As 2015 draws to a close, I thought I'd take a look at some of this year's most popular eating trends and diets. There have been some new and interesting crazes, let's check out 5 of these in more detail:
What it's about
Clean eating is about eating nothing but 'real' foods and cutting out all processed foods. The idea is to reduce the amount of additives, toxins and unhealthy foods in your diet and get better nourishment from food. Simply put, this means opting for fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, healthy sources of protein and good fats – and cutting out (or right down on) alcohol, saturated fat, added sugar, salt and processed foods.
With clean eating you can choose to go all in, or just follow it as much as possible. To go 'all in' requires you to remove alcohol, pre-packaged foods, sugary and fatty foods from your diet completely. This means always cooking from scratch and getting creative with your favourite foods (sweet potato brownies anyone?). Alternative, you can just choose to follow the principle of clean eating as often as possible, but still have the food from the 'cheat' list on occasion.
Clean eating is a great approach to take with your diet, and we should move more towards this where we can. It's certainly one of the healthiest ways to eat from a nutritional point of view, as long as it's well balanced and the right foods are included. However it can be quite restrictive if you go all in with it, so preparation and careful planning is needed. In our view it's not necessary to completely remove foods like chocolate, cakes, takeaways and pastries – having the occasional treat is fine, and is good for motivation. While clean eating as a general way of life is a definite plus, not being able to bend on these rules may be very restrictive and unnecessary.
What it's about:
A big trend this year is using vegetables in place of starchy foods such as rice, bread and pasta. We've had cauliflower rice, courgetti spaghetti, cauliflower pizza bases, rainbow cous cous and carrot noodles to name a few. The aim is to add a healthier twist to favourite dishes and cut down on calories. Using veg in place of starchy foods such as bread and pasta, is a great option for people with intolerances or those who simply want to reduce their calorie intake.
This is a smart way to cut calories and get more veg into your diet – so definitely something to try. It's a great option if you are trying to lose weight as the veg bulks out meals for very few calories. But it is important not to demonise bread, pasta and rice – if you are choosing wholegrain and wholewheat options, these are a very valuable addition to your diet. Wholegrain bread, wholewheat pasta and brown rice are good sources of fibre and B vitamins, so great to include when you can.
What it's about:
The Nutribullet has continued to be a big trend this year, with similar products being launched. It works like a blender, but the Nutribullet creators claim it to be a 'nutrient extractor' not just a juicer. It supposedly breaks down the fruits, vegetables, seeds etc into their most biodegradable forms, making the nutrients within more accessible to your body. The Nutribullet is very powerful, meaning it can wizz up a variety of foods into liquid form for easy consumption – add nuts, seeds, vegetables or fruit and they will all be mixed up into a thin juice in seconds.
Having a smoothie or juice for breakfast or as a meal replacement is a good way to get a lot of nutrients into your body in one go, from time to time. The Nutribullet is also great for blending vegetables and things like chia seeds, so you can create smoothies high in vitamins, minerals, protein and good fats, but also low in sugar – unlike most traditional juices.
But, the claims made around the Nutribullet regarding nutrient extraction are not scientifically proven. Nutribullet does not provide any supporting evidence for these claims on their website, and there does not appear to be any sound scientific evidence to suggest that we need to tear apart our foods mechanically (with something more than our teeth) in order to get the nutrients within. So while this is a handy blender, the nutrient extractor claims may still need to be taken with a pinch of salt.
What it's about:
The crack down on sugar has been a huge thing in the world of nutrition this year. As a nation, we consume far too much added sugar from sugary drinks, sweets, chocolates, desserts and processed foods. Added sugar tends to be in the foods that it's all too easy to over consume, which can lead to excess calories in the diet and so weight gain. Given the continuing obesity epidemic, new guidance has been issued encouraging us to reduce our added sugar intake to help in the fight against obesity. This has led to many people choosing to adopt a completely sugar free diet, in which all added sugars are removed and only natural sugars present in fruit and milk are consumed.
The diet you choose to follow, is of course, completely personal to you. However a entirely sugar free diet is unnecessary in terms of health. A little sugar in our diet is absolutely fine, and our body will use this as fuel for our working muscles and brain.
There are also different levels of sugar free diets. To some people, this means cutting out ALL sugary foods including fruit. To others this means just cutting out added sugars. A diet completely free of all sugars including fruit, can mean your body is missing out on the other important vitamins and minerals that fruit contains, so it's not the best choice in terms of health. However choosing to follow a diet which does not include any added sugars can be absolutely fine in terms of health and getting the right level of nutrients in your diet.
But as mentioned, it really isn't necessary to completely eliminate sugar – a little sugary treat every now and then will not cause you harm if it is part of a well balanced diet. A little of what you fancy does you good!
Various foods have been branded 'Superfoods' for years and this year saw the introduction of a few more, so called 'Superfoods'. First up...
What it's about:
Possibly one of the strangest diet trends this year is bulletproof coffee – which is essentially high quality coffee mixed with butter and oil. Sound tasty? No I don't think so either! The creator of this drink claims that it improves cognitive functioning and concentration, as well as helping with weight loss. Bulletproof coffee is a popular choice among people following low/no-carb diets, who need to get a lot of fat in their diet instead. The mixture of coffee, medium chain fatty-acids and grass-fed butter are believed to provide a powerful source of energy, as well as acting as a stimulant to improve alertness and aid fat oxidation. Some claim that having a cup of bulletptoof coffee at the start of the day, keeps you feeling full for hours – meaning you're satisfied until lunch.
While it sounds like an interesting idea, there are very few scientific studies that support the claims made around bulletproof coffee. Plus the high saturated fat content in butter should be considered. While there is emerging evidence that not all saturated fat is bad for us, current health guidelines still recommend we should limit it. Until there is sufficient evidence to suggest otherwise, we should still be cautious of consuming too much saturated fat. While many fans of bulletproof coffee claim it improves alertness and concentration, this is likely just a side effect of the caffeine – which can be experienced with your regular morning coffee. For now, I say stick to porridge, fruit and coffee!
What it's about:
Coconut oil has become very popular with health fanatics in recent years as it is believed to aid weight loss, protect against cancers and reduce cholesterol and so the risk of heart disease. Interestingly, coconut oil is over 90% lauric acid , which is a type of saturated fat, but this type of saturated fat has been shown in some studies to increase the good cholesterol in our blood – which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
There is emerging evidence to suggest that some saturated fats may not be bad for our health, as has been previously thought. However current research is not conclusive, and health guidelines have not changed. So we should still be cautious about saturated fat intake, which means being mindful of the amount of coconut oil you should use. Also remember that coconut oil is still a fat, so gives 9 calories per gram – even if it gives us some health benefits, when we're keeping an eye on calories, all fat needs to be eaten in moderation.
What it's about:
Although bone broth has been around for years, it has recently taken off as a health trend. It's believed that simmering animal bones for an extended period of time (sometimes 24 hours or more) can produce a broth with powerful health benefits. These include improved immunity, reduced inflammation and better digestion. The reason for this is because the bones are broken down more than they are with traditional broths, meaning more nutrients such as calcium and phosphorus are released.
Bone broth can be a tasty, warming choice in winter and it will certainly provide your body with plenty of nutrients. However, as is often the case, the evidence surrounding the health claims is limited at this time. It's certainly not bad for you, but whether it's as great as the hype remains to be seen. More consistent long term research is needed before these health claims can be fully supported.
Nutritionist Emma Brown, MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.