It seems like every few weeks, there’s media coverage of new health trends that promise to help you lose weight, lower your risk of health problems, or increase your longevity. What the articles and celebrity physician interviews often don’t include is reliable scientific evidence to support these promises. In some cases, the news is based on a single small study or a study that only showed a possible association with better health rather than a direct, evidence-supported connection.
Health trends or healthier choices?
A recent study examined popular health trends that claim to improve health, especially heart health. The researchers reviewed 40 years’ of studies of diets that claim to be heart healthy to pinpoint which health trends were supported by reliable scientific evidence and which were not. Here’s what you should know:
- Juicing isn’t as beneficial as eating your fruits and vegetables. Juice cleanses and substituting fruit and vegetable juice for the whole foods have been popular health trends for a number of years. While juicing does preserve most of the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant compounds found in whole fruits and vegetables, the process gets rid of fiber, which is a vital part of a healthy diet. Juices also concentrate calories so it’s easier to accidentally take in more calories than you need. Another factor that makes juicing less healthy than it may appear on the surface is that people often add sweeteners such as honey to their juice. That increases your daily sugar intake. And people who do juice fasts or cleanses miss out on protein, a nutrient that’s needed to build muscle, bone, blood, cartilage, and skin.
- It’s healthier to get antioxidants from food, not supplements. There have not been any rigorous academic studies that show that taking high-dose antioxidant supplements promotes health, so getting your antioxidants from foods such as blueberries, kidney and black beans, cranberries, apples, and spinach, is a wiser choice. In addition, some studies have linked high-dose antioxidant supplements with an increased risk of lung cancer in smokers and skin cancer for some people.
- Choose your oils carefully. Coconut and palm oils have grown in popularity as a healthy alternative to other fats, but there are no studies to support these claims. In fact, these solid fats are high in saturated fatty acids that increase cholesterol levels. Olive and vegetable oils are a better choice, with many studies linking the use of moderate amounts of olive oil with higher levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL) and lower levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL).
- Avoiding gluten won’t help you lose weight. Gluten-free diets are appropriate for people with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or a wheat allergy, but there’s no scientific evidence that a gluten-free diet offers health benefits, such as weight loss or a lower risk of heart disease, for people who do not have these conditions. Another issue to consider is that gluten-free products lack the fiber found in whole grains and are often higher in processed carbohydrates.
When building your own approach to healthier eating, it’s best to rely on diets that are evidence-based. A health advisor can connect you with specialists who can help you create a nutrition plan that’s appropriate for you and designed to help you move closer to your health goals.