It’s amazing the variety of ways a human can eat and still meet their daily nutrient requirements. For thousands of years, we’ve seen tribes and populations from all over the world eat completely different proportions of foods macros and still thrive.
For example, traditional Inuits eat mainly meat, fish and fat with very little fruit and vegetables, while the Hadza tribe rely mostly on the food they find in the forest, including wild berries, fibre-rich tubers, honey and wild meat.
In recent times, the food industry has expanded the ability to vary our food choices enormously, in the process spawning an endless stream of ‘diets’ claiming more health, less weight, muscle gain and more. Let’s take a brief look at three trends for the new year.
What are Health trends of 2019? We’ve seen so many over the years – low fat, Atkins, weight watchers, paleo, gluten-free and so on. This year, three making waves are the Carnivore, Keto and Vegan diets.
January is especially popular for this diet thanks to Veganuary. The campaign grew 183% in 2018 with 168,542 people signing up to take part, of whom 79,000 were omnivores and 60,500 vegetarians/pescatarians.
So what does Vegan actually mean? On a vegan diet, you essentially remove all animal products from your diet – even honey – relying instead on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, grains and certain plant oils. Many take it further by avoiding anything sourced from animals in household cleaning products, beauty products, clothing, shoes, furniture etc.
Ethics is a key driver of the trend to veganism and why so many partake in Veganuary. People are increasingly aware of the energy demand, environmental destruction, waste and pollution caused by industrial animal production, and feel moved to change their behaviour and diet in order to ‘save the planet’.
As our prime focus at IINH is people’s health, let’s look at veganism’s positives first:
- Plant-based diets can be rich in micronutrients when eating a wide range of whole foods
- When cooked, many plant foods are easy to digest and absorb
- Plant-rich diets are associated with lower incidence of cancer (source)
- Vegan diets, when based on whole foods, can help protect against obesity and support weight loss (source)
- They can help protect against diabetes (source)
- They support cardiovascular health (source)
- Producing plant foods has less impact on the environment!
However, there can be downsides, health-wise, to going vegan:
- Insufficient protein: most foods in the vegan diet, while providing some protein, are still considered poor sources. Too little protein can cause muscle wasting, cognitive changes, mood swings and weakness, among other problems. This issue is even more important to consider if children are being raised as vegans.
- Certain other nutrients are more or less impossible to get from the diet in sufficient amounts and so require supplemental support. Eg. B12, Omega 3, zinc, iron and calcium.
- A vegan diet may be high in antinutrients like phytic acid, which may aggravate the digestive system. Significant sources include soy, beans and whole grains. One way to reduce phytate in grains is to soak and then sprout them before cooking.
- Embracing fat – vegans often eat a diet very rich in carbohydrate and low in fat. Healthy fat is essential in the body to absorb and transport key nutrients to cells, to form healthy cell membranes, and to support key functions like hormone production.
- Very many vegan products on the market today are highly processed and refined, which renders them even less suitable as a source of vital nutrients. It is so important to choose whole plant foods that have been processed as little as possible.
Before taking the leap, again it’s advisable to really dig into the research and learn about the foods you need to eat to maximise nutrient sufficiency. It takes a bit of work to get your full micronutrient spectrum and too often people fall into a very ‘narrow’ food window and then run into problems down the line. This article, from our director Richard Burton, highlights the potential issues with giving up meat.
What can we learn?
What can we learn from vegans? Well quite a few things, but one thing the vegan diet makes a great call for is caring for the planet. But without going vegan there is still a lot you can still do to support this cause:
- Eating local and/or organic produce in support of more natural farming approaches. Local food also travels less to the plate.
- Using BPA/reusable coffee cups, water bottles, plates, cutlery and containers to store food. Bring in your own to work and reuse as needed to eat your food.
- Reusable bags for shopping
- Use energy efficient bulbs and turn off all your technology at night.
- Reduce meat consumption and have some completely vegetarian days in your week. Alternatively, try going vegetarian/vegan for a few weeks or even months during the year – not just January!
- Turn the tap off when brushing your teeth.
- Plant your own tree / grow your own plants on the balcony.
- Reduce your post: Move all your banking and household bills to online payments to cut the paper trail.
- Stop using tumble dryers – invest in a clothesline instead.
Check out this fantastic video on how one girl went rubbish free.
Here’s another wonderful and inspiring resource: www.drawdown.org
Originally developed for its success in treating epilepsy in the 1930s, this diet has gained popularity in recent years for health, fitness and body composition reasons. So what is it? The keto diet is a very low carb, high fat diet that shares similar roots to low carb and Atkins.
