Popular fad diets exposed

No dairy, no wheat, no grains, no animal products, no soy, alkaline, juice cleanses, raw food,  fasting, eating clean…the list of popular diet trends goes on and on. While these crazes promise quick wins of weight loss, elevated energy and problem-free skin, could they actually be harming our health in the long term? Let’s take a look.

Grain of truth

It was not too long ago that you would struggle to find one or two gluten-free products in the supermarket. Now, the gluten-free industry is thriving (gluten-free product sales have soared by 15% in just the last two years) and most stores, cafes and restaurants will have a vast array of gluten-free products on offer. They’re often touted as the ‘healthier choice’ – despite many of these gluten-free options often being higher in sugar, fat, salt and other artificial preservatives.  Interestingly just 1% of the population actually suffer from Coeliac disease – the condition in which the immune system reacts to gluten, damaging the lining of the small intestine, yet many people are choosing gluten-free options in the belief that they’ll be helping rather than harming their health.

So could there be any dangers in cutting out all gluten-containing foods? Nutritionist Ruth Tongue thinks potentially yes. ‘Wholegrains are a great source of fibre, B vitamins, zinc, selenium and magnesium and by cutting out this food group you may be depriving your body of all of these nutrients, and at the same time missing out on the cholesterol and blood pressure-lowering properties of wholegrains.’

Ditching dairy

Another common trend is to switch from dairy milk to alternatives like almond, soy and coconut milk – in fact, milk consumption has decreased by over 30% in the UK over the last 20 years. Yet dairy-free doesn’t always mean healthier – if you compare a glass of regular semi-skimmed milk with a glass of soy milk like-for-like, the regular milk wins on protein, sugar, salt and calcium content – with the soy alternative often containing between 10-20 added ingredients (including oils, thickening agents, syrups and sweeteners, emulsifiers and flavourings). Many of the popular nut ‘milks’ like almond, hazelnut or coconut milk can contain as little as 2% of nuts – the rest simply being water, sugar, oils and other preservatives.

Having said this it’s important to test what works for you – if you feel better eating less, or indeed no dairy, then great, stick with it. But if you’re not noticing any benefits to your health then by having a small amount of dairy each day you may be helping your health in the long run.

Raw revelations

As the seasons change, we naturally move towards heartier, warming, comfort foods. Yet could we benefit from eating more raw food year round? Raw foodists would definitely argue yes – and propose that by cooking foods you destroying many of the naturally occurring nutrients found in those foods. Science also backs this up, showing that certain vitamins like vitamin C, folic acid and B vitamins are greatly reduced in cooked food. Yet surviving solely on raw foods is extremely limiting – meat, fish, eggs and dairy are generally out as they’re typically not safe to eat without any heat treatment. It’s also been shown that raw fruit and vegetables are harder to digest, so an unpleasant side effect of eating too much raw food may be bloating, gas and intestinal pain.

As ever, when it comes to nutrition, the message here is that balance is key. Make sure your diet consists of a combination of lightly cooked foods, raw fruit and vegetables and eat seasonal produce to benefit from taste and maximal nutrients.

Written by Ruth Tongue

(MSc Nutrition)