Food trends are everywhere, but are these nutrition buzzwords worth the hype?
When you stroll through the grocery store, you find yourself bombarded with nutritional buzzwords like gluten-free, probiotic health, 12 whole grains…the list can go on forever…
But what do all these things mean? How much do you know about what you put on your dinner table?
Do you REALLY know what gluten is? What are whole grains? Should you get more prebiotics or probiotics?
Before we can become nutritional mavericks, we need to be able to decipher the terminology. (Mostly so you can tell your friends all about how you have been learning to be healthier and sound like a BOSS BITCH…)
Ultimately, don’t be seduced by exciting words.
Let’s become more educated about these buzzwords so that we can make informed decisions about buying $6 loaves of bread and organic donuts.
You’ll probably know most of these terms, but we’re going to delve deeper into their meanings, and I’ll let you know whether or not the “buzz” is worth the hype.
Let’s get started.
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By far the most controversial on the list, gluten has been a hot nutritional topic for a few years.
But do you really know what gluten is?
Gluten is the protein found in the endosperm of the wheat grain. It is comprised of two proteins: gliadin and glutenin. These proteins are also present in rye and barley because they have proteins that are derived from gliadin and glutenin (technically called composites).
So why all the gluten-free foods popping up at the store?
In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about gluten intolerance and wheat allergy. Celiacs or “wheat allergy,” is a very real and scary autoimmune disease. When someone with Celiacs consumes wheat, barley or rye, their immune systems attacks their small intestine and inhibits the absorption of vital nutrients.
Celiacs affects 1 in 133 Americans, or 1% of the U.S. population. More commonly, people can be gluten-sensitive. Gluten sensitivity or intolerance has many of the same symptoms as Celiacs, without the immune response and attack of the small intestine. It is estimated that 18 million Americans are affected by gluten intolerance. However, many in the nutrition community believe it is one of the most over-diagnosed diseases in the country, and there are also those who believe the intolerance does not even exist.
This has only recently become a hot topic for discussion and the food industry has been paying attention.
Eighteen percent of U.S. consumers say they purchase and consume gluten-free products. In 2013, sales of gluten-free products in the United States was $10.54 billion. This is projected to reach $15.58 billion in 2016. A great number of these consumers are not suffering from any wheat allergy or intolerance, but see these products as healthier.
So I have a little bit of a problem with this.
Gluten is not inherently unhealthy for you.
If you don’t have Celiacs or an intolerance, you can freely eat wheat.
Like I mentioned earlier, gluten is just a protein, not to be confused for something evil. (No Oregon, Gluten is not the new Al Qaeda.) Personally, I’m deathly allergic bananas, kiwis, and some other awesome fruits, but no one is demonizing those fruits or any other foods like wheat has been for a few years now.
If you want to avoid wheat, go right ahead. It won’t hurt you. And I will even admit that I don’t mind that this trend has taken off for just one reason: my friends who actually suffer from Celiacs can now eat more easily and with more food options. I feel for them and how hard it can be just to get lunch. But those who are not suffering from wheat allergy just need to remember that your avoidance of gluten doesn’t make one healthier or cool.
Just trying to keep it real…
PROBIOTICS AND PREBIOTICS
Gut health is so important.
Those days when you ate something funny, were hungover, or simply having an off day that cripples you to stay in the bathroom a majority of the day are THE WORST.
I expect to have some of those days when traveling in other countries and when eating terribly unhealthy foods, but sometimes these days come along because you have neglected those bacteria living in your gut.
Alcohol consumption can be a large culprit of this problem (we have all been there after a night of whiskey). Binge drinking can cause damage to the gut and microflora keeping your digestion healthy. So maintaining healthy gut flora is of particular importance to those who enjoy their booze.
This is where prebiotics and probiotics come into play…
Prebiotics are a plant fiber. When you consume them and they reach your gut, they become fermented and act like fertilizer for healthy bacteria growth.
Probiotics are actual live bacteria, found in foods like yogurt, and do the same job as prebiotics in the gut.
However, prebiotics and probiotics are not created equal. The problem with probiotics is our lovely stomach acid. Stomach acid measures in at a pH between 1 and 3 (pH 7 is neutral, 14 is most basic) and has about the same corrosive power as battery acid.
So it isn’t all that shocking that the effectiveness of probiotics is questionable.
So why do I bring up this debate?
Food companies have been releasing and developing new probiotic foods, like juices and even pasta. Problem is there are no laws that say the company must prove the bacteria can survive all the way to the intestine. The only claims that must be proved true is the amount of bacteria that is in the product to begin with (and label which bacterial strains are included).
I’m not saying you shouldn’t eat yogurt (yogurt is awesome), I’m just suggesting that you help your gut through the consumption of prebiotic containing foods as well.
Here are some of the top prebiotic foods:
- Chicory root (Ingredient in Fiber One bars)
- Wheat bran
Point here: Making sure you get enough fiber in your diet every day will ensure you have a healthy gut.
