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!


Three Easy Ways To Drink More Water

Want to drink more water? We all have the best intentions when it comes to staying hydrated, but for such a simple task, it can still be tough to keep up with. It doesn’t have to be though. Try one of two of these simple options and keep your body happy.

Start The Day Right

Are you a coffee or tea drinker? (I am a coffee drinker. A lot of coffee.) While you’re waiting for the kettle to boil or the coffee to brew, get yourself a glass of water. Drink at least some of it while you wait. Make it interesting if you want: I drink mine warm, sometimes with lemon. I hear I’m weird like that.

Use A Straw

For whatever reason, it’s way easier and faster to drink a lot of water (or anything) through a straw. Invest in a plastic tumbler with a straw and keep it full and nearby. You’ll be amazing how often you’ll need to fill it up. Bonus: Most of those cups are double walled, so your cold drinks stay cold.

Stick With Small Glasses

Think a bigger glass will help you drink more? Well, it might, but it also might not. One of the biggest truths in the health and fitness industry: Success breeds success. Drink one small glass and it’s easier to drink another. Drink several glasses today, and you’ll be more likely to tomorrow. String together a few days and you’re well on your way to a great habit.

Looking for practical ways to improve your health and fitness? Four weeks can change your next forty years. Spend some time with a HealthFit health coach and find out just how healthy you can get. Find out more.


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!


One skillet cauliflower hash with red peppers ready for a healthy breakfast

Cauliflower Hash

Hash is traditionally a dish of meat and chopped potatoes. This spin on it is vegetarian and low-carb, but no less tasty! Cauliflower is substituted for the potatoes and the umami flavor that the meat traditionally provides comes from a dose of parmesan cheese. If you like a bit of spice, a sprinkle of chili powder or chili flakes add a pleasant heat, though if spicy is not your thing, you won’t miss them either!

This is great for an easy, healthy dinner, but works equally well as a healthy breakfast, giving you an alternative to the more usual breakfast foods that are basically dessert in disguise. Up the protein by topping with an egg or two – the runny yolk makes a delicious sauce and you get a delicious, filling dinner that won’t leave you feeling anything but great.

 

Cauliflower Hash

  • 1 small-medium carrot
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 med-large brown/yellow or sweet onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 large head of cauliflower
  • 1 large red bell pepper or capsicum
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • ground pepper
  • 2 tsp each dried thyme and oregano
  • Grated parmesan cheese, to serve
  • Optional to serve: Chili powder or flakes

Grate or finely dice the carrot, and chop the celery and onion. Spray a large pan with oil (if not using non-stick) and cook carrot, celery, onion, and garlic over medium-high heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning.

While the other vegetables are cooking, break cauliflower into smaller heads and then chop into smallish pieces. Add to pan when vegetable mix is starting to soften, and continue to stir frequently. Deglaze the pan with water as needed (see note).

Chop the bell pepper/capsicum and add to pan when vegetable mix is starting to turn golden brown, and cook for another 3-5 minutes.

Sprinkle over salt, pepper, thyme and oregano, and mix through. Serve sprinkled with grated parmesan and chili, if desired, and an egg or two.

 

NoteDeglazing is a wonderful way of adding more flavor to a dish without adding any extra ingredients, and also helps keep your food from scorching. Learn how to deglaze a pan here (and you’ll also learn more about why and how it maximizes taste).


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.


Middle age woman raising her eyebrows in surprise

The Secret Life Of A Health Coach

Want to know the biggest secret about my life as a health coach/exercise physiologist/personal trainer?

I’m just a normal person.

I like all types of fried potatoes, working out is sometimes more effort than it seems like it’s worth, and I definitely do not have a six-pack. I’ve been through periods of being super active and fit, and periods of being super lazy, and while I much prefer feeling and being super fit and healthy, I frequently struggle to make the time for it.

It’s called real life – as least, it is for most of us. There are great trainers out there who are able to juggle big workouts, prepping and eating routine meals, making their body their whole focus – Awesome for them. I’ll even admit that I’ve more than a little jealous. I had that for a few years and it was great, but it was also when I was in college with the luxury of plenty of time to spend on it.

In the years since, I’ve stopped beating myself up over NOT doing all those things. I’ve found my balance between eating healthy and really enjoying my meals, between being fit and being out of shape (though I often sit slightly below my ideal fitness level). These days, my ultimate goal is to strike that balance between making my entire life about my body, fitness and health, and being able to enjoy what life has to offer.

So, my big secrets?

My fitness levels fluctuate A LOT and I have to really work for what I have. My biggest challenge is balancing my time between every life demand in a way that I’m happy with (or at least can live with). Sometimes workouts lose out.

I love eating. LOVE IT. I love movie popcorn and giant salads and everything in between. Portion control is my nemesis.

I struggle to make myself a priority. I spend all day every day talking to people about taking care of themselves. I’m the worst at taking my own advice!

Stress-eating: Ugh, yes, that’s me.

I would much rather watch Netflix than go to the gym. (Though as with most people, I get a lot more satisfaction from going to the gym, once it’s all said and done.)

I may or may not read on my phone every night in bed, even though I know all the science says it’s bad for your sleep. Oops.

The point is, this is real life. We can have all the education and experience in the world – I’m not short on either and definitely know better – and making the best choices is still challenging. I live those choices day in and day out, just like everyone else. But these days I’m ok with those challenges. They are a lot easier now that I’ve learned to make life about habits and choices I enjoy, rather than choices that feel like chores that I should or have to do. I’ve found my balance between the effort I’m happy to make, and the results I’m happy to have. I’m launching this new section, The Secret Life Of A Health Coach: Food and Fitness in Real Life, to share what those choices look like for me, and to give you some ideas and support in finding your own balance.


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.  


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

seared scallops and boiled eggs on green salad for a healthy fast lunch

Perfect Portions Made Easy

Calorie counting to manage meals and portion sizes? We’ve got a handy trick for you!

Counting calories or points, keeping a food diary, or otherwise painstakingly tracking food intake is a chore, at least for most. While it can certainly be effective in bringing awareness to your portion sizes and meals, the time and effort it takes most people often leads to frustration and loss of motivation. Efforts at healthy eating can quickly be derailed.

Sometimes keeping a precise count of calories, carbs, or fats can be important, as in the case of some health conditions. If this is you, please continue to follow your doctors instructions! If this isn’t you though, and you are trying to track food, calories, carbs, or fats for the sake of general health or weight loss, good news: there’s an easier way to manage your meals.

Your hand is the perfect portion control guide. It’s proportionally sized to your body, stays consistent, and you’ve always got it with you. Estimating portion sizes based on your hand means there are no fiddly measurements to make (you can easily make a visual comparison – it doesn’t have to be exact!) and no math involved in building a healthy plate of food. While this method has been gaining in popularity in recent years, it’s actually been recommended in numerous nutrition textbooks for years as well as being widely recommended by non-profit health and nutrition organizations and government agencies.

Like this infographic? CLICK HERE it to download it with get bonus meal-management tips!