Health food trends that may be putting you in danger
With growing consumer interest in healthy eating, we are seeing a concerning increase of non-qualified health advice on social media. ‘Extremism’ in so called healthy eating is leading to diet fads and nutritional deficiencies as we see more and more people cut out complete food groups such as dairy, wholegrains, legumes and even fruit. The replacement of these food groups can lead to an overdose of the same food such as nuts and coconuts. We are all literally going nuts for nuts with nut milks, nut butters, nut cheeses, nut flours and nut creams. This can lead to nutrient imbalances and food sensitivities.
Before you jump on the latest health craze bandwagon be sure to do your own research and be mindful of some of the latest craziest health fads out there.
Health Fad Alerts:
Activated charcoal is a form of charcoal that is used in medicine. It is regular charcoal that has been treated with gas to create to multiple tiny internal spaces within the charcoal. These tiny spaces within the activated charcoal “trap” toxins and chemicals almost like a sponge.
Activated charcoal is used in medicine primarily to treat poisonings such as alcohol poisoning but is also used in water filters to purify water, and in tablet or powder form to help reduce flatulence, and alleviate symptoms of traveller’s tummy bugs and dysentery.
Because activated charcoal is so good at trapping chemicals it does this with the majority of substances it comes into contact with not just poisons. This means that the current detox trend of adding activated charcoal to juices, smoothies or food negates the nutrient content of the food. Adding activated charcoal to healthy food and juice drinks is therefore completely pointless. A study on the “Effect of Activated Charcoal on Water- Soluble Vitamin Content of Apple Juice”1 in the Journal of Food Quality found that apple juice with charcoal added resulted in considerable reduction in vitamins C, B6, B1 and niacin than the untreated control sample.
Activated charcoal can also bind to medications decreasing their effectiveness and can lower nutrient absorption, a particular risk for those with anaemia, underactive thyroid conditions, malabsorption gut issues such as IBS and Crohn’s disease and pregnancy. There are even side effects involved with taking activated charcoal such as diarrhoea, vomiting and constipation.
Whilst activated charcoal certainly has a beneficial role in professional medicine, taking it regularly to detoxify the body by adding it to juices and foods is misleading. There is simply no demonstrable evidence available to support the notation that a regular dietary intake of activated charcoal is beneficial or helpful in anyway. Charcoal’s effects are limited to the gastrointestinal tract; it is not capable to extract toxins from the rest of your body however its effectiveness in extracting money from your wallet, well that’s yet to be determined…
Fermented Kombucha Tea
Kombucha tea is beginning to pop up everywhere, whether you buy it from the health food store, local café or ferment your own at home it is hard to escape this alien looking fungi.
Kombucha lovers make grand health claims that this sour tasting brew can heal your gut, boost immune system health, alleviate inflammatory disease, help liver detoxification and even reduce the risk of cancer. There is very little evidence if any to support such claims.
Kombucha tea is made from a kombucha scoby, an acronym for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Tea, sugar and often additional flavouring is added (to mask the somewhat unpleasant taste) to the scoby which ferments and produces an almost vinegary, carbonated beverage rich with probiotic bacteria. The health benefits of kombucha are thought to be from the probiotic containing bacteria that it produces.
Where kombucha can get dangerous is in the actual fermentation process. A toxin producing fungus can accumulate when the acid levels are too low plus because the scoby naturally absorbs toxins it can absorb chemicals from water and ceramic containers which could lead to heavy metal toxicity2. Kombucha is yeast that feeds on sugar to produce alcohol and gas. One of the by products produced in the fermentation process is acetaldehyde, which can become an irritant for some once ingested. There has also been a reported case of anthrax bacillus in kombucha tea fermented in unhygienic conditions3.
Those with poor digestive health, IBS, the elderly, a lowered immune system, yeast and fungal infections and even pregnancy could be putting their health at risk by drinking large amounts of kombucha, especially the home brewed variety. A better probiotic fix may be from natural live culture yoghurts or probiotic supplementation.
Raw Food Only Diet
Advocates of a raw food only diet claim that raw food is better for you as the heat from cooking destroys vital nutrients. Whilst overcooking vegetables can certainly diminish the nutrient content and the heat from cooking can destroy natural enzymes present in food, eating all your food raw is not always a healthier option.
