Health and Hype
in the Health Food Movement
Food has become a movement in itself as mainstream consumers are trending toward more health-conscious eating. The rise of healthy food trends seems unstoppable. Kale is a national obsession and the popularity of organic food is higher than ever. As a result, patients often find themselves confronted with an overwhelming amount of nutrition and food information. Coming from all angles, from friends to advertisers, this information becomes conflicting, confusing and at times, downright misleading.
While we know that pursuing a healthier lifestyle comes with the best of intentions, following diets based on popular health food trends can lead to imbalances in nutrition and put us at risk for serious health challenges. Understanding hype from helpful can help us make more healthful decisions in our diet. Here are some common health food faux pas:
MYTH #1 - Going Gluten-Free is Always Best
A gluten-free diet can reduce inflammation, improve gut health, assist weight loss and enhance mood and energy. But it’s important to know that it may not be for everyone (be sure to work with a professional to understand our food sensitivities) and there is a proper way to eat gluten-free.
Gluten-free products are everywhere, and growing at a rapid pace. Don’t be fooled by the packaging. A gluten-free cupcake is still a cupcake. Be sure to read labels and study ingredients. Not all, but many, gluten-free products are high in sugar, flour and unhealthy fats that ultimately lead to more inflammation, bloating and weight gain.
Researchers have also found that unsupported gluten-free diets can lead to deficiencies in key nutrients, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, folate, iron, magnesium, calcium, and zinc. If we are interested in a gluten-free diet, we must ensure we are using the best dietary strategies for our body chemistry first. Working with a professional such as a functional medicine provider or registered dietitian can help us understand what nutrients our body needs.
If we don’t have access to a professional health care provider, when in doubt, leave the packaged foods out. Mother Nature offers plenty of gluten-free, whole food options like fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, whole gluten-free grains and beans.
MYTH #2 - Red Wine Has Antioxidants; Drink Daily for Health
Resveratrol is an antioxidant found in red wine that is associated with slowing aging and fighting cancer, obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Unfortunately, the amount of servings that we would need to get the beneficial amount of resveratrol is not advisable. Excessive drinking can slow metabolism, weaken the immune system, increase risk for certain cancers and damage the heart.
Alcohol might be considered a sugary dessert, because that’s the pathway the body processes alcohol with. As the festivities of summer kick into gear, it’s important to know that moderate alcohol consumption has been defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Mocktails are delicious alternatives to alcoholic drinks.
MYTH #3 - The Fill-In-The-Blank Diet Is Best for Weight Loss
Some dietary strategies can actually be dangerous physically and also affect us mentally. Weight loss is not a one-size-fits-all program. Weight is a complex result of hormonal pathways and systems that regulate metabolism. It’s not simply linked to the food we eat or the calories we burn.
Science has shown us that the model of “Calories in equal calories out” is antiquated. Calorie counts fail to consider the complexity of the digestive system. Overlooked factors include the species of food we eat, food preparation, the bacteria in our guts and how much energy we use to digest different food—meaning that 100 calories of ice cream is not the same as 100 calories of almonds. Further, being overweight or underweight may be a symptom of underlying dysfunction or hormonal imbalance in the body.
Functional medicine is a medical approach with the goal of getting to the root cause of problems. By helping to identify underlying deficiencies and understand what foods work best for each body, weight loss often becomes a natural result after foundational health is restored.
The Reality - Gut Health
If we want to eat healthier, go with the gut, or at least start there. The importance of gut health is one health trend we can’t deny. Digestion plays a vital role in the health of the entire body. Beyond aiding in the processing of the food that we eat, we have learned that the gut is actually a second brain, because it has its own control system over other body processes.
On a daily basis, the gut influences the production of serotonin, which plays a role in appetite regulation, food intake, well-being and sleep. What we eat has a direct impact on the health and efficiency of the microbes that keep our body working at its best. Certain types of foods can trigger digestive problems and may be the cause of seemingly unrelated disease. Research clearly links gut issues to weight gain, autoimmune conditions, skin issues and other conditions. Simply put, it is essential to have a healthy gut in order to have a healthy body.
Dr. Kristen Halland, DC, practices at the River North location of Aligned Modern Health, with 11 locations in the Chicago area. For locations, hours, appointments and more information, call 773-453-6566 or visit AlignedModernHealth.com. Find them on Facebook at Facebook.com/alignedmodernhealth and on Instagram @AlignedModernHealth.