Tuesday 26 November 2013

Week 48 Nutrition Tip: Be Trend-Wise

The fitness and nutrition industry (like any other industry) is constantly changing as new trends come and old ones go. When it comes to eating for optimal health, performance and body composition, you want to continually seek to learn improve your eating. However, when a trend it is at its peak of popularity, how do you know how to effectively apply the good aspects of it without being side-tracked by the bad? Also, how do you avoid adopting parts of the trend that are not appropriate for you? To assist you with answering these questions, in week 48 of our 52 Weeks to Better Nutrition and a New You series, let's look at some nutrition trends and establish a habit of being trend-wise both now and with future trends to come.

Trend # 1: Low Fat
Time of Peak Popularity: 1980's to mid/late 1990's 

During this time period, people noticed problems with heart disease and obesity. What was the cause? It must be the fat. The basic message given during this phase was, "eat low fat, high carbohydrate meals".

Good things: 
It taught us that too much saturated fat is bad. Also, it may have helped some people eat more fruits and vegetables.

Bad things: 
Rice cakes: classic food from the
low fat era
The message was often misinterpreted by the general public. As a result, people shunned fat and loaded up on bad carbs. As a result, this era marked the start of the obesity epidemic and adult onset diabetes had to be changed to type II diabetes because kids started getting it. Ops! Some people even had issues with deficiencies in fat-soluble vitamins. Because all fat was often considered bad, many people missed out on healthy fats (e.g. fish oil from wild salmon). In addition, because many protein foods contain some saturated fat, they were often shunned. This resulted in some athletes and hard-training individuals eating a less than optimal amount of protein. 

Practical Application for Performance Nutrition: 
Do not go over-board on saturated fat. However, the main thing to take from this embarrassing nutritional period is that fat is not bad. In fact, some fat is very good for you! The other important take-away is that low, carb high fat diets are not healthy and can make you fat. Low fat diets are also not helpful for testosterone production. For optimal testosterone production, you want about 30% of your daily calories to be from fat. 

Trend # 2: Low Carb
Time of Peak Popularity: Late 1990's to Mid 2000's 

After realizing that the low-fat diets were not working, the trend pendulum swung to the opposite approach where carbs replaced fat as public enemy # 1.

Good things:
Low carb diets work better for fat loss, so this phase helped those who ate low carb to lose fat. Also, many people saw improvement in glucose levels, insulin levels and blood lipids. It also brought some awareness to the idea of "good carbs" vs. "bad carbs". A great thing from this era for restaurant eaters was that many restaurants wisely adapted to these phase by allow patrons to freely substitute starches for extra vegetables (very helpful habit for those trying to drop body fat and still enjoy a night out with friends). 

Bad things:
Sure it is low carb, but you
can do better
While a huge improvement from the high carb era, many people failed to make distinctions between good and bad fat. As a result, processed breakfast cereal was replaced with bacon. Also, because many people still had a sweet tooth, artificial sweeteners and alcohol sugars where used in abundance. Another problem for many people is that the low carb eating was unsustainable. 

Practical Application for Performance Nutrition:
If you are trying to lose body fat, reducing carbohydrates will help. However, if you are doing a lot of hard training, you need your carbs. Insufficient carb intake will decrease performance and impair recovery. This is especially true if you are trying to gain muscle. I remember blindly following this trend and watching muscle fall off my body.

Trend # 3: Mock Health Foods
Time of Peak Popularity: Mid to late 2000's

This trend quickly followed the low carb era. At this point, food manufactures wisely found a gullible market. The low fat trend had failed and the low carb diets are too hard for many people as they were unwilling to part with their beloved bread. As a result, you had a large market of people who desired to be healthy and lose weight but were unwilling to give up their beloved carb foods. As a result, the mock health food era begun. During this trend, food manufactures catered to the demands of the general public by providing "healthier" versions of their old-time favorites. As a result, phrases such as, "all natural", "organic", "made with whole grain" and "trans fat free" plastered the labels of chips, cookies, breakfast cereals and fries.

