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The 2019 Year in Nutrition: Hype, Game-Changers, and Snake Oil

Is CBD worth the hype? Is celery juice a cure-all? What's the biggest nutrition game-changer? Here's Nutrition Diva's breakdown of 2019's top nutrition news.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
Episode #555
2019 year in nutrition
The Quick And Dirty
  • Most Over-Hyped Ingredient: Cannibidiol or CBD
  • Biggest Game Changer: Microbiome analysis for blood sugar control
  • Worst Diet Fad: The Carnivore Diet
  • Most Useful Hack: Restricted eating windows
  • Most Misunderstood Nutrition Concept: Leaky gut
  • Most Disruptive New Product: Plant-based burgers
  • 2019 Snake Oil Award:  Celery juice

 

I’ve been hosting the Nutrition Diva podcast for 11 years now—555 episodes and counting! Every year, there are plenty of new products, research studies, trends, and fads to talk about. But there are always a few stories that—for better or worse—are particularly memorable. As 2019 winds down, here are my nominations for the year’s most notable nutrition stories.

Most Over-Hyped Ingredient: Cannibidiol or CBD

CBD is a chemical found in the hemp or marijuana plant. Although CBD won’t get you high, there is some evidence to suggest that it might reduce pain and anxiety. It may also have anti-inflammatory properties. Evidence from controlled studies is still quite limited. 

RELATEDCBD Oil: Does the Science Support the Hype?

Nonetheless, CBD has become the hot new ingredient in everything from makeup to pet care products. In addition to tinctures and supplements, you can buy CBD-infused lotions, oils, room sprays, candles, and chocolates. 

The only CBD product to have been approved by the FDA so far is a prescription drug that treats certain rare types of epilepsy. Other than that use, the FDA considers other medical claims for CBD to be unproven.

The runaway popularity of CBD caught the regulatory agencies a little off guard. The FDA is scrambling to gather information and formulate its position. It’s still not clear whether CBD will be regulated as a food, drug, or dietary supplement. In the meantime, it’s pretty much the wild west. 

The only CBD product to have been approved by the FDA so far is a prescription drug that treats certain rare types of epilepsy. Other than that use, the FDA considers other medical claims for CBD to be unproven. They further warn that the limited data on the safety of CBD raises significant concerns about its use in humans or in pets.

A lot of the products out there riding the CBD craze don’t contain enough active ingredient to pose any real risk. But that means they are also unlikely to provide any real benefit. 

The Quick and Dirty

Although the research is still preliminary, CBD may be useful as a treatment for pain, anxiety, and other conditions. But the current lack of regulation leaves consumers unprotected against potentially unsafe products and or unproven claims. Buyer beware. 

Biggest Game-Changer: Microbiome analysis for blood sugar control 

High blood sugar is a serious condition that threatens the health of more than 100 million adults in the U.S. For decades, we’ve taught people to control their blood sugar by counting carbohydrates. Although this was helpful, it was an extremely blunt tool. The development of the Glycemic Index put a slightly sharper edge on that tool. 

Dietary recommendations based on this algorithm have been shown to control blood sugar control better than standard dietary advice based on carbs or calories.

And now we’ve honed that edge even further. A medical research and technology company called the Weiszman Institute has developed an algorithm that can more accurately predict an individual’s blood sugar response based on an analysis of their intestinal bacteria. Dietary recommendations based on this algorithm have been shown to control blood sugar control better than standard dietary advice based on carbs or calories. 

RELATEDCan Your Microbiome Reveal Your Ideal Diet?

I predict that artificial intelligence and machine learning is going to lead to more healthcare revolutions in the near future.  But, as with CBD, there are likely to be a lot of companies jumping on the bandwagon with products and protocols that have not been scientifically vetted. You’ll want to do your homework before plunking down your credit  card.

The Quick and Dirty

I think this new approach could be a game-changer in the treatment and prevention of of diabetes, especially if health insurers start picking up some of the tab.  

Worst Diet Fad: The Carnivore Diet

This one is so absurd it almost seems like a prank. But, unfortunately, the 2019 hype was for real. As the name implies, on the carnivore diet you eat only meat, fish, eggs, and dairy—no vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes, or grains. In other words, no prebiotics, no phytonutrients, and few antioxidants.

Not only is this diet nutritionally bankrupt, it’s also completely out of sync with the zeitgeist.  

As the name implies, on the carnivore diet you eat only meat, fish, eggs, and dairy—no vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes, or grains. In other words, no prebiotics, no phytonutrients, and few antioxidants.

Lower-carb and higher-protein diets continue to be popular. But, as a society, we are becoming more aware of the the environmental impacts of raising animals for food. 

More and more individuals are seeking to reduce their consumption of animal foods. The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise that reducing meat in favor of plant-based proteins benefits both our health and our planet.