Oh and in case you didn’t know, regardless of age, gender, and weight, an adult should consume 14g of fiber per every 1,000 calories consumed. So if you are consuming 2,000 calories a day, you should be eating 28g of fiber each day! Fiber does a lot more than help your gut, but I’ll leave that discussion for another day…
You are out to brunch and your server asks what kind of toast you want with your omelet and mimosa. Do you want the whole wheat or multigrain bread?
The multigrain bread sounds more healthy…I mean it has MULTIPLE grains, so it has to be better right? WRONG.
What makes your bread products healthier (and more fiber rich) is the use of the entire wheat grain, the bran, germ, and endosperm. When making white bread (or other non-whole grain bread), only the endosperm is used. Whole wheat is higher in fiber, vitamins B6 and E, magnesium, zinc, folic acid and chromium.
Multigrain bread while delicious, is not necessarily made with whole grains. The only guarantee with multigrain bread is that it contains parts of many different types of grains.
Consumption of 25g of whole grains per day has been shown to reduce risk of heart attack by 12-13%. This can be attributed to fiber’s role in LDL cholesterol removal. Regular consumption of whole grains has also been shown to reduce inflammation and cognitive decline in senior years. In combination with fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes, the addition of whole grains may help combat the development of dementia.
When shopping for bread, consider a few things.
Aim for whole grains (like I have been talking about for a minute here) and check the fiber content. Go for a loaf that has at least 3g of fiber per slice (more if you can find it), watch out for high sodium content (some breads have more than 200 mg per slice), and don’t just go for the 100 calorie a slice choice, it’s not necessarily healthier.
Organic is a term defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “Organic agriculture produces products using methods that preserve the environment and avoid most synthetic materials, such as pesticides and antibiotics.”
While I’m not one to say that pesticides and general agriculture practices in the U.S. are all fine and dandy, not every item made under the organic methods is THAT much healthier for you.
There are foods to buy organic, and then there are some that are just fine to buy from the regular section of the produce section.
Organic foods do not necessarily have more nutrients and are not obviously better for you, but they are definitely more expensive. So this is why we need to discuss the hype behind organic food.
First off, here are the actual verbatim rules for organic labeling by the USDA:
Under the new rules, foods will be labeled as belonging to one of four categories:
- Food that is 100 percent organic may carry the new “USDA organic” label and say “100% organic.”
- Food that is at least 95 percent organic may carry the new seal.
- Food that is at least 70 percent organic will list the organic ingredients on the front of the package.
- If a product is less than 70 percent organic, the organic ingredients may be listed on the side of the package but cannot say “organic” on the front.
I have to wonder, why 70% became this rule of thumb or lower limit for organic labeling? I will have to do some deeper investigation later…
Anyways, let’s get to the nitty gritty since we now know what defines an organic food and how they can get labeled.
What should you be sure to buy organic to avoid your exposure to harsh chemicals? (Not because those foods are magic because they are organic, just want to really drill that sentiment in)…
There is a list of fruits and vegetables called “The Dirty Dozen,” which have been deemed the most contaminated with pesticides and other chemicals used in agriculture when grown with traditional methods. This can be attributed to their permeable skins most instances.
On a party girl note, you may want to consider this when choosing a fruit mixer or chaser. Alcohol is enough chemical for one cup…
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Grapes (Imported)
While I endorse you to buy those in organic when you can, don’t feel like you have to buy the following foods organic (the following list of foods are generally safe in the non-organic form):
- Sweet Corn (Frozen)
- Sweet Peas (Frozen)
- Kiwi Fruit
Organic and natural foods is the largest growing food sector in the United States, making up 5.8% of total food sales in 2010. Of all organic food sold in the United States, organic fruits and vegetables make up 43.3%. And from just 2007 to 2008, the organic food market in the U.S. saw a 15.7% growth in sales.
With the organic food market growing so quickly, it is important that you can make an educated decision about what products are worth the extra money.
While you can’t put a price on your health, there are some foods that are a sounder investment than others.
What have we learned here?
The food industry likes to prey upon your tendency to jump on the bandwagon of various food and health trends. Your job is to educate yourself enough to know which trends are worth the hype.
Not all the trends you hear about are bullshit. Whole grains are healthy for you, just don’t get fooled by wordy names on products. Gluten is not the enemy, but gluten-free products are not automatically healthier with their lack of gluten proteins. Gut health is important and pro and prebiotics can help you, but not all forms are equally effective.
And the big O (I’m talking about organic, not THAT ‘O’…) doesn’t make your food magic. It just means there is less of a chance you are exposed to chemicals, (and there are chemicals everywhere, so in the grand scheme of life, this avoidance may not even matter, to be honest) but every little opportunity to avoid pesticides is probably a win.
There will be many more trends to come and many that will fade (remember that time when eggs were the enemy?). Be proactive and make sure you know the facts so you can make an educated decision.
What trends or buzzwords would you like to know more about? Tweet me or visit my Facebook page and tell me what you are interested in learning more about. I would love to investigate and help you learn even more about the foods you eat and the drinks you drink!
And don’t forget, if you learned something or loved this article, share it!