Are you confused when it comes to popular diets and nutrition claims? Welcome to the club! With so much conflicting information presented in the media, it can be difficult to decipher fact from fiction. Should you follow a paleo diet? Do a detox? Is organic worth it? What about artificial sweeteners?
Paleo or Caveman Diets
Modeled after the eating patterns hunter-gatherers would have followed in prehistoric times, paleo diets limit grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugar, potatoes, processed foods, salt, and refined vegetable oils while encouraging grass-fed meats, fish/seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts/seeds and healthful oils.
Paleo diets have several healthy advantages including:
- They emphasize nutrient dense foods.
- Include heart healthy fats.
- Are satiating and keep you fuller longer.
- Have been shown effective for improving several chronic diseases.
However, there are disadvantages too:
- Paleo diets are high in fat and calories which can contribute to weight gain.
- They limit many food groups and can lead to nutrient deficiencies.
- Restricted diets are difficult to maintain and hard to follow for long periods of time.
The USDA defines organic foods in three ways:
- 100 percent organic: Product must contain 100 percent organic ingredients.
- Organic: At least 95 percent of ingredients are organically produced.
- Made with organic ingredients: At least 70 percent of ingredients are organic. The remaining 30 percent must come from the USDA’s approved list.
Controversy has arisen over whether or not organic foods are healthier, safer, or better for the environment. In terms of pesticide content, organic fruits and vegetables likely contain lower quantities. One study found pesticide contamination in 38 percent of conventional foods but in only seven percent of organic foods. As for nutrient content, there is a lack of strong evidence supporting that organic foods are more nutritious than conventional foods. However, organic foods have been shown in some studies to contain higher levels of Vitamin C, Magnesium, Iron, Omega 3s, and Phosphorus. Organic meats are also not given any growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs and have been shown to have lower levels of antibiotic resistant bacteria than conventional meats. Additionally, organic farming techniques aim to minimize soil erosion, utilize crop rotation, and prevent contamination of crops, soil, and water. It also uses less energy and decreases greenhouse gas emissions.
Also known as nonnutritive sweeteners, artificial sweeteners contain little to no carbohydrates and contribute very few calories. There are currently seven FDA approved nonnutritive sweeteners in the USA. They include:
- Luo han guo (Monk fruit extract)
- S-Sucralose (Splenda)
The safety of artificial sweeteners is often questioned. Sucralose (Splenda) has been found to alter the healthy bacteria content in the GI tract and was also found to effect glycemic and hormonal responses in the body. In 1977 Saccharin was almost banned after a study on rats found a link to bladder cancer. Since then studies on humans have disproven this theory and Saccharin remains FDA approved. Overall most research suggests that in small to moderate amounts the above sweeteners are safe and do not directly cause serious side effects. However, it is important to remember that most studies have been done on rodent populations and the long term effects are still unclear.
Detox diets claim to remove toxins from the body and improve health, increase energy, aid in digestion, decrease inflammation and promote weight loss.
- Detoxes remove toxins from the body.
- Are helpful for breaking addictive habits.
- Allow GI cells to “rest” and rebuild stronger and healthier.
- Decrease inflammation and help aid in the healing or prevention of chronic diseases.
- These diets lack research and there is no true consensus on the above claims.
- Are not credible weight loss method and not maintainable long term.
- If done improperly may cause electrolyte imbalances and cardiac failure.
- May lead to loss of energy and decreased mental clarity.
- Potentially could cause GI upset or diarrhea.
- Not appropriate for those with complex medical problems, pregnant women, children or older adults.
- The human body is capable of eliminating toxins on its own.
As you can see most nutrition claims include elements of both fact and fiction. Just remember if it seems drastic or difficult to maintain, it probably is!
Today’s Dietician, United States Department of Agriculture
About the author
This content has been written or reviewed by a member of the Baylor Scott & White Health medical staff.