Good things:
This trend at least brought a heightened awareness of eating foods in natural state. 

Bad things:
This trend gave many people "permission" to continue to enjoy foods a slightly healthier version of foods that are still not that healthy or helpful for performance or body composition. I also wonder if this trend resulted in people eating a greater quantity of certain foods because they believed they were good for them and did not have to exercise as much restraint. 

Practical Application for Performance Nutrition:
If you are eating for optimal health, performance and body composition, some foods should be kept in the "rare treat" category. For example, even if the potatoes are organic, the oil they are cooked in starts non-hydrogenated and you use sea salt, fries are not healthy or helpful for a great physique. If you want whole grain, have some old-fashioned oatmeal or quinoa, not the breakfast cereal you ate as a kid that is now "made with whole grain" (that is like saying sugar is made from all natural sugar cane plant - it doesn't mater because the end product is still processed and will still spike your insulin levels). And, just because the brownies are organic does not mean you eat the whole batch. 

Trend # 4: Excessive Restriction 
Time of Peak Popularity: Now 

Today, more than ever, fad diets or philosophies that restrict big categories of foods are very popular. Examples include: gluten-free diets, avoiding fruit because it makes you fat (like that is the cause of the obesity epidemic), vegan diets, the Paleo diet, the Raw Food Diet and intermittent fasting. 

Good things:
Chicken, yams and veggies - delicious paleo meal
While many people like to argue about the differences between these diets, they often fail to see the similarities. All of these trends tend to pull people away from junk food into natural, whole food eating and that is great for improving health, performance and body composition and helping people feel better! Also, all of them (although done through different ways) tend to naturally restrict overall food intake (by removing certain food groups) which does help the average person lose fat.

One popular trend that has taught us a lot recently is intermittent fasting. It flies in the face of many things we used to believe where "rules" (e.g. always eat breakfast, eat every 2-3 hours to keep your metabolism up). While not appropriate for everyone, this way of eating has worked really well for some people and provided nutrition coaches like myself with another alternative eating strategy for certain clients and athletes. 

Bad things:
The downside to this trend is that people may be unnecessarily restricting foods that are not bad for them.  It can result in taking healthy eating too far and ending up with orthorexia (an eating disorder where one is obsessed with healthy eating to an unhealthy level). This trend can also lead to less variety and a greater potential for nutrient deficiencies. This can be particularly problematic for those trying to gain muscle or doing a high-volume of training. In these case,s it can be very difficult to get sufficient calories and excessive restriction makes it worse. Also, with a raw food diet for example, you miss out on nutrients that are more bioavailable through cooking (this is seen in both broccoli and tomatoes). 

Practical Application for Performance Nutrition:
Do not blindly follow a particular diet or eating philosophy. Rather, seek the individualize your nutrition by continually testing it. If you try gluten free and you feel better - great! If you do better with less grains in your diet, then eat less grains. If you do not tolerate dairy well, then look for other alternatives to get protein and calcium. However, an important trick when testing your nutrition is to make one change at a time. For example, I remember having a conversation with an individual who told me she had cut out wheat, meat and dairy and was feeling great! While I was happy for her, I was also sad to think that she may not have needed to cut all those foods to feel great. Let solid nutritional principles (not popular trends) guide your day-to-day eating decisions.

This Week's Practical Application Habit
As you continue to progress your nutrition, think through what you just read and reflect on whether you are blindly following a nutrition trend that is not helping you with your goals. If so, look at making a change to that area. Also, in preparation for future trends, determine to avoid jumping on and off band wagons and trying to blindly follow new trends. When a new trend comes out, sit back, wait, watch, read and reflect. Consider this trend in relation to your body and what has worked well for you in the past. Also, remember that you never have to marry yourself complete to one diet for the rest of your life. Change as necessary. Adopt things that you like from a particular way of eating, but feel free to customize it for you!

Below are the links to the other weekly habits in this series:
Week 29: Get more broccoli 

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