fasting periods help you reduce your calories, which can lead to weight loss.
The facts: There is no evidence that intermittent fasting is the best way to lose weight. “In fact, when you look at head-to-head trials comparing weight loss from intermittent fasting versus calorie restriction, they have the same weight loss results,” says Dr. Hashmi. Despite the hype around it, intermittent fasting is no different than restricting calories.
Verdict: The jury is still out. We need more research on intermittent fasting and weight loss. However, “if you do intermittent fasting as part of a lifestyle, it can be done safely,” says Dr. Hashmi. People have safely been practicing fasting for religious and spiritual reasons. “The issue is when fasting is taken to the extreme for weight loss,” he explains. For example, fasting for 20 hours and only eating for 4 hours. This can lead to nutrition deficiency.
Get expert advice
Remember, no matter how much hype there is around a new nutrition trend or diet, it’s best to talk to your doctor before trying it. What works for one person might not be appropriate for you. Your doctor can help you make lasting healthy food and lifestyle choices — regardless of what’s trending in the news.