06 Jan 2017
It’s the start of a new year, and a time to shed that which no longer serves us. It’s great to try new things, and that includes new foods and health regimes, but we thought we’d take a look back and see which trends we think we should be letting go of - or at least reworking - for 2017.
I had a quick brainstorm with some of the other members of our nutrition team – we tried to think out of the box and this is what we came up with – you may be surprised by some of the popular trends we’re trashing!
In fact, we have tried to rework popular trends for a fresh new approach that will give them added power and benefits to you in 2017 - read on to find out what to bin, or what's still 'in'!
In the wake of the ‘Superbug’, we’ve been conditioned in recent times to fear all bacteria. Everywhere you go there are hand sanitisers and antibacterial hand-washes that claim to nuke 99.9% of bacteria, making us feel safe against invisible lurking pathogens.
But it’s believed that these products could potentially be more harmful to us than the bacteria they’re killing off! The FDA in America is now banning a range of antibacterial ingredients1 commonly used in soaps and gels as they are linked to serious health issues, with triclosan and triclocarban being two of the worst.
We’ve banned all antibacterial soaps in our kitchen and loos here at OptiBac. The flora on our skin is another vital part of health and wiping this out with antibacterial products has a similar effect to the use of antibiotics in our gut. The ‘hygiene hypothesis’ suggests that our squeaky-clean modern lifestyles are affecting our immune system, and that it’s vital for us to encounter a wide diversity of bacteria.
We’d suggest using good ol’ soap and water, and if you really need to get something super-clean and bacteria-free, then consider natural alternatives such as colloidal silver soap, tea tree oil or salt.
IN: Soap, water, natural cleansers and…bacteria!
BINNED: Antibacterial gels, hand-washes and cleaners full of harmful chemicals.
What’s that now? Surely we can’t be dissing the health trend of the century?
Juicing is one of the most popular health trends to sweep the world – how many of you received a juicer for Christmas 2016? Well, if you didn’t, millions of other people did, and the juicin’ industry is one of the largest in the health sector.
Drinking the juice of freshly squeezed fruit and vegetables feels like a powerful, cleansing, alkalising, nutrient injection, full of antioxidants and minerals, and so some have taken the fad to an extreme, living solely on juices for every meal. But, there’s a big BUT.
What many people don’t realise is that fruit juices can contain more sugar than soft drinks! They also contain sugar in the form of fructose, which is metabolised in the liver rather than the bloodstream so places a strain on this already overworked organ. It’s also been linked to insulin resistance when consumed in large quantities2. Additionally, some people may simply find that they're unable to tolerate such large quantities of detoxifying juices, especially if their gut health is compromised - see Kathy's blog about this here.
Vegetable juices are much lower in sugars, however, and can form a nutritious part of a balanced diet, so we’d say, don’t bin your juicer, but just be careful what you juice - choose veggies, or blend these with lower sugar fruits such as avocado and berries.If you want to eat fruit, eat it in its whole form. Unless you’re on a short-term detox programme, we’d also advise against replacing meals with juices, which contain barely any protein or fibre and are not a suitable meal substitute long term.
IN: Whole fruits, low sugar fruits and veggie juices as part of a balanced diet.
BINNED: High sugar fruit juices and long-term juice-only diets.
Are you as tired of so-called ‘superfoods’ term as we are?
There seems to be a new ‘superfood’ in the papers every year, typically hailed as being a panacea for all ills. Sales of this incredible foodstuff then skyrocket, supermarkets benefit, and we eat it until we can no longer stand the sight of it, convinced that it will make us healthier, cure all of our ills and let us live for an extra decade!
Blueberries, broccoli, goji berries, chia seeds, acai berries, kale, seaweed, maca, coconut/avocado/olive oils, dark chocolate and even black pudding – the list is seemingly endless.
We say, does the fact that the list IS seemingly endless tell you anything?