Studies show that the cooking process breaks helps to break down the tougher outer surface and cellular structures of many vegetables making them easier to digest and the nutrients easy to absorb4. Many vegetables are better eaten lightly cooked such as tomatoes, carrots , spinach and kale as their nutrient content becomes more bio available (easier to absorb). Some vegetables are actually better for us when they are lightly cooked as the heat can deactivate certain harmful compounds. For example cooking cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts and cauliflower may also help to deactivate harmful thyroid disruptive compounds that they contain.
Adding raw greens such as kale to smoothies everyday may affect the thyroid gland and should be avoided particularly by those with underactive thyroid conditions as this can hinder weight loss rather than promote it.
Avoiding Fruit and Fruit Juice
With sugar becoming public enemy number one this year, fruit has become the new demon as it contains fructose, a natural plant sugar. Whilst high fructose corn syrup certainly promotes health risks such as diabetes, obesity and some cancers the thought that fruit does the same is simply untrue.
The potential health risk of high fructose corn syrup and sugar are due to their addition to most processed foods, therefore substantially increasing sugar consumption and with that comes the associated health risks. Fruit is full of health promoting vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre which slows down the absorption of sugar into the blood stream. Eating fresh, whole fruits is extremely healthy and cutting fruit out of your diet increases the risk of a deficiency in essential nutrients5.
Many plant milks are full of artificial additives, loaded with sweeteners and contain inflammatory promoting thickeners such as carrageen gum. Pick your plant milks with caution by careful label reading as they could be doing you more harm than good.
It is important to rotate your plant milks so that you are not drinking too much of the same milk and overdosing on naturally occurring chemicals such as salicylates and oxalates which can provoke allergy type symptoms. It is not just the new trend of nut milks to be cautious about, regular consumption of rice milk has been linked to concerns of arsenic toxicity6, especially in children.
There are some people that do not tolerate cow’s milk well and would be better to drink plant based milks but the key is to choose minimally processed milks that do not contain the nasty additives. The most natural milk is whole organic full fat cow’s milk as it is the least processed and most nutrient dense.
1 KADAKAL, Ç., POYRAZOGLU, E. S., ARTIK, N. and NAS, S. (2004), EFFECT OF ACTIVATED CHARCOAL ON WATER-SOLUBLE VITAMIN CONTENT OF APPLE JUICE. Journal of Food Quality, 27: 171–180. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-4557.2004.tb00647
2 PHAN TG, ESTELL J, DUGGIN G, BEER I, SMITH D, FERSON MJ. 1998. LEAD POISONING FROM DRINKING KOMBUCHA TEA BREWED IN A CERAMIC POT. Med J Aust 169:644–6.PubMed,CAS,Web of Science
3 SADJADI J. 1998.CUTANEOUS ANTHRAX ASSOCIATED WITH THE KOMBUCHA MUSHROOM IN IRAN. J Am Med Assoc 280:1567–8.CrossRef,PubMed,CAS,Web of Science
4 VERONICA DEWANTO , XIANZHONG WU ,KAFUI K. ADOM , AND RUI HAI LIU, THERMAL PROCESSING ENHANCES THE NUTRITIONAL VALUE OF TOMATOES BY INCREASING TOTAL ANTIOXIDANT ACTIVITY DEPARTMENT OF FOOD SCIENCE AND INSTITUTE OF COMPARATIVE AND ENVIRONMENTAL TOXICOLOGY, Stocking Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853
5 ROEDER AMY, SKIP THE JUICE, GO FOR WHOLE FRUIT, [ONLINE] Available at: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2013/08/reduce-type-2-diabetes-risk/. [Accessed 6 June 2016].
6 MEHARG AA1, DEACON C, CAMPBELL RC, CAREY AM, WILLIAMS PN, FELDMANN J, RAAB A. INORGANIC ARSENIC LEVELS IN RICE MILK EXCEED EU AND US DRINKING WATER STANDARDS. J Environ Monit. 2008 Apr;10(4):428-31. doi: 10.1039/b800981c. Epub 2008 Mar 7.