With an exponential rise in fad nutrition practices and newfound diet trends, 2016 has been an interesting year for nutrition and health. Now that we have entered a new year, it seems fitting to reflect on some of the common nutrition practices and ‘mistakes’ that have been adopted by individuals worldwide, why these should be left behind in 2016, and how we can steer towards a healthier, long-term attitude towards diet and health in 2017.
1. “Cheat Days”
Many diet plans promote cheat day(s) or temporary overindulging to dieters as a way of rewarding themselves for sticking to a strict diet plan for a few days or a week. While it has been reported that these days can provide some benefits, such as increased metabolism and prevention of food deprivation, it is important to know the flip side of these cheat days.
Overindulging greatly impacts the function of a hormone called leptin, aka the ‘satiety hormone’. Leptin is created by your fat cells and is responsible for, essentially, letting your brain know when it is time for you to stop eating. In 2009, a study by the Southwestern Medical Centre showed the effect of palmitic acid on leptin function.
Palmitic acid is found in foods rich in saturated fat, primarily meats and dairy products. Their results showed that over-consumption of food rich in saturated fats hindered the ability of leptin to regulate food intake, which caused over-eating and subsequently weight gain. To summarise, overindulgence can make it difficult for the body to establish when it is time to ‘stop eating’. One thing I have noticed working with my clients, is that cheat days in temporary fad diets often lead to very quick relapse into original eating patterns. If your diet requires regular “cheat days”, then your diet may not be sustainable and/or suitable for you.
Remember: food in moderation is not harmful. Be mindful of portion sizes, and keep in mind healthier alternatives such as baking food instead of frying.
2. Not reading food labels properly
It is often said that we eat with our eyes! So let’s put our eyes to good use. Food labels and ingredients are candid information of what the food contains. Therefore, it is always good to know the exact contents of the food that you are buying.
Examples of nutritional information to look out for include: calories, total (saturated) fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates (from which come dietary fibre and sugar) per serving. It is imperative to become educated on nutrition labels and take time to decide what you want to ingest. Try to compare and contrast different products. For example, ‘fat-free’ foods often contain more sugars, while ‘sugar-free’ foods usually contain high levels of sweeteners. Finding the right balance is key.
3. Skipping breakfast
If you are a typical breakfast skipper – stop skipping, start eating! Getting up early for work, taking children to school and just being insanely busy in general can make it difficult to fit in a proper breakfast. However, skipping breakfast slows down your metabolism and can subsequently make you more susceptible to gaining weight. So if your diet is telling you to miss breakfast in efforts to reduce calorie intake and lose weight, then that may not happen. Missing breakfast also makes you more likely to overeat during lunch. Studies have also associated skipping breakfast with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and impaired cognitive function.
Breakfast is an important meal for individuals to boost their energy and kick start their day. Therefore, it is important to try and form a habit of eating breakfast in the morning – whether it is a piece of fruit, a slice of toast or a small pot of yoghurt. If you are short on time, try getting up 15 minutes earlier or preparing breakfast the night before.
4. Cutting out carbs
Throughout 2016, I have heard many say that they are cutting carbs out of their diet. Some celebrities and influencers have wrongly informed individuals on why they should cut out carbs from their diet. However, not all carbs are the same; they can be simple or complex.
Simple carbohydrates are the ones to be cautious with and are found in dairy products, fruits and added sugars such as syrup. They are broken down into glucose quickly and contribute to spikes in blood sugars. Complex carbs such as food rich in starch and fibre contain sugars too, but are made from more sugar molecules. As a result, they take longer to digest and enter the blood stream slowly. Therefore, there needs to be a balance between simple and complex carbs.
Cutting out carbs from your diet could put you at increased risk of fatigue, B vitamin deficiency, constipation and other health issues. Whole grain carbohydrates are packed full of nutrients and fibre. They are slower to digest, leaving you fuller for longer.
5. Juicing to ‘detox’
Detox is a common word in the nutrition and health world. The rationale behind detoxing is to get rid ‘toxic waste’ from your body in order to reset your health. Our body is a natural detoxifier – our liver, kidney, skin and gut help excrete any waste products. Juicing has been considered a great detoxing routine but there are also some cons. Though juicing promotes the benefits of fruits and vegetables, juicing solely may introduce your body to high sugar contents and acidity.
Furthermore, simply juicing does not always include all the essential nutrients and minerals required for body functions, such as fibre (which is lost during the juicing process and is crucial for gut health). In addition, you are likely to put your body into starvation mode which reduces your metabolism.
So let’s start 2017 off on the right foot, focusing on our long-term health when adjusting our diet.