It's time again to start thinking about your healthy New Year's resolutions. Which nutrition trends do you want to leave in 2017 and which should you take into 2018? Here's a look on the good, the bad, and the downright ridiculous.
Less is more in the case of these popular food trends.
How can a food that contains 82 percent saturated fat — more than butter (63 percent) and beef fat (50 percent) — actually be healthy? Simply put, it's not. This type of fat is known to increase the LDL (bad) cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends those watching their cholesterol consume no more than 6 percent of saturated fat as part of their total daily calories. Sorry folks, coconut oil just doesn't fit into a heart healthy diet. Instead, try healthy fats like nuts/nut butters, avocado, olive oil and canola oil (which is rich in heart-healthy Omega 3's; look for non-GMO oils if that's a concern). But watch portions if you want to lose weight — healthy fats are just as caloric as unhealthy ones.
Apple cider vinegar
If you drink two tablespoons of apple vinegar daily before meals will you lose 10 pounds? If only it were that easy. You may lose a few pounds but not without possible side effects. For some people, drinking that much straight apple cider vinegar could lead to or aggravate gastrointestinal symptoms such as heartburn, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) or gastroparesis (delayed gastric emptying). Other unpleasant possible side effects include tooth enamel erosion, drug interaction and low potassium levels. If you are going to incorporate apple cider vinegar into your daily diet, limit the amount to one teaspoon diluted in 8 ounces of water. Better yet, just drink more water. A lot of people confuse thirst for hunger.
Green tea & green tea extracts
2017 was the year of the "skinny green tea detox." Besides tea bags, green tea comes in supplements like pills, powders and nutrition shakes. The tea contains antioxidants that may protect against heart disease and other conditions, but take these supplements with caution as some have been linked to liver damage. Drinking more than 10 cups of green tea per day can decrease absorption of calcium, iron and folic acid due to the tannin and caffeine content. Avoid the supplements, and cap your intake at four cups per day.
Where are the veggies? Take a look at the ingredients lists of most veggie chips and the first two are potatoes and oil. These products often contain the same amount of calories and fat as regular potato chips. Stick to freshly cut vegetable chips from squash, carrots, or zucchini— these provide far less calories, sodium, and fat and are much more nutritious.
The trend that just won't quit. Most of these pumpkin-spiced foods contain less than 2 percent of actual pumpkin spice or any real pumpkin. This product should be first on your list of "foods" to ditch in 2018.
The focus on food in 2018 will be on vegetables, gut health and naturally gluten-free foods.
Why should you start spiralizing vegetables? You'll get the look and texture of pasta while saving about 150 calories and 40 grams of carbohydrates per one cup serving — you'll also gain 5 grams of fiber! Most grocery stores offer pre-made veggie "noodles" or consider investing in a spiralizer to do it yourself. It reminds me of the Play-Doh pasta machine. Get your kids involved and maybe it will inspire them to eat this healthy, fun food!
It looks like rice, tastes like rice and it's worth the hype. Cauliflower rice (available fresh, frozen or you can make your own from whole florets), is low-carb and only 20 calories per cup. It is extremely versatile and be used in most recipes that call for rice or potatoes, such as cauliflower fried rice, mashed cauliflower and even cauliflower pizza. (Try my recipe for cauliflower rice below. Even my 12-year-old son liked it!)
Your intestinal track and immune system need live bacteria in order to thrive. Probiotics are known as the "good" bacteria to keep your gut healthy. Benefits of taking probiotics include management of conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and antibiotic-related diarrhea. You could take probiotics in pill or powered form, or consume them in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi. Pro tip: probiotics in yogurt are very temperature sensitive, so make sure you don't freeze or store yogurt at room temperature because the healthy bacteria will be gone. When purchasing a supplement, be sure to choose one that has undergone clinical studies; consult your dietitian or doctor.
Lactose intolerant? Choose Lactaid milk or soy milk. Not sure about soy? Try almond or cashew milk. Allergic to nuts? Pick up pea or hemp milk. These days there is a milk alternative for everyone that can provide similar amounts of calcium (40 percent) and vitamin D (25 percent) as dairy milk to support strong bones. It's important to note that some of these milks have more protein and sugars than others. Find an alternative that contains at least 8 grams of protein and less than 5 grams of sugar.
Naturally gluten-free foods
Clear your pantry of packaged gluten-free bread, cookies and cakes and focus on naturally gluten-free, nutrient-dense and fiber-rich foods like quinoa, buckwheat, flaxseed meal and brown rice. You can use these as ingredients to make your own cakes, breads and cookies with a higher nutrient content, and way less sugar.
In sum, my best advice to you is to focus on balance, flavor, mindful eating, and, most importantly, family time around the kitchen table. That makes the perfect 2018 plate.
Emily Rubin is a registered dietitian at Thomas Jefferson University's Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. She is also the main dietitian at Jefferson's Celiac Center, Fatty Liver Center, and Weight Management Center.