Even if you feel like you’re managing your health just fine, the plethora of advocates for health trends can make you do a double take. Should you try this diet or that cleanse?
Some of these trends are attractive, claiming to treat a variety of things, from autoimmune diseases and pain to mental health. But how do you sift through the buffet of trends, knowing which ones to pick up and which ones to leave?
We’ve combed through the latest health trends and determined which ones are helpful, and — depending on whether you receive a diagnosis of a certain condition later on — which ones could do more harm than good.
It doesn’t seem like anything can stop the keto diet craze. The diet’s guidelines call for low-carb, high-fat meals. The idea is that without carbs to burn, your body will break down fat into ketone bodies for energy.
“What this equates to is rapid weight loss for many people,” says Leah Kaufman, MS, a registered dietician at NYU Langone Health’s Weight Management. Studies support this, but don’t show that weight loss on keto is more significant long term than other diets.
And while many people use the keto diet for weight loss, it might also be beneficial for a number of conditions, like bipolar disorder. People with bipolar disorder have elevated amounts of sodium in their cells. Medication to treat bipolar disorder lowers the sodium level, and the keto diet has the same type of effect.
A 2017 study found the keto diet helped people with diabetes lose more weight and lower their blood sugar levels more over 32 weeks compared to a conventional, low-fat diabetes diet.
One woman turned to a keto diet to help manage her diabetes, because lowering carb intake results in lowered blood sugars.
The keto diet may help treat:
- diabetes and prediabetes
- heart disease
- epilepsy in children
- Alzheimer’s disease
- bipolar disorder
Critics of the keto diet say it’s only a short-term solution and in the long term can actually be unhealthy.
The initial effects of weight loss are due to water weight. It might not be optimal for those who want to gain muscle. Pregnant women need folic acid to protect against birth defects of the brain and spine. So if you’re pregnant, discuss the keto diet with your doctor before starting it.
Is the keto diet unhealthy for anyone?Talk to a doctor before you try keto if you’re pregnant or trying to conceive.
IF is an eating pattern that cycles between fasting and eating. It’s not so much about which foods are on or off the table, so to speak, but more about when you should eat throughout the day.
Fasting methods include either daily 16-hour fasts or fasting for 24 hours twice a week.
“One version of intermittent fasting is to spend only 6 to 10 hours during the day eating,” says Kaufman. “There have been positive effects shown for weight loss, specifically by preventing nighttime eating and nighttime indulging.”
Benefits of intermittent fasting:
- reduction in insulin resistance
- lower risk of type 2 diabetes
- less oxidative stress and inflammation in the body
- improve heart health
- promote cellular repair
- reduce inflammation in multiple sclerosis (MS)
New research suggests IF can help reduce MS symptoms. In fact, calorie restriction is a multifactorial approach to treating MS. It can reduce pro-inflammatory molecules while increasing anti-inflammatory ones.
The research on this is small, and what’s been studied has largely used mice. However, the results were very promising: IF greatly reduced symptoms of MS in the mice. The results were significant enough to do a small study with people.
According to Kaufman, IF might be best avoided if you need to eat a certain amount of calories per day. And since it’s a diet of restriction, there’s also the concern some people may become overly anxious or stressed about food or weight.
If you’re considering IF, consider speaking to your doctor if you have one of the following conditions:
- low blood pressure
- trying to conceive
- pregnant or breastfeeding
For people living with an autoimmune disease, it’s common knowledge that food plays a big role in fighting or aiding inflammation. Juicing, smoothies, and tonics are often thought to play a role in helping minimize the adverse effects of certain autoimmune diseases.
Studies have shown that parsley in green juice targets inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
Ginger, another key ingredient in many juices or smoothies, prevents production of inflammatory molecules like prostaglandin and leukotriene.
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, can often help reduce the body’s inflammatory response as well.
Diet may be a factor in depression, too. A 2009 study suggests a diet high in processed foods increases the risk of developing depression. Juicing can provide the body with nutrients, and it may be a good treatment add-on for depression alongside your doctor-prescribed treatment.
A diet rich in whole foods like fruits and vegetables may help improve depressive symptoms. For example, the bases of many juices or smoothies are kale or spinach. These leafy greens are rich in folate, which helps the body regulate homocysteine. This is an amino acid associated with depression.
Citrus fruit like oranges, grapefruit, and lemons are also often used in smoothies or juices. The vitamin C in the citrus fruits has been shown to be a factor in the regulation of dopamine. Berries also contain folate and act as neurotransmitters to help in the production of serotonin.
Consider trying juicing for:
- autoimmune conditions
- chronic pain
It’s always important to check the ingredients going into your smoothies or juices. “Check for added fruit, which is a source of excess sugar,” Kaufman says.
“Pineapple or apple are often added to smoothies, which increase the overall sugar intake. Also, many people might not be satisfied from smoothies or juices because there is no added protein, which keeps you full. This causes people to reach for something extra to eat and can double the amount of calories you’re consuming,” she adds.
Avoid smoothies or juicing with high levels of sugar if you have:
The internet is buzzing these days with the term “golden milk.” But what exactly is it? Golden milk is a turmeric-filled drink typically used in Ayurvedic medicine.
Turmeric is known to supply antioxidants and fight inflammation associated with conditions like:
It may also improve mood, help depression, and potentially lower anxiety levels.
“It is best to be mindful about where you get golden milk from,” Kaufman warns. “If you’re getting it from a coffee shop, there might be increased sugar. But having turmeric is typically not harmful to the body.”
There don’t seem to be serious side effects from consuming turmeric and curcumin, but it’s always best to check ingredients to ensure the product doesn’t contain cheap fillers. These can cause adverse symptoms in people with celiac disease.
The low-FODMAP diet is growing popular among people with common digestive disorders. FODMAPs are small carbohydrates found in certain foods, such as:
- wheat and other grains
- beverages with high sugar or alcoholic content
FODMAPs have been linked to digestive symptoms, including:
- stomach pain
When can a low-FODMAP diet help?The diet has been shown to help with irritable bowel syndrome and endometriosis. It may help inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
The low-FODMAP diet has been studied in people with irritable bowel syndrome, a common digestive disorder.
“This is an elimination diet, based on sugars found in certain foods,” Kaufman says. “It’s an elimination that lasts around four weeks before you start slowly incorporating them back into your diet to find out what the inflammatory triggers are.”
Dietary therapies are typically considered benign, but the restriction of fructans, which are probiotics, may lead to a reduction in beneficial bacteria. A low-FODMAP diet should be applied with proper education under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
People who aren’t FODMAP-intolerant have no reason to go on a low-FODMAP diet. Many foods that contain FODMAPs are in fact very healthy. FODMAPs are considered a clean source of energy that support the “good” gut bacteria in people who can tolerate them.
Only consider a FODMAP diet if you have digestive issues.
Meagan Drillinger is a travel and wellness writer. Her focus is on making the most out of experiential travel while maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Her writing has appeared in Thrillist, Men’s Health, Travel Weekly, and Time Out New York, among others. Visit her blog or Instagram.