The Quick and Dirty

An all meat diet? No. Just no.

Most Useful Hack: Restricted eating window

Intermittent fasting continues to enjoy widespread popularity and research continues to validate its usefulness in managing weight and other disease risks. There are lots of different protocols that fall under this umbrella. In my opinion, the most user-friendly and useful of these is the restricted eating window.

RELATEDDoes Intermittent Fasting Work?

Part of the appeal is the simplicity: You can eat as much you want as long as you stop eating at a certain time and don’t start again for a set number of hours. Although some extreme versions of this practice advocate a 4-hour eating window and 20-hour fast, a 10- to 12-hour eating window is more sustainable for most people. For example, you could wait until 8 a.m. to have your breakfast and then finish your evening meal by 7 or 8 p.m.  

Closing the kitchen by 8 p.m. every night effectively shuts down that evening snacking that, for many of us, contributes a lot of unnecessary calories and not a whole of nutritional value.

Closing the kitchen by 8 p.m. every night effectively shuts down that evening snacking that, for many of us, contributes a lot of unnecessary calories and not a whole of nutritional value. That can obviously lead to weight loss. 

But the benefits of a restricted eating window appear to be more than just about reducing total calorie intake. Even if you eat the same number of calories, a longer fasting period overnight may improve your blood sugar control and have beneficial effects on your metabolism. It can also improve your digestion and your sleep quality. 

The Quick and Dirty

Observing a 12- to 14-hour fast every 24 hours offers multiple benefits. 

Most Misunderstood Nutrition Concept: Leaky gut

Intestinal permeability is a real medical condition—complete with validated diagnostic criteria and treatment protocols. It’s also pretty rare.

Contrary to popular lore, undigested food particles do not slip through gaps in the lining of your intestine and enter your bloodstream. Ever.

Leaky gut is a made-up condition that, according to the Interwebs, affects 80 to 90% of the population. Contrary to popular lore, undigested food particles do not slip through gaps in the lining of your intestine and enter your bloodstream. Ever. 

For more on the science of intestinal permeability, check out my interview with Tamara Freuman.

The Quick and Dirty

Intestinal permeability is a real but rare medical condition, but undigested food particles never leak through the lining of your intestine into your bloodstream.

Most Disruptive New Product: Plant-based burgers

We’ve had vegetarian meat alternatives since the 60s ... and they weren’t fooling anyone. Tofu hot dogs, soy burgers, fake chicken nuggets, and, of course, the notorious Tofurky gave vegans something to put in their hot dog and hamburger buns during the summer and something to put next to their stuffing at Thanksgiving. But no one ever mistook a strip of fake bacon for the real thing. 

New products like the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger are taking the plant-based meat game to the next level.

But new products like the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger are taking this game to the next level. These vegetarian burgers are not for those who don’t like meat. If you don’t like meat, you are not going to like a Beyond or Impossible Burger. They look, cook, chew, and taste surprisingly like fresh ground beef. They're the option for people who enjoy eating meat but feel like maybe they shouldn’t. 

RELATEDIs the Vegan Impossible Burger Healthy for You?

Critics point out that these are highly processed foods. And they are not necessarily any more nutritious than the foods they replace. In fact, they’ve been formulated to approximate the nutritional profile of ground beef. But for many, those are lesser evils than the environmental and animal welfare impacts of eating meat. 

Now that the Impossible burger has successfully made the leap into fast food restaurants, plant-based meats are officially mainstream. 

The Quick and Dirty

We’ve come a long way from tofu pups. I’m curious to see the next generation of animal-free meat, eggs, and dairy products. 

Snake Oil Award: Celery juice

This year’s snake oil award goes to Anthony William, creator of the celery juice phenomenon. William has managed to convince an astonishing number of people that drinking 16 ounces of fresh celery juice every morning will cure you from a long list of health conditions, including a couple he invented himself! He claims to have healed millions of people from everything from acne to anxiety.  

The purported health claims are so absurd that they don’t even merit debunking.

The claims are so absurd that they don’t even merit debunking. Suffice it to say that although celery juice is a perfectly harmless food that contains some nutrients, it has been proven to do exactly none of the things William claims it does.  

And it’s not just a matter of there not being any published research. I seriously doubt that any legitimate researcher is ever going to spend a cent of their hard-won research dollars investigating any of these claims because there's not a shred of plausibility to any of them. 

The Quick and Dirty

Knocking back a pint of celery juice every morning isn’t going to hurt you ... or cure everything that ails you. The end. 

What nutrition breakthroughs or nonsense will the next year bring? Let’s find out together! Subscribe to the Nutrition Diva podcast wherever you get your podcasts. And if you have a suggestion for a future show topic, call the Nutrition Diva Listener line at 443-961-6206.

About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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