Nature has provided us with a plentiful bounty of fabulously nutritious foods which are all ‘superfoods’ in their own way. It’s certainly useful to know if some of these contain particularly high levels of certain nutrients that may provide benefits for our individual health conditions, but in general, we should aim to consume the widest variety of natural foods as possible. Though we typically consume around 20 different types on a regular basis, you may not realise that there are literally thousands of different edible fruits and vegetables in the world – why major on just one ‘superfood’?
IN: Eating a wonderful selection of natural foods to offer your body a broad range of nutrients.
BINNED: The term ‘superfood’!
We’re always on the hunt for a sugar alternative which will give us the sugar hit without any of the negative health benefits. Every year, a new sweetener or ‘healthier’ sugar alternative hits the media: agave syrup, xylitol, coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey, stevia, yacon syrup, molasses, brown rice syrup, and jaggery to name a few.
Sadly, we couldn’t advise anyone to eat any of these to excess, as even the so-called ‘healthy’ sugars still have the same metabolic effects as table sugar once consumed. Natural sweeteners such as xylitol and stevia are a non-sugar option, but have been associated with digestive and other health issues, and until further research is conducted, it’s not really known whether these non-sugar sweeteners should be used in large quantities to replace the sugars in our diet.
We do need sugars of course, but we get plenty of carbohydrates from fruit and vegetables and whole grains in our diet, so we don’t really ‘need’ to add sugar to our foods. It’s true that ‘healthy’ sugars such as coconut sugar or honey may actually contain some nutrients to offer the body, whereas table sugar is ‘dead’ calories which offers us no more than a quick energy fix.
So instead of being on a constant quest to find sugar alternatives, we’d suggest trying to develop less of a sweet tooth – one way to do this is by balancing blood sugar levels that cause us to crave sugary fixes. To do this, we’d suggest eating protein, healthy fats and fibre at each meal, and if you have to eat sugary foods, eat them as part of a main meal, replacing sugary in-between meal snacks with (unsalted or unsweetened) nuts and seeds instead.
You may be surprised to learn that rebalancing our gut flora can also help to curb sugar cravings – pathogenic bacteria and yeasts feed on sugars and may influence what we choose to eat4, so ensuring that we have a good population of beneficial bacteria on board can help to prevent populations of such pathogens from growing.
IN: Balancing blood sugar and gut bacteria to reduce sugar cravings, and replacing sugary snacks and ‘dead’ sugars with no-sugar nuts, seeds or wholegrains.
BINNED: The quest for a 'healthy sugar' and sugar alternatives.
Lemon water? Can we be serious?
Oh no - we love our hot water and lemon here at OptiBac, where the kitchen bin is always full of used lemon skins (sorry if that is TMI!).
What can be wrong with our lovely lemon water? It is cleansing and detoxifying, aids digestion, is anti-inflammatory, and is full of vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals. What’s not to like?
Well, it seems that we have previously only been looking at this from a nutritional perspective, but dentists tell us that lemon water is a total no-no for your teeth. The citric acid in our lovely lemony teas can seriously erode the enamel on your teeth; with a pH of around 2-3, lime and lemon juice are almost as acidic as stomach acid and battery acid!
But it’s so good for us, do we really have to give it up?
To enable us to continue enjoying the benefits of this beverage, dentists suggest that we brush our teeth before drinking it rather than straight afterwards, and drink it through a straw. We can also not use as much lemon – try a quarter instead of a half, and dilute it with plenty of water. Then you can rinse your mouth afterwards to further dilute the acid.
IN: diluted lemon drinks in moderation, with some good dental care practices thrown in.
BINNED: very strong lemony drinks that will strip your teeth of their precious enamel.
What? Lovely, creamy, proteinaceous peanut butter? What’s going on?
The kitchen cupboards at OptiBac groan under the weight of our combined peanut butter collection, but is it really as good for us as we think?
