Diet Detective: Fad Diet or Fabulous?

It seems like there’s always a diet going around that promotes itself as the best way to lose weight, or to detox for health and more energy, or… something.

Actually, at any given time, there are always several diets claiming to be THE right way to eat. Diet plans like keto, paleo, the alkaline diet, or Whole30 are way more varied than the old school grapefruit-type diets. They are usually based around a single simple guideline, with expected results including anything from fat loss and revved metabolism to decreased inflammation, improved gut health, and overall better health.

Many of these diets can provide health benefits or support weight loss, and providing a single guideline to follow often makes it easier to stick with the plan. But the simplicity can also create complications. Dietary limitations can inadvertently decrease the intake of some essential nutrients, or allow excessive intake of others. Depending on your body’s specific needs, these diets can actually backfire – even if you see short term results.

Keto diet meal of salmon and green onions

Taking a smart approach to a new diet includes figuring out whether it’s a fad or there are established, science-based benefits. If the diet falls into the second category, you also need to figure out whether the diet will be good for you.

Is It A Fad Diet or a Fact?

There are fad diets, and fad diets – some are worse for your health than others. You can generally tell if a new diet is going to be an unhealthy fad if:

It promises dramatic, fast, extraordinary results.

My momma always told me: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The truth is, if there an easy, healthy, surefire way of eating that was sustainable over the long term, no one would need a diet for weight loss or any other health reasons. While it’s tempting to think of quickly reaching your goal weight with either little effort or lots,

It centers on, or cuts out, a single type of food.

Whether suggesting you always eat it or never eat it, any diet that is wholly focused on a single type of food can lead to health problems. This single focus may mean missing out on essential nutrients, or especially if maintained over time:

Low carb diets (Atkins, Keto) focus on higher protein and fat intakes. High levels of some dietary fats are associated with higher levels of heart disease, and high protein diets can be harmful to people with kidney disease, diabetes, and other health conditions (though it’s important to note that for most health people, a high protein diet isn’t harmful).

Cutting out entire food groups can lead to the same problems: missing out on key nutrients. For example, many vegetarians become anemic because they do not eat red meat, one of the highest sources of dietary iron.

It lacks high-quality scientific evidence. Ok, most people aren’t going to go and read the original research – and that’s assuming there is some! Many diets have little or no scientific backing. It’s also not uncommon to find that the existing studies present only weak proof, or have been funded by the companies whose products are being researched. Human nature makes it hard to be impartial in these cases!

Most people will not have access to the majority of research, or may not want to wade through the scientific jargon and statistics. You’re best bet to get simple, straight answers about whether a diet has scientifically been proven effective will be to speak to a registered dietitian.

Boring plate of only vegetables for a diet meal

Dieting For Your Body

The other benefit of discussing a new diet with a registered dietitian is that they can help determine if a given diet will meet your specific needs. This is especially important in certain circumstances:

If you have an ongoing or chronic health condition. Some foods or food types may worsen health conditions. It can also be a good idea to check with your doctor if you are at high risk for a health condition or have a family history.

If you have specific physical needs. The most common example: People who exercise a lot or at high intensities have different dietary needs than those who exercise moderately or not at all. Additionally, some medical conditions require closely controlled diets in order to maintain normal physical function.

If you want to make a significant change to your eating habits. People aren’t always aware of nutrient deficiencies or potential risks caused by a high nutrient intake. Jumping into big dietary changes may inadvertently increase health risks, even if you’re trying to do the right thing by your body. So do the right thing by your body and chat to your doctor before making big changes.

Healthy balanced meal of salmon and vegetables

The Real Winner

In the end, the best diet comes down to the diet that works for you.

That means one that helps you feel and look the way you really want to, and that your body thrives on. Many of the most popular diets may not be harmful over a short period of time, but the existing research has generally shown that they aren’t much more effective than a general plan of healthy eating and most people end up regaining the weight they lost once back into their regular eating patterns.

Given all this, it seems like the real winner might be making fresh choices. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Eat lean proteins (poultry, fish, lean red meat, eggs, and dairy). Eat your healthy fats in small doses (nuts and seeds, avocado, olive and flax oils, just to name a few). Eat less than you think you might need. And enjoy it!