Rather than relying on the abundant supply of glucose energy from a regular diet, your body starts using fat for energy, which shifts your metabolism into a state of healthy nutritional ketosis. This starts to happen naturally whenever we fast for more than a few hours. Ketones are small molecules produced in the liver from fats. They are a very useful alternative energy source, especially for the brain.
Current research supports the use of ketogenic diets for the following benefits:
- Weight loss, decreased hunger & cravings www.diabetes.co.uk
- Improved blood sugar balance and insulin sensitivity
- Reversing diabetes https://www.virtahealth.com/research
- Improved energy levels, oxygen capacity, motor performance & athletic performance
- Enhanced blood flow through vasodilation
- Migraine treatment
- Neuroprotective benefits in seizure disorders; ADHD; Alzheimer’s disease, memory and cognitive function; Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis (source)
- Autism and improved behaviour and social impacts
- Memory enhancement (source)
- Stroke prevention; cardiovascular disease; metabolic syndrome management; improved cholesterol levels
- Inflammation management
- Endurance enhancement
- Anti-ageing (source)
Despite all the potential benefits, ketogenic diets come with limitations and are certainly not for everyone!
Before getting stuck in, it’s crucial that you do some sensible research on the topic, get expert guidance, and spend time learning which foods are suitable to eat and how to construct a diverse, whole foods-based ketogenic diet. On a standard keto diet, fat accounts for about 70-80% of total daily calories, protein makes up 15% and carbohydrates the remainder. If you are drawn to this concept, it is best to chat first with a nutritional therapist or other knowledgeable health professional. This is essential to do if you have diabetes.
There is still much debate around ketogenic diets for sport. While it is already widely accepted in endurance and ultra type sports, keto is questioned when it comes to intense exercise. This is because of the argument that glucose can be metabolised into energy much faster than fat. Interestingly, this article provides for a wide variety of studies including keto in high-intensity sport like CrossFit and finds little difference in performance.
Finally, do your research. It is quite easy to not get enough variety with a keto diet if you focus too narrowly on cheese, steak, eggs, butter, bacon and avocados!
As the name implies, the carnivore diet consists of ….well, mainly meat. It leans on the Inuit tribe’s traditional approach, whereby virtually of your macro and micronutrients come from meat and fish in raw/cooked form, plus some from butter and eggs. Essentially, you cut out carbohydrates completely!
This is certainly one of the more extreme diets, although we are seeing some claims of amazing health benefits from people trialling it. However, there is very little research done on it so far, so most of the conversation is still anecdotal and n=1. The rationale for the claims goes something like this:
A common link between persistent digestive and autoimmune issues is suggested to be leaky gut, i.e. excessive intestinal permeability that allows incompletely digested food and other materials to pass through a ‘leaky’ gut lining into the bloodstream and then to trigger an inflammatory autoimmune reaction somewhere in the body.
One theory is that the carnivore diet supports gut repair because it doesn’t include most of the dietary components known to sometimes irritate and damage the lining, such as gluten, found in foods containing wheat, rye and barley.
Digestive/autoimmune symptoms caused by gluten are often undiagnosed due to both, lack of agreement whether gluten sensitivity is really a thing and lack of consensus around diagnosis (check out this paper recommending a ⅘ approach). Another problem is that signs and symptoms are often so varied and fluctuating that people may not put two-and-two together. And even when they try a gluten-free diet, it may still include cross contaminants like coffee and dairy, or lots of processed gluten-free foods that also provoke inflammation.
So this could be why some people find that going on a carnivore ‘elimination’ diet that restricts them to a very tight food range can dramatically alleviate their symptoms.
Now, this is not a diet we’d recommend jumping on, simply due to its extremely restrictive nature and lack of research to date. An obvious concern is a lack of vital nutrients and malnourishment. For example, while the Inuits rely on meat/fish and fat, they also eat from the whole animal, including offal (organ meat). Furthermore, they do still consume the plant-based stomach contents of the animals.
It is clear that some people do benefit from a more extreme elimination diet to address unexplained dietary symptoms or autoimmune conditions. However, this should be done with the support of a health professional and not ad lib. In most cases, it is possible to identify and eliminate the obvious inflammatory trigger without turning to a carnivore diet.
- Extremely limited diet may well cause micronutrient insufficiency
- Likely too extreme for some people (and their gut) to tolerate
- Anecdotal evidence of health benefits only, with very limited scientific research to date Concerns over long term effects on gut flora
- Claims to benefit those with autoimmune related conditions
- May reduce inflammation
If interested, take a look at this presentation on a slight variation; paleo ketogenic.
So, there you have it – a quick peek at some of the trending diets for 2019!
This article is not intended to promote any of these diets, it’s simply an educational piece to provide some general understanding of what is trending right now. As with any diet – especially those more on the extreme end – it’s important to do your own research and consult your doctor or a knowledgeable nutrition professional!