Fighting food fads in the Internet age

Picture this: you look in the mirror one morning and – lacking the energy to get through each day – you decide to get healthy, change your lifestyle and really make a difference to your wellbeing.

Like many of us, you jump online and begin searching ‘healthy eating, tips and tricks’ or maybe even ‘easy weight loss diets’ – the list of potential searches is endless.

Regardless of the search terms, you’re swamped with an overwhelming volume of information. To make matters worse there’s also social media, brimming with businesses, celebrities and even our well-meaning family and friends recommending different ‘health’ products, tips and diets online.

The unfortunate reality is that sometimes these products, tips and diets can be completely ineffective and even potentially harmful.

This is where the experts step in.

Program Director of Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of South Australia’s School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences Dr Evangeline Mantzioris has been working in the nutrition and food science field for more 30 years and explains that healthy eating and good nutrition shouldn’t be a complex idea.

The list of diets, fads and products is seemingly endless and it would be nearly impossible to debunk all of them. Instead, Dr Mantzioris identified three popular ‘health trends’ we should be wary of.

 

Trend 1: Low-carb diets

“The reason they are popular is that when people commence a low-carbohydrate diet, they actually lose weight pretty quickly.,” says Dr Mantzioris.

“The problem is that it’s not bodyweight that they are losing, it’s water weight.”

She adds that the problem lies in when someone goes back to eating normally after being on a low-carb diet they often gain several kilograms quite quickly.

Carbohydrates exist in various forms and can be found in a range of foods from vegetables to lollies. They bring with them a range of essential nutrients, including B-group Vitamins and a wealth of  micronutrients including iron, zinc and magnesium while also supplying the body with fibre.

In the short-term fibre reduces the risk of constipation and in the long term it may help reduce the risks of one of the most preventable cancers in the world, bowel cancer.

“We know that bowel cancer is one of the most preventable cancers – simply by consuming around 30 grams of fibre a day – if you’re not having your carbohydrate group it’s really hard to get up to that level (of fibre),” says Dr Mantzioris.

It’s worthy to note that diabetes and heart disease have also been linked to a lack of fibre.

 

Trend 2: Supplements

Have you ever walked into a chemist or health food store and seen an entire wall dedicated to supplements? Well here’s a not-so-fun fact: the Australian supplement industry is largely unregulated.

This means that supplement companies are only required to prove very little about their products before they go to market.

Essentially if a company can prove that its product won’t cause any harm to consumers, then it can be packaged up and placed on the shelves.

“Most of the supplements sold on the market have little or no evidence that they actually work.

“It is an unregulated system – our food system is highly regulated; our farmers are regulated, and medicines are highly regulated, but supplements fall in-between.

“All a company has to do is to prove that they cause no ill-effect, it’s not even guaranteed that the product is in there or even in an active form.”

Many nutrition/supplement companies engage with social media influencers, sport stars and celebrities to help advertise their products. Here  it’s vital to remember that these people are often being paid to do so.

With the sheer number of supplements available for purchase, Dr Mantzioris identifies three popular supplements that are popular in the health industry.

Protein

Most of us already consume enough protein in our diets to function. With protein, it’s all in the timing. In the case of athletes, the most important time for them to ingest protein is 2-4 hours after a meal.

Usually, even athletes consume enough protein through their next meal and don’t necessarily require a supplement.

Creatine

Dr Mantzioris explains that creatine is a peptide that helps to regenerate the energy system quickly.

If someone is a vegetarian – or abstaining from meat – they may need a creatine supplement. She also added that the only form of creatine that’s effective is Creatine Monohydrate.

‘Fat-burning’ supplements

“There isn’t really anything that burns fat except exercise, that’s what is going to burn the fat.

“We don’t ever recommend people take supplements, it’s always food first,” Dr Mantzioris says.

She adds the only time someone is prescribed a supplement is due to a lack of a particular nutrient.

The Australian Institute of Sport also has an in-depth ranking of supplements, which can be used to understand which supplements may be worth taking and which aren’t.

Trend 3: Detoxes

“If you need to do a detox then you need a liver transplant.”

While Dr Mantzioris might say that jokingly, it may as well be true.

In short, the liver works to identify a toxin and begin removing it from the body before the kidneys flush it entirely.

The best thing someone can do in lieu of a detox is drink two litres of fluid each day to help the body continually remove toxins.

What to remember

“The important thing about weight loss is that you need to reduce your energy intake below your (body’s) requirement,” says Dr Mantzioris.

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating was developed after 50,000 scientific articles were reviewed.

You should aim to eat a balanced diet of breads and grains, fruits and vegetables, and a little bit of protein and dairy (for calcium).

In Dr Mantzioris’ 30 years in the nutrition field, the idea of what a healthy diet contains hasn’t changed.

What has changed is the way we understand the health science behind what keeps us healthy.

Her favourite quote on healthy living is by American author, Michael Pollan: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Image by Rachael Sharman