A fast healthy lunch of Asian soba noodle salad or soup with chicken and vegetables

Veggie and Soba Noodle Salad

This never lasts more than a day at my house.

It’s so good, and as a two-for-one recipe for lunch, dinner, or even breakfast, it’s really versatile. You can make this into a cold salad (perfect summer recipe) or a hot soup (perfect winter recipe). It’s also easy and fast. I go overboard on veggies, which means more prep time, and I can still have it ready in about 10 minutes.

Soba noodles definitely do not fit into a wholly low-carb diet, but carbs are not the enemy. If you prefer to keep your diet low-carb, substitute zucchini noodles (or “zoodles”) for the original soba noodles. To make gluten-free, also substitute tamari for the soy sauce.

 

Soba Noodle Salad/Soup – Per serving

90g/3 oz soba noodles

1/3 – 1/2 cup each of at least four of the following:

  • Thinly sliced red or yellow capsicum or bell pepper
  • Thinly sliced cucumber
  • Snow peas, sliced diagonally
  • Grated carrot
  • Grated zucchini
  • Thinly sliced red or green cabbage
  • Bean sprouts
  • Spring onions

One small chicken breast, thinly sliced

Dressing – Makes enough for four servings

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

Juice of 1/2 a small orange

Zest and juice of one lime

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 clove garlic, minced

1 coin-sized round of ginger

1 tablespoon sesame oil

For soup:

2-3 cups chicken stock

 

Make dressing by combining all ingredients and mixing well.

Tip: To easily mix salad dressings really well, keep an old glass jam jar with a tight fitting lid. Place all dressing ingredients in the jar, tightly close the lid, and shake well. 

Chop desired vegetables and chicken, and then cook noodles according to package directions. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl with 1/4 of the dressing, and combine well. For soup, add desired amount of warm chicken stock.

Watch it disappear!

For low-carb, substitute zucchini noodles.

For gluten free, substitute rice or zucchini noodles and tamari.

 

Tried it? Share your review in the comments!


Increasing The Evidence For Food As Medicine

We all know that eating nutritious food helps keep you healthy. Now a research study in California is aiming to demonstrate just how much your diet can actually impact you.

Over the next three years, researchers from the University of California San Francisco and Stanford will evaluate how a healthy, nutritious diet and nutrition education will impact the treatment, prognosis (or likely course or outcome of a condition), and overall cost of medical care for people with chronic disease. This study will build on the results of earlier smaller and less rigorous studies that have had positive results, including substantial decreases in the cost of medical care.

The food-as-medicine concept is being increasingly accepted and promoted by doctors and other facets of the western medical system. This approach has long been advocated by natural and allied healthcare providers, but in the past there has been little research and scientific evidence to back up recommendations for diet as an adjunct or supportive element of medical care.

The evidence is growing now though, and quickly – at least relatively quickly, as high quality research takes a long time. I’m excited that there is more of this research occurring, and that more attention is being paid to it. The New York Times piece tells the story much better than I do, so head over and read for yourself: Cod and ‘Immune Broth’: California Tests Food as Medicine.


A healthy dinner of Red Lentil and Spinach Soup with Lemon Paprika Chicken

Red Lentil and Spinach Soup with Lemon Paprika Chicken

Whether you need something for to take the edge off a cold spell, or are looking for a quick, easy, healthy dinner, this soup will do the trick! You might be surprised at how healthy and delicious this is, given the simple ingredient list and easy instructions (they might look long but they’re straightforward). And don’t forget to check out the recipe notes at the end of the page – you’ll find some helpful tips for turning this into a five-star dinner that will quickly slide into your standard list of healthy meals.

