“We’d all love to find a life-changing food or food combination that fixes everything,” says Julie Enga, R.D., L.D., at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works.” “What we can do is look at the latest trends, and study what works,” says Enga. “Food trends can serve as a guide to better, more balanced eating.”
An eating plan that says you shouldn’t eat, for example, bananas, is probably a bad idea, says Enga. “Unless you have a medical condition that restricts a certain food, I’d be suspicious of this type of trend.”
Diets that restrict certain foods set you up for a shortage of essential nutrients, says Enga. “Restricting unhealthy, processed foods is a good idea,” adds Enga. Restricting healthy foods like fruits and vegetables? Not a good idea.”
What’s more, restrictive diets can be hard to sustain. When you eliminate particular foods, you might end up craving them more – and, eventually, overindulging. Some diet plans are expensive, too, and require more planning and shopping than basic, well-rounded meals.
Likewise, an eating plan that emphasizes one certain food, for example, cabbage soup, isn’t a good idea. “Healthy eating is a combination of many foods – and quite frankly, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some of those foods that aren’t considered healthy,” says Enga. “The 80/20 plan is a good goal,” says Enga. “The basic premise is to eat healthy foods 80 percent of the time. Then, you can indulge a bit 20 percent of the time.”
“Your best bet is moderation,” says Enga. “If a particular diet interests you, try taking the best of what it offers. Incorporate portion control and eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, low-fat dairy products and whole grains.”
The basics: People with celiac disease avoid eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and other foods, because it triggers an immune system reaction that can cause bloating, gas, malnutrition and small intestine damage.
The appeal: Gluten-sensitive individuals who don’t have celiac disease might minimize stomach discomfort by cutting gluten from their diet. Reducing gluten intake can help make it easier to manage carbohydrates, too, because many foods high in gluten also pack plenty of carbs.
What to watch out for: Because bread, cereal, whole-wheat pasta and other fiber-rich foods that typically contain gluten are also fortified with essential vitamins, gluten-free individuals may need to work with a dietitian to plan meals that include adequate amounts of nutrients and fiber. Experts caution against going completely gluten-free, unless you have a medical reason to do so. “There is a large influx of gluten-free products on the market today,” says Enga. “Some of these foods are far more expensive, and not necessarily healthy.”
The basics: Probiotics are helpful bacteria present in fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir, and also available in dietary supplement form.
The appeal: Probiotics are being studied as a treatment option for urinary tract and vaginal yeast infections, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and other conditions.
What to watch out for: Researchers continue to explore which specific strains of probiotics might impact which conditions. They are also quite expensive to maintain for long-term use. While probiotics are generally considered safe for adults, it’s important to consult a physician before beginning a supplemental regimen.
The basics: The Paleo diet, also known as the caveman diet, steers followers to the fished, hunted and gathered foods that our ancestors ate: fruits, vegetables and berries, eggs and poultry, meat and fish. “Going paleo” also means avoiding processed foods, grains, dairy and legumes, including beans and peas.
The appeal: Paleo guidelines encourage followers to eat more fresh produce and lean protein while eliminating foods high in sugar and sodium. Replacing processed foods with these healthier alternatives cuts calories and boosts the nutritional value of each meal.
What to watch out for: Paleo followers miss out on beneficial vitamins, minerals and fiber when they eliminate dairy, whole grains and legumes from their diet, so they may be forced to fill in the gaps with supplements. In reality, relying on wild game and non-processed plant foods can be challenging, as well.
The basics: Fresh fruit and vegetable juices offer an all-natural alternative for individuals who don’t enjoy eating produce.
The appeal: Advocates say that the body can more easily absorb nutrients from juice than from whole foods, and some juice-focused detox diets claim to remove toxins from the body. Nutritionists argue that avoiding processed foods makes a more significant impact than just drinking juice.
What to watch out for: Some fruits are naturally high in sugar, so a juice diet can come with unnecessary calories. Juicing also removes healthy fiber from produce. It’s a fun trend to try, but can also be expensive and difficult to maintain long term. While fresh juice can be part of a healthy diet, it still makes sense to eat plenty of whole fruits and vegetables.
The basics: These tiny seeds, easily tossed on hot cereal or yogurt, or mixed into smoothies or other drinks, are chock-full of omega-3 fatty acids and fiber.
The appeal: Some say adding chia seeds to your foods will help you stay full. You’ll see why once you add them to liquid: the seeds plump up and absorb ten times their weight in water.
What to watch out for: A little chia goes a long way. Limit yourself to one ounce a day. Chia seeds are high in fiber, and in large quantities could cause stomach upset. The seeds offer a great nutritional punch without adding a lot of food to your diet. They are convenient and filling, but not a meal replacement.
The basics: Coconut water is thin liquid taken from the center of young, green coconuts. It’s a type of juice, and it’s different than the coconut milk that comes from the meat of mature coconuts.
The appeal: Because coconut water is rich in potassium and contains electrolytes, marketers tout it as a hydrating, healthy alternative to sugary sports drinks.
What to watch out for: Coconut water doesn’t contain enough carbohydrates or protein to satisfy the energy needs of serious athletes, and there’s no proof that it hydrates better than plain water. But, it can be a refreshing alternative to sports drinks and sweetened juices. When drinking coconut water, reach for the unflavored kind – flavored versions can be high in sugar.