Nutritionist debunks the health benefits of 3 fad diets and why you should give them up

Remember that weird slimy, rubbery lump reminiscent of a meaty alien life form or being told that heat is your food’s worst enemy? We debunk the health benefits of three dietary trends, from controlled bacteria and fermented foods to liquid cleanses.

Health and wellness trends come and go faster than you can tell not to froth nonfat oat milk hojicha latte with a double scoop of medicinal mushroom powder. For many, the last two years were spent stuck at home, which meant we had plenty of time to jump on the wellness bandwagon.

Here, we look at three wellness fads and ask Sports Nutrition Association founder and accredited sports nutritionist Alex Thomas to weigh in on why you shouldn’t fall for the hype.

#Raw food diet

Alex Thomas.  Photo: Sports Nutrition Association

Certified Sports Nutritionist Alex Thomas
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This mostly vegan diet requires food to be ‘cooked’ to no more than 40-48°C, which basically means one is perpetually eating salads.

Those who embrace the lifestyle praise how treating foods at low temperatures is the best way to retain their nutrients. AN study 2018 shows that fruits and vegetables are most beneficial for mental health when eaten raw. Extreme proponents of the diet even tout the benefits of drinking raw, untreated water.

But there is no doubt that heat is one of the best ways to kill bacteria; Warm foods are a breeding ground for bacteria. The US Center for Disease Control has strict guidelines for drinking water and raw, unpasteurized dairy products, which can be laced with dangerous levels of bacteria.

And in recent years, the trend has also gained strength among exclusively carnivores. “In the short term, it can be safe and it’s on a spectrum that depends on the type of meat and how it’s consumed,” says Thomas.

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But he cautions that it’s not a diet I’d recommend. “It can also be quite dangerous, for example, eating raw chicken. I would consider the approach to be sub-optimal and not something I would recommend as it is not recommended to cut the plants completely.”

Whether meat-based or plant-based, a biased diet can quickly turn into a nutrient and calorie deficiency; it can be especially dangerous for children, and deaths related to malnutrition have been documented. “I don’t like diets that eliminate food groups or only focus on one food group unless the individual has an approved medical reason to limit something in their diet,” says Thomas.

Plus, missing out on a steaming bowl of ramen and that occasional cup of hot chocolate on a cold day isn’t worth it for most people.

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2020 was the year of sourdough for home cooks around the world. Superior to the flavor and nutrition of dry yeast, a sourdough starter provided entertainment (an exact formula of time, chemistry, temperature, and a bit of luck). Homemade fermented carbonated kombucha tea was a similar hobby for many, but the trend seemed to have fizzled out in 2021. Pampering that SCOBY, short for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, was both fun and gross.

The dense, meaty burger turns sweet tea into a fizzy drink loaded with vitamins and probiotics. However, Thomas says that gut health itself remains a scientific mystery. “There are a lot of claims about gut health, but we don’t know enough about the gut, and none of the research has shown that kombucha specifically improves gut health outcome.”

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There are also many unknowns when it comes to probiotics. “A certain strain has shown reductions in cold and flu symptoms and another strain [shown to reduce] irritable bowel syndrome. But that’s all I’d like to talk about it,” says Thomas.

However, home fermentation can be dangerous if not done correctly. The SCOBY starter grows every time you brew a new batch of tea and can be susceptible to bacterial growth. They can be especially dangerous for children because a fermentation gone wrong (or right, depending on who’s asking) means an alcoholic beverage.

But a more common danger of kombucha, homemade or not, is its sugar level. The SCOBY feeds on sugar and fruit juices during fermentation, and the more sugar, the faster the fermentation.

“Limit your kombucha consumption to one drink every two to three days and just drink it because you enjoy it. Don’t drink it because you are associating it with health.

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It took us a few years, but most of us realized that those detox teas that influencers and celebrities were promoting on social media weren’t living up to their hype. While these teas are often touted as weight loss solutions and can suppress your appetite, they do little to detoxify your system.

“Teatoxes is dangerous for your wallet,” says Thomas. “They cost a lot of unnecessary money, and the weight loss is only due to the lack of food volume in the gastrointestinal tract.

“The truth is you don’t need to detox, your liver does it every second, all day, every day anyway, and you can’t fool your physiology in that capacity.” Drinking too much tea and excessive caffeine intake can overload the liver and other organs.

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He says that what most people experience during a teatox is weight loss through the GI tract. It induces hyper bowel movement and can lead to severe dehydration. Short-term teatox is unlikely to have any negative implications for your health, but you may be at risk of nutritional deficiencies if you do it regularly.

Instead of spending money on these so-called herbal remedies, Thomas suggests eating five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables to promote good bacteria and gut health.

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