Red Lentil and Spinach Soup with Lemon Paprika Chicken
Adapted from Donna Hay’s 10 Minute Meals

For the soup:

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
  • Zest of one lemon (see note)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 cup red lentils, washed and picked through (see note)
  • 4 cups/1 litre chicken stock
  • 2 cups packed fresh spinach (see note)
  • Juice of one lemon (approximately 2 tablespoons), or to taste

For the chicken:

  • 1 chicken breast
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • Small pinch of chili powder
  • 1 tsp olive oil or coconut oil (see note)
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock

Prepare the chicken: Turn the breast on it’s side and cut down the length to get 2-3 pieces of about equal thickness. Combine lemon zest (half of a lemon), smoked paprika, chili powder, oil, and stock in a medium bowl and mix well. Add chicken pieces and coat thoroughly. Set aside.

Start the soup: Spray a medium pot with oil and add the onion, garlic, lemon zest (whole lemon), and cumin. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft and translucent. Add lentils and stock. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down and simmer 10-12 minutes or until lentils are soft.

Cook the chicken: While soup is simmering, spray a non-stick pan with oil and put on high heat. After 15-20 seconds, place the chicken strips into the pan, leaving a little space between each, and turn down heat to medium. Cook for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until the meat is no longer pink and the juices run clear. Remove from heat and let rest while you finish the soup.

Finish it off: When lentils are soft, stir through spinach, allowing it to wilt and mix through evenly. Stir through lemon juice. Slice the chicken into strips. Ladle soup into bowls, top with chicken, and enjoy!

 

Recipe notes:

  • Lemon zest is a great way to add flavor without additional calories. The easiest way to zest a lemon is with a microplane, but you can also use the smallest setting on a box grater.
  • Dry lentils, beans, and other pulses can sometimes hide small rocks that stems from the processing. This is normal, but you still want to pour everything onto a plate and check it over to make sure you’re only eating what you want to.
  • If you don’t have fresh packed spinach on hand, try whole leaf frozen spinach.
  • Olive oil has a relatively low smoke point, which means that over anything but high heat, the oil can break down and lose it’s health benefits. Coconut oil has a much higher smoke point, has positive health benefits, and won’t impart a coconut flavor to your food.

 

Want more ideas for easy, healthy dinners? Sign up for the HealthFit Coaching Newsletter and enjoy healthy recipes, workout ideas, and more for your best health and fitness.  


Healthy lunch of Fresh colorful tomato and cucumber salad

Eat More, Lose Weight, Get Healthy

Ever thought you’d hear someone tell you that you could lose weight and get healthy by eating a huge plate of food at every meal?

We are hard wired for survival, and to our brains, that means food. Though it’s a small percentage of your body weight, your brain uses approximately 20% of your daily energy! And in order to keep itself and the rest of you going, it drives you towards food. Lots of food, if possible. While that’s great for survival when food is scarce, we live where it generally isn’t scarce. Good for us, but your subconscious brain is not good at recognizing this. So the drive to eat will continue, which means even when you’re working hard to lose weight or body fat, you can still be outsmarted.

The good news is that we can turn the tables, and use this survival drive in our favor. I’ve long been a supporter of “eat more good stuff” rather than the “eat less of the bad stuff/everything” approach that is the hallmark of most diets.

Your eating experience is about far more than putting food in your mouth. In fact, scientists are still unclear about exactly what factors cause us to feel full, though the best theories propose a combination of visual and scent cues, the amount you chew your food, and the overall time you take to eat a meal. Vision is super important in this. Part of our drive for food means that we’ll subconsciously gravitate towards food as long as it’s available. This means a full plate. Probably second servings, even if that means just picking at leftover bits. Your subconscious wants it all!

Satisfy that drive for more by giving yourself more of the good – or good for you – stuff. This will not be the first time you’ve been introduced to the concept of Eat More Vegetables, but that concept has stuck around because it works. Find vegetable or fresh fruit dishes that you enjoy and load up on them, or learn to pad the steak and potato dinner with half a plate of broccoli and green beans. This is what allows you to have a huge plate of food without the big calorie counts. If you’re working to lose weight, it’s a major factor in eating healthy meals without feeling deprived. It’s how you keep enjoying that delicious mashed potato without the guilt that comes from eating it out of the pot (I’m sure I’m not the only one who does that, right?!?!).

