Diet & Nutrition

7 ‘healthy’ food trends that aren’t really healthy

In 2020, eating well has never been easier, but some not-so-good-for-you foods can masquerade as healthy options. Here, dietitian Kate Save reveals what to eat and what to avoid.

Some healthy food trends are easier to pick apart than others. Black water? According to dietitian Melissa Meier, that’s a load of wellness wankery. Pancake cereal? A definite miss (unless you make this expert-approved version here). But others – like the lauded celery juice and MCT oil – are a little harder to decode. Are they really healthy? Or are all they all hype?

To help us keep on the straight and narrow – and not unintentionally sabotage our own healthy eating habits – we asked Kate Save, dietitian, diabetes educator, exercise physiologist and CEO and founder of Be Fit Food, to spill the beans on the seven unhealthiest ‘healthy’ food trends. Here’s what they are:

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1. The keto diet

It might have topped the charts as the most popular diet of the year, but the keto diet isn’t the cure-all it claims to be. While it has been shown to assist with weight loss and blood sugar stabilisation, Save notes that it can also have dangerous consequences.

“It usually requires an excessive intake of fat, which can lead to high cholesterol and blood pressure,” Save tells Body+Soul. “What’s more, obtaining most of your calories from fat has the potential to slow weight loss down because fats contain more kilojoules per gram than carbohydrates. Also, the ketogenic diet cuts out entire food groups and therefore isn’t nutritionally complete.”

If you are interested in the keto diet, a more balanced approach would be the mild ketogenic diet. “This doesn’t cut out entire food groups or advocate for high fat intake,” explains Save.

2. Acai bowls

They’ve been flooding your Instagram account for years, and while Save notes acai bowls can be a healthy meal or snack thanks to the essential vitamins and minerals they contain, not all acai bowls are made the same. “Even though they are made from healthy ingredients they are energy dense, meaning they are high in kilojoules and carbs. If you are active, then the high-carb content of these bowls can make a great recovery meal post-exercise,” she explains.

If you’re loading your acai bowls with extra fruit and sweeteners and not getting a move on, though, they can be a kilojoule bomb in disguise.

3. Celery juice

Oh, celery juice. According to reports, it can clear your skin, ease headaches and soothe your digestion – but can it really? “A regular intake of celery juice, when consumed in combination with a healthy balanced diet, is great,” says Save.

“However, a prolonged celery juice diet deprives the body of important plant-based, wholefood benefits including dietary fibre. It’s therefore important to ensure your diet is made up of a wide variety of different coloured plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruit and wholegrains in addition to lean proteins, seafood and healthy fats.

“Plus, our bodies already have very effective detoxifying systems in them that involve our liver, kidneys and lymphatic drainage system, therefore ‘juice cleanses’ and ‘detoxes’ aren’t really necessary.”

It’s fine to kickstart your morning with a glass of celery juice, but if you’re downing it by the litre in hopes of a illness-free body, it’s doing you more harm than good.

4. Agave syrup

“Agave syrup is a highly refined sugar syrup made from agave nectar,” explains Save. “Despite being a low-GI sweetener, agave syrup is very high in fructose and consuming too much of it can lead to health complications and even weight gain. It’s important to consume agave syrup in moderation because it is really just another type of ‘sugar’.”

5. Plant-based meats

The benefits of plant-based eating are clear, but ‘fake’ or plant-based meats, aren’t always the healthier option. “Plant-based meats rarely contain the same balance of essential amino acids or sufficient protein levels as lean meat, fish, poultry and eggs,” warns Save. “They are also often highly processed and high in saturated fats and sodium, so it’s important to read labels before buying.”

If you’re keen to limit your meat consumption, try incorporating one or two meat-free days or dinners into your diet. “However, meat contains many essential vitamins and minerals, therefore if you plan to eliminate it from your diet completely, it is important to seek advice from an accredited dietitian, or other relevant health professional, as to how best to go about this,” notes Save.

6. Veggie chips

Just because you put ‘veggie’ in the name doesn’t make it healthy. “Yes, it’s true, veggie chips are no different to ordinary potato chips (potatoes are vegetables too, after all),” says Save. “So, don’t be fooled by the name. Veggie chips are often just highly processed fried veggie snacks that are laden with salt. They’re also highly addictive just like potato chips, so enjoy them sparingly!”

7. MCT oil

“MCT oil is found primarily in coconut oil and palm oil. While MCT oil is widely considered to have many health benefits, there is conflicting research out there,” explains Save. “Unlike longer-chain fatty acids, MCTs go straight to the liver where they can be used as instant energy or turned into ketones, which is an alternative energy source for the brain instead of glucose, but only when glucose is in short supply. Because MCTs need to be used by the body first as an energy source, a surplus can easily be converted into body fat.”

According to Save, the benefits of MCT oil hasn’t been proven in large-scale human trials, so it’s best to stick to heart-healthy fats like olive and canola oils and the omega-3 fatty acids found in nuts, which have been heavily researched.