By Kara Landau
It seems as though it is almost impossible to physically get away from all the “diet” related promotions, whether living in big-city NYC or anywhere else in the country.
Think about it: You could be flipping through a magazine at an appointment, walking past the health supplement or drug stores on your way to work, or checking out one of the new health-focused cafes, chains, or smoothie bars on the weekend. Even scrolling through your social media newsfeeds, or simply picking up a food product in the grocery store that has claims all across the front. Wherever you happen to be, there always appears to be someone preaching that they have the miracle answer. Amazingly, the more extreme the food restrictions or the price tag on new products, the more excited we seem to get about it!
The array of “diets” I’ve heard over the years are even more off the path. The clay diet, the baby food diet, and oh gosh, who remembers the cotton ball diet? I’m guessing those of you here at the Sweat Life are well beyond these. We do, however, have celebrities without any nutritional background pushing vegan and paleo diets, as well as other dietary trends such as gluten-free, dairy-free, fructose-free, or sugar-free, and as I am sure you all know, this list goes on. The reality is that there really can be arguments for and against all these different dietary patterns, shown in practice by the conflicting results people see when following different diets. I always find it interesting that these same people don’t make mention of the longevity of the results they have on a diet, or the effects it has on their relationship with food and anxiety levels, once they become so restrictive and focused on what they shouldn’t be eating. So where do I recommend we start?
Why don’t we work out what’s best for you and your unique body? Think about it, we all have different genetics, so ultimately we will respond to different foods and diets differently. (Pretty straightforward, right?). Let’s quickly look at some examples:
Dairy – Many people are deficient in the enzyme lactase, which is needed to break down the lactose inside the majority of dairy products. It is for this reason that many people feel better when they cut down on their milk, cheese, or even ice-cream intake. However not everyone is completely deficient, and definitely not everyone has the same level of deficiency. This is why some people can still go on to enjoy these products, and others can just cut down a bit so that they don’t have to completely remove dairy altogether. For example, most hard yellow cheeses have negligible lactose and therefore should still be able to be enjoyed. Yogurts that contain live active cultures help with the digestion of lactose, so these can also be included without issue for many people.
Sourcing - With whichever dairy products you do select, making sure you go for those made from the milk of cows that are free of any artificial growth hormones is of the upmost importance.
Alternatives – As we well know, there are now many lactose-free milk-based products, typically very well tolerated by those who need to avoid lactose, as well as products known technically as “dairy free beverages” for those who select to avoid dairy milk altogether. It is, however, still important to look for those without added sugar, and to remember that although they may be able to be used in place of milk, they do not all provide the same nutritional profile. For example, rice milk has a very high glycemic index and is very low in protein, whereas almond milk has a low glycemic index, but is, too, still much lower in protein. Whichever dairy alternative you select, be it one made from almond, cashew, rice, soy, hemp or even a coconut base, it is important to flip over the carton and always look for those that are unsweetened (or naturally sweetened with something like stevia, monk fruit extract, or xylitol), and ideally have a very minimalistic ingredients list.
Wheat – Some people find that wheat-containing products leave them feeling bloated and lethargic. This could be a result of a sensitivity to fructans, which exist in wheat. Most people only respond if they consume foods that contain a large amount of wheat, such as bread or pasta. Having said this, it again does not mean that everyone has to completely cut these foods out in their entirety, it just means those who are sensitive should watch their portion sizes.
Alternatives - There are so many alternatives available these days you can select to replace regular pasta, such as a high protein and fiber spaghetti made from mung beans or soy beans — which should be available at health food stores — or a gluten free bread, just as long as it’s been made from a source that provides a comparable amount of dietary fiber to the regular wholegrain varieties, and isn’t merely a refined bread that is simply free of gluten.
Fructose – An intolerance to fructose, similar to the lactose in milk, results from a deficiency in the enzyme required to break it down. Not everyone has this deficiency, and even if you do, it does not mean you can’t eat any foods that contain any fructose i.e any fruits. It just means you need to select particular fruits that are either lower in fructose, or have a higher glucose to fructose ratio (which plays an important role in helping ease digestion).
Alternatives – The list of alternatives is as varied as the many options of fruits. For example, apples and pears may cause stomach distress, whereas blueberries, cantaloupe, and bananas, which have a more favorable glucose to fructose ratio, will be better well tolerated. As you can see, it comes down to each of our individual bodies, and even then, it is not always about completely cutting out a food group in its entirety, but rather finding the good options, in the right proportions for our unique selves. Yes, there are some common themes that mirror true with benefits for everyone, such as cutting down on foods rich in refined processed carbohydrates, or boosting your intake of darky colorful vegetables. However, just like it isn’t the one glass of wine or burger that gets eaten on the off occasion that could lead to gaining significant weight, is also isn’t going to be one little miracle pill to pop in your mouth to somehow make it all vanish. Let’s find the real foods that provide sustenance, flavor, and a nutritional punch, and figure out how you can include them in your daily repertoire of food intake so that healthy living is second nature and becomes your natural way of life!
What is the craziest diet trend you've seen recently?
Kara Landau aka the Travelling Dietitian is a progressive and pragmatic dietitian and nutritionist from Australia, currently based here in NYC. She spends her time juggling her role as a spokesperson and new healthy product developer for her food clients, as well as sharing her healthy foodie finds around the city with her social media friends, sipping on Pinot Grigio in the sunshine, or pushing herself to the limit in NYC’s many awesome barre, HIIT, or yoga sessions.