For a big meals thats filling, satisfying, and still healthy and supporting weight loss, fitness, or health goals,  try these

  • BIG Salads: Lots of greens, with enough beans, hard cooked eggs, steamed and fresh veggies, and small pieces of chicken, steak, or pork. Aim for mostly leafy greens with each bite, but enough of the other stuff that you actually get some flavor with it! Bonus – no dressing needed.
  • Half a plate of veggies: Steamed is the most common “healthy” suggestion, and it’s a good one. But I’m especially taken with roasted everything: Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts,  zucchini, peppers, pumpkin – anything you might steam will go well in the oven. Your taste buds wont know what hit them.
  • Extra steamed veggies tossed with some stock and a pinch of fresh pepper.
  • Homemade coleslaw with a vingear dressing for crunch and a bit of bite.

And anything else you can think of! This works best when your loading up on what you enjoy. Have a favorite veggie style? Please, share in the comments!


One skillet zucchini and mushroom omelette for a fast healthy breakfast

Veggie and Cheddar Open Omelet

I love a recipe that works for any meal, and this omelet does just that – and it’s everything else I look for in a meal as well…

Easy? Check.
Quick? Check.
Delicious? Check.
Healthy? Check!

Many people stay away from traditional folded omelets because flipping them can be a delicate operation at best, and a total disaster at worst. To take the “pain” out of this pain-in-the-butt, this recipe gives you an open-style omelet that requires no flipping at all! Once done, all you have to do is slide it onto your plate and enjoy!

Veggie and Cheddar Open Omelet

1/2 C mushroom slices
1/2 C zucchini slices
1 clove or 1/2 tsp minced garlic
3 eggs
1/4 C loosely packed grated cheddar
Salt and pepper
Fresh parsley – optional

Spray small non-stick pan with spray oil and heat over medium heat. Cook mushrooms, zucchini, and garlic, stirring frequently, until soft. Meanwhile, beat eggs in a small bowl, with a pinch of salt and pepper. Re-spray pan and veggies with oil, give a quick stir, and pour in eggs. Sprinkle cheese evenly over the eggs. Turn heat down to medium-low or low, and put the lid of a large pot over the pan (see note). Let cook for 5-7 minutes or until eggs are set. Use a spatula to lift and slide omelet out of the pan and onto plate. Sprinkle with fresh parsley, if using, and an extra crack of black pepper.

NOTE: Using a pot lid or something similar to cover the pan helps the eggs cook evenly as they will be heated from the top and the bottom. The lid to a large stock pan will work well for this, or if unavailable, a cookie sheet also works in a pinch.


Greek beef salad with tzatziki dressing for a healthy lunch or dinner

Greek Beef Salad

An easy, satisfying salad that’s packed with flavor and won’t leave you feeling hungry again in an hour, this salad is a great opportunity to maximize your veggie intake. It’s equally good as a one-off dinner or lunch, or you can prep a big batch and assemble when you need a quick meal. Best of all, this is easy to individualize – if you don’t like something, leave it out!

 

Greek Beef Salad

Serves two

  • 400g / 1 lb Ground beef
  • 1 Tbs Fresh oregano, or 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1 small zucchini, grated
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 cups of lettuce (torn) or fresh spinach
  • ½ – 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
  • ½ – 1 cup diced red capsicum or red bell pepper
  • ½ – 1 cup chopped cucumber
  • ¼ – ½ cup finely diced red onion
  • ¼ – ½ cup chopped Kalamata olives
  • ¼ – ½ crumbled feta cheese
  • ¼ – ½ Tzatziki

Tzatziki

  • ½ large cucumber, finely chopped or grated
  • 1 cup plain yogurt, regular or greek style
  • 2 gloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbs dill or mint – optional

Using a medium to large pan over medium heat, cook the beef, garlic, zucchini, and onion until the meat is browned and the vegetables are soft. Mix in the oregano.

Split the remaining salad ingredients between two bowls, using as much as you like of each one. Health tip: The feta will be the most calorie-dense, and has a big flavor, so start small with it. Both the feta and the olives are high in salt and can be omitted if you are limiting your sodium intake.

Spoon half the beef into each bowl, and top with tzatziki for a healthy salad dressing. Yum!


