A “healthy” diet can mean many different things these days with so many buzzwords bandied about.
Among those is “vegan,” arguably the most accurate descriptor for a cooking series featured in this week’s A la Carte. The term has long come with an animal-loving connotation but more recently has been touted by medical experts as the most healthful way to eat. We all need more vegetables, fruits and whole grains and, for some, the only way to get those is through a process of elimination — cutting out meat, cheese and other animal fats that have been linked to chronic conditions.
As the recipes with today’s story show, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s Food for Life program, promotes low-fat cooking, even when the fat could be plant-based. The salad calls for no oil but rather relies on citrus juice and spices as the dressing, says instructor Laurie Gadbois. Likewise, the soup starts by toasting Thai curry paste in the pot, rather than the more typical maneuver of sauteing vegetables.
While the diet may not be sustainable for everyone, it’s a good way to start building awareness and establishing more healthful eating habits. The more extreme version of veganism, of course, is raw, meaning foods are never heated above the temperature believed to destroy vital enzymes. Consuming some foods raw, of course, is a sound practice, but many nutrition experts say an entirely raw diet is unnecessary, even counterproductive. Not surprisingly, the diet landed on a list of 2012’s worst diets, recently published by Fitbie.com.
Acknowledging that cooking can destroy certain health-promoting enzymes, Andrea N. Giancoli, registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says the human digestive system often kills those enzymes, anyway. Also lost in a raw diet is much of a food’s natural fiber during the peeling, slicing, dicing, dehydrating and juicing that is commonly promoted. Her group advocates eating produce whole and eating it often and consuming some lean meats and dairy, which have many nutritional benefits that help maintain health and weight loss.
At the other end of the spectrum is “eating like a caveman,” aka the hugely popular Paleo Diet, based on the foods that humans’ hunter-gatherer ancestors ate: fruits, vegetables and meat. But Giancoli points out that the last in that list didn’t historically include cows or chickens but rather “super-lean” wild game, which isn’t practical for most modern humans to obtain with any regularity. Meats from domesticated farm animals, she says, have more saturated fat than is healthy.
On that note, cutting out carbs remains popular but just as problematic as ever, nutrition experts say. Your body needs this nutrient for energy. Without it, you’re running off ketones, little carbon fragments created by the breakdown of fat with side effects of bad breath, dry mouth, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, insomnia, calcium loss and nausea, Giancoli says.
Also among the worst diet trends of the past year:
The Alkaline Diet excludes large food groups in a bid to change blood chemistry to prevent cancer. In reality, it can cause low blood sugar and deficiencies in essential fatty acids, phytonutrients, protein and calcium.
Commercial cleanses allow dieters to drop a few pounds of water weight while consuming only juice. But the notion that this is a superior method of detoxification sells short the body’s own detox system: the liver, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract, which perform optimally when fed what they need.
The disturbingly popular HCG Diet, unapproved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for over-the-counter use, limits dieters to between 500 and 800 calories a day while administering a hormone produced during pregnancy. Proponents say it speeds up the metabolism, but nutrition experts say the opposite. Eventually, the body is forced to feed on its muscles, which can weaken the heart and other organs. Overall muscle tone also is sacrificed, and the faster weight comes off, the more likely dieters are to regain it,” says Giancoli. Balanced and healthy diets should not cause more than 1 to 2 pounds of weight loss per week.