Hmmm... we can’t deny that peanuts are a nutritional powerhouse, packed with protein, fibre, minerals, antioxidants and good mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) like oleic acid.
But in actual fact, though I may have the odd dollop occasionally (because it DOES taste yummy), I must confess that I’ve never been a huge fan of the peanut – it’s not even a real nut! Peanuts are actually legumes, and grow underground rather than on trees like other nuts. We can’t hold that against them, but what concerns us is that peanuts may contain toxins from a fungus called Aspergillus flavus which produces harmful substances called aflatoxins3. The fungus lives in the soil in warm, humid countries, where the peanut’s soft shell makes them more vulnerable to absorbing the by-products of the fungus.
Another concern is that peanut butter varies dramatically in terms of quality: at the bottom end are inferior products mixed with poor quality hydrogenated vegetable oils and laden with added sugar. Not very healthy.
But do we really have to give up one of our easiest and tastiest protein sources?
We would suggest buying the best quality peanut butter you can afford. For example, butters made from organic Valencia peanuts are thought to be better as they’re grown in soil too dry to harbour the harmful fungus. We’d also suggest varying the types of nut butter you use – there are almond, hazelnut, brazil nut, cashew, pecan and many more nut butters out there, all equally delicious. Hard-shelled nuts are less likely to contain harmful substances but it still makes sense to buy the best you can afford. Better still - make your own nut butters and then you'll know exactly what's in them!
We’d also suggest storing all nuts in cool, dry places and consuming them as soon as possible.
IN: using a range of different, high quality nut butters and storing them appropriately. Making your own, even healthier versions.
BINNED: majoring on peanut butter and eating peanut butters with lots of added sugar and hydrogenated fats.
As someone who excludes a couple of different food groups, you might think that this is an odd one for me to include, but I’d definitely agree that exclusion diets could be detrimental to health if done without proper consideration and guidance.
Gluten-free, dairy-free, low-carb, high-protein, high-fat, low-fat, FODMAP, SCO, paleo, ketogenic, mono-diets - the list is seemingly endless and all of these involve cutting out major food groups of some kind. All of these diets will have their devotees and success stories, but our team agreed that exclusion diets should not be used as faddy health trends – cutting out large food groups requires careful consideration and often professional guidance to ensure that the diet remains balanced.
Many people do find that they find a benefit from reducing certain foods in their diet – we’re all different and will have different dietary challenges and sensitivities. Gluten is a highly trendy ‘food to exclude’, as it can present a challenge to a compromised digestive system, but I’m appalled by the typical selection of ‘gluten-free’ products on offer – they’re often highly-processed and full of sugar, fat and chemicals. Gluten-containing grains are often highly nutritious, and it’s imperative to replace these with wholesome, naturally gluten-free alternatives such as quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, brown rice etc.,
We’d say, seek professional advice from a qualified practitioner before embarking on an exclusion diet to make sure that it’s appropriate for you.
IN: healthy, balanced diets that suit your individual needs.
BINNED: faddy diets that exclude perfectly healthy foods for no good reason!
Well, that's our 7 for 2017 reworked health trends, but feel free to add your own below and tell us what else you'd like to bin in 2017 and why (health trends and no old boyfriends please!).
For other related articles and health tips, click on the following links:
1. FDA (2016) FDA issues final rule on safety and effectiveness of antibacterial soaps, http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm517478.htm
2. Basciano, H., et al (2005) Fructose, insulin resistance, and metabolic dyslipidemia, Nutrition & Metabolism 2005 2:5 DOI: 10.1186/1743-7075-2-5©
3. Mupunga et al, (2014) Natural occurrence of aflatoxins in peanuts and peanut butter from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.J Food Prot. 2014 Oct;77(10):1814-8. doi: 10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-14-129.
4. Alcock, J., Maley, C. C. and Aktipis, C. A. (2014), Is eating behavior manipulated by the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms. BioEssays, 36: 940–949. doi:10.1002/bies.201400071