Vitamin B12 rich salmon for lunch or dinner

Fast Facts: Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is also referred to as the “energy vitamin” thanks to key contributions to energy production. While daily requirements are quite low and your body can easily store large amounts of B12, some conditions and dietary choices can lead to low B12 levels. It is essential for red blood cell formation (needed to transport oxygen to the brain and all other body parts) and helps prevent nerve damage and peripheral neuropathy.

Without adequate B12, your body will struggle to produce energy at a cellular level, as the vitamin is active in many steps in this process. As well as nerve protection, a good B12 supply also acts to decrease the risk of stroke and other cardiovascular disease.

Dietary intakes in western cultures usually provide an adequate to abundant supply of B12, and in fact, deficiencies often stem from problems absorbing the vitamin rather than not eating enough of it. However, if you normally take certain medications or eat a primarily plant based diet, you may want to talk to your doctor to find out if a supplement will be worthwhile for you.

Vitamin B12 is involved in:
  • Production of red blood cells
  • DNA synthesis and production
  • Protection of the myelin sheath, the protective covering around nerves that helps transmit nerve signals
  • Support of the cellular processes that produce energy
  • Maintaining low blood levels of homocysteine, a protein that in high levels is linked to stroke and cardiovascular disease, including coronary heart disease and peripheral vascular disease
Food sources of vitamin B12 include:
  • Fish and shellfish, especially salmon, sardines, tuna, cod, scallops, and shrimp or prawns
  • Lamb and beef, especially liver
  • Dairy products
  • Mushrooms
  • Fermented foods like tempeh
Getting too much vitamin B12 can lead to:

It’s almost impossible to get too much B12! There are no known signs of excessive levels.

Not getting enough vitamin B12 can lead to:
  • Neurological problems, including memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, mania, and psychosis
  • Neuropathy, or tingling, burning, or loss of sensation in a part of your body (often in hands or feet)
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Depression
  • Migraine
  • Macular degeneration
  • Kidney disease
  • Shingles
  • Megaloblastic anemia, a condition where red blood cells are poorly formed
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
More on vitamin B12:
  • Plant based diets, especially vegan diets, are at higher risks of B12 deficiency as most food sources are animal-based. You may want to consider a supplement.
  • If you have acid reflux, and especially if you are taking an antacid, a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) like Nexium or Prilosec, you may not absorb B12 from your diet. Talk to your doctor. You may want to consider a sublingual supplement (placed under the tongue to absorb).
  • Your ability to absorb B12 decreases with age, in part due to changes in digestion.
  • Some research has shown that vitamin B12 may help maintain bone density and generally support bone health. However, additional research is needed to confirm this.
Vitamin B12 combined with other medications and health conditions:

Taking vitamins may have adverse effects when combined with some over the counter or prescription medications, and some medications can decrease vitamin absorption. Some health conditions can be impacted by high vitamin B12 intakes. Talk to your doctor prior to increasing your vitamin B12 intake if you have or are taking:

  • Anticonvulsants
  • Some chemotherapy medications. While B12 can interfere with the actions of some chemotherapy drugs, it can also protect against chemotherapy-related neuropathies. It’s highly recommended to have a conversation with your oncologist about whether you can take B12 supplements as a preventative measure for neuropathy.
  • Colchicine (also known as Cilicaine or Colcrys), used to treat gout.
  • Cholesterol lowering drugs
  • Medications used to treat high stomach acid, including proton pump inhibitors like Nexium, Prilosec, and Prevacid, or H2 blockers like Zantac, Pepcid, or Pepzan
  • Metformin, used to treat diabetes
  • Tetracycline-type antibiotics

Fresh vegetables including onions carrots and beets eaten to provide dietary fiber

Fast Facts: Dietary Fiber

Also spelled dietary fibre – gotta love English!

Dietary fibers encompass a vast array of digestion-resistant components found in plant-based foods. They fall into two basic categories: Soluble fiber and insoluble fiber, which have different benefits for the digestive tract. Soluble fibers are found predominantly in fruits, vegetables, legumes like beans and lentils, and plant extracts, and provide a food source for your beneficial gut bacteria. Insoluble fiber is found in whole grains, vegetables and woody plants, and provides meal bulk, satiety (feelings of fullness), and helps prevent constipation.

