By Tomi Akanbi, MS, RD
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about how to be healthy. As the clinical nutrition coordinator at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, I talk to teens and young adults every day about how to be their healthiest selves. I end up having to debunk a lot of myths, especially when it comes to new health food trends. Here’s the truth behind 6 health food trends I’ve seen my patients following.
1. Apple Cider Vinegar
The claim: Apple cider vinegar will curb your appetite, helping you lose weight.
The truth: Studies show that apple cider vinegar can help mice and rats lose weight, but it probably doesn’t do much for humans. It may help manage blood sugar though.
I recommend: When people go a long time between meals, they tend to overeat later. If you’re concerned about overeating, eat 3 meals and 1-2 healthy snacks a day so you never get super hungry. Also avoid refined carbohydrates like white bread, sweets, and pasta. These make you feel hungry faster. Instead, eat complex carbohydrates like whole grain bread, vegetables and beans. These will help you feel fuller longer.
2. Coconut Oil
The claim: My patients use coconut oil for almost everything: skin care, hair conditioning and cooking healthy meals. Some health blogs claim coconut oil is a “clean,” healthy alternative to other cooking oils.
The truth: Using coconut oil for your skin and hair is perfectly fine, but coconut oil may not be healthy to eat too often. There haven’t been any long-term studies on coconut oil, so we don’t know how it affects your long-term health. However, we do know that coconut oil boosts both your “good” HDL cholesterol AND “bad” LDL cholesterol.
I recommend: Choose healthier oils with less saturated fat. Sub out coconut oil in favor of canola, olive, safflower, sesame, soybean or sunflower oils. All of these have been shown to boost your good cholesterol and can lower your bad cholesterol. Save coconut oil, palm oil, butter, lard and bacon grease for special treats. These all contain lots of saturated fat and increase bad cholesterol.
3. Power Bowls (or “Buddha” Bowls)
The claim: These colorful bowls usually include a mix of healthy grains, vegetables or fruit, protein and a sauce. Many food bloggers have touted them as a quick, easy way to throw together a nutritious and yummy meal.
The truth: Power bowls can be healthy, but it all depends on what (and how much) goes into them. For example, a burrito bowl from Chipotle can be over 800 calories—which is way more than you usually want in one meal!
I recommend: Make sure your power bowls are reasonably sized and include LOTS of vegetables and fruits. These have fewer calories than grains or starchy vegetables (like potatoes), and contain lots of fiber and important vitamins. Don’t include more than a cup of grains or starchy vegetables, and make sure your protein is lean, like lentils, tuna or roasted turkey. Use a sauce or dressing that’s low-fat and doesn’t have too much sugar.
4. Carb Alternatives
The claim: Replacing carbohydrates with vegetable look-alikes (such as zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash pasta, cauliflower rice and more) can help you lose weight, feel more alert and be overall healthier.
The truth: It’s true that a high carb diet can lead to health problems down the line, like diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Using carb alternatives can help you avoid a high-carb diet AND increase how many vitamin-rich vegetables you eat. However, you shouldn’t avoid carbohydrates completely. Fiber-rich carbs will boost your energy and keep your brain and body working like they should. They also maintain your energy levels and ability to concentrate.
I recommend: Carb alternatives are healthy so long as you don’t cut carbohydrates out of your diet completely. Go for whole grains (like brown rice, quinoa, barley and oatmeal), sweet potatoes, fruit and low-fat dairy.
5. Fermented Food and Drinks
The claim: Fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh and miso) and drinks (kombucha and kefir) have become popular because of claims that they make your digestive system healthier, boost your immune system and can even help you lose weight.
The truth: The probiotics and fiber in many fermented foods really do improve gut health in the short term and help your body digest food. However, we still need more research when it comes to claims about your immune system and weight loss. There just isn’t enough research on this yet. Some fermented foods can be high in sodium, which isn’t good for your heart health, and some (like kombucha) contain small amounts of alcohol.
I recommend: So long as you watch how much sodium you’re eating and avoid drinks and foods with added sugar, feel free to hop on the fermented food train!
6. Turmeric & Other Anti-Inflammatory Foods
The claim: The spice turmeric is anti-inflammatory. Recently, anti-inflammatory diets have been held up as the cure to a variety of ailments, from asthma to inflammatory bowel syndrome to acne.
The truth: It’s true that turmeric is anti-inflammatory, and that chronic inflammation is associated with many health problems like asthma, lupus, IBS, cancer, and more. While there’s been a lot of research on this subject, it’s still not clear whether an anti-inflammatory diet directly reduces or prevents chronic inflammation.
I recommend: Even though anti-inflammatory diets may not directly reduce inflammation, they’re still good for you in a bunch of other ways. Replacing refined carbs with whole grains and going for lean proteins and healthy fats will make you feel better short-term and be healthier throughout your life—whether they directly reduce inflammation or not.
Instead of following the latest food trends, consider these 6 healthy eating tips for teens. If you want some additional guidance or help becoming your healthiest self, consider making an appointment at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. We provide free, comprehensive health care for 10-22 year olds in NYC.
Tomi Akanbi, MS, RD is the Clinical Nutrition Coordinator at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. She holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition and Public Health from Columbia University, as well as a BA in Comparative Human Development from the University of Chicago. Tomi is passionate about improving our relationship with food and breaking down the barriers that prevent all New Yorkers from having access to affordable, nutritious food. She understands the challenges of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but believes that balanced eating, exercise, and overall wellness can be enjoyable and attainable for all.
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.
Featured image courtesy of Kim Cofino.