While dietary fiber is not absorbed by the body, it still plays an important role in digestive and overall health. Adequate fiber intakes can help with weight loss and weight management by increasing feeling of fullness, and as it is slow to be processed by the body, is an effective tool for hunger management. Fiber consumption has been linked in lower risks of several diseases, including multiple cancers of the digestive tract.

The recommended daily intake is approximately 25-30g of fiber. While many people routinely fall below this, you can boost your intake by choosing food including more beans and lentils, fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and other delicious whole food options. Choosing whole foods that are high in fiber will also provide a diet rich in a variety of other nutrients (vitamins and minerals) as well. No supplements needed!

Dietary Fibre is involved in:
  • Decreasing risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease by changing the rate and level of absorption and metabolism of some dietary fat and carbohydrate molecules, leading to lower cholesterol, lower triglycerides, and more steady levels of blood glucose (blood sugar) and insulin
  • Decreasing risk of colon or bowel cancers by decreasing exposure of intestinal lining to potential cancer-causing molecules, both by increasing the volume of total food digested and decreasing the time food spends in the digestive tract
  • Speeds the passage of food through the digestive system and adds bulk to stool, increasing regular bowel movements and alleviating and preventing constipation
  • Weight loss, weight maintenance, and appetite control, through increased meal bulk with a relatively low number of calories, fats, and added sugars, as well as making you feel full faster
  • May increase absorption of other nutrients, such as calcium and magnesium
  • Appears to decrease systemic inflammation levels that are inherent to many disease states, including diabetes, cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, and others
Great Ideas for Increasing Fiber Intake

Low fiber intakes are often due to high intakes of processed foods, animal-based foods, and low intakes of plant-based foods. You can increase your fiber intake by including an extra salad, veggies, or fruit in with your daily meals. Some common high-fiber foods and their dietary fiber content are listed below.

  • Romaine or Cos lettuce: 1 cup shredded = 1g
  • Tomato: 1 small = 1.1g
  • Cabbage: 1 cup shredded = 1.8g
  • Quinoa: 1 cup = 5.8g
  • Brown rice: 1 cup = 3.5 g
  • Kidney beans:  1 cup = 11g
  • Chickpeas: 1 cup = 12g
  • Black beans (also called black turtle beans): 1 cup = 15g
  • Celery: 1 large stalk = 1g
  • Carrot: 1 medium = 1.4g
  • Apple: 1 medium = 4.4g
  • Banana: 1 small = 2.6g
  • Kiwifruit: 1 medium = 2.1 g
Can I get too much fiber?

The National Academy of Sciences has not set a tolerable upper limit on dietary fiber intake. There are some health conditions that can call for a low fiber intake, so if you aren’t sure if you are in this category, talk to your doctor. In general, most health conditions will benefit from increased dietary fiber levels. Evidence also indicates that the higher your average intake, the more protective benefits you’ll enjoy.

What happens if I don’t get enough fiber?

Low intakes can lead to excessive weight gain and increased disease risks, however low fiber intakes alone do not seem to be solely responsible for any specific health condition. So while you may not be used to eating a high-fibre diet, you can easily increase your fibre intake by adding a piece of fruit or some veggie sticks. Any increased intake will provide benefits, even if you don’t hit the daily 25g mark!

 

Want to try out a quick and delicious high fiber lunch? Try this Chickpea and Feta Salad!

 

References
Dhingra D, Michael M, Rajput H, et al. (2012) Dietary fibre in foods: a review. J Food Sci Technol, 49(3), 255-66.
Kaczmarczyk, M. M., Miller, M. J., & Freund, G. G. (2012). The health benefits of dietary fiber: Beyond the usual suspects of type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. Metabolism, 61(8), 1058-1066. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2012.01.017
Marlett, J. A., McBurney, M. I., & Slavin, J. L. (2002). Position of the American Dietetic Association: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 102(7), 993-1000.