A look back at this year’s best and worst advice about nutrition
As the year draws to a close, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of the best and worst ideas about nutrition to make the rounds this year. Here are the ones that top my list.
Bad Idea #1: The “Cheat Day”
One thing I’d like us to leave behind in 2012 is the idea of the “cheat day”—at least, the ridiculous version of this idea that’s taken hold in some circles lately.
As I like to say, it’s not how you eat on your best or your worst day but how you eat most days that really matters. And if relaxing your dietary restraint one day a week helps you stick to your healthy eating plan the other six days, I’ve got no problem with that. I even appeared on a CBS News segment about the potential benefits of calorie cycling, which is alternating between higher and lower calorie days.
But this idea has been taken to absurd extremes lately. One celebrity author in particular has perpetrated the ridiculous notion that binging on junk food one day a week will somehow speed weight loss. He actually suggests that failing to pig out on fried foods and sweets once a week will impede your progress toward an awesome body. Please ignore this message and all the junk science used to justify it. Eating unhealthy foods is not a way to improve your body or your diet.
Bad Idea #2: Water That Does More
Frankly, I thought we’d already seen the peak in this trend, but 2012 brought even more varieties of bottled water tarted up with flavors, essences, vitamins, herbs, and other baloney. Why do we feel the need to improve upon water? No matter what the marketers want us to believe, these drinks are not going to improve your immune system or reduce your stress level. And if you believe that drinking “Smart Water” is actually going to improve your intelligence, I think you’re pretty much proving the opposite. The only people who benefit from you drinking this stuff are the people selling it to you.
I think the problem is that we’ve come to use beverages not as a source of hydration but as a source of entertainment. Just as we obsessively punch at our hand-held devices to supply a constant stream of mental stimulation, we stimulate our taste buds by incessantly sipping on flavored drinks. We may rationalize this as a way to stay hydrated. But as I’ve pointed out before, it doesn’t take nearly as much water to stay hydrated as you might think.
Now, let’s look at a couple of the better ideas from 2012:
Good Idea #1: Rethinking Grains
For decades now, the mainstream nutrition establishment has been hawking the benefits of whole grains—the more, the better. Although I’ve never thought that whole grains were the holy grail they are often made out to be, I am also not aligned with those who insist that grains are toxic to everyone and should be strictly avoided. This year, a more balanced view of grains and where they fit into a healthy diet seemed to gain traction.
As I’ve said before, grains are not essential to a healthy diet. If you don’t want to eat them, you don’t have to. And if you want to experiment to see if avoiding grains makes you feel better, be my guest. If you feel good when you include grains in your diet, that’s fine too. Just don’t overdo it. Although whole grains are definitely better for you than refined grains, there are lots of other things that are much better for you than whole grains.
See also: The Whole Truth About Whole Grains
Good Idea #2: Cooking Outside the Box
Another good idea that really seemed to catch on this year is a shift away from processed and packaged foods—even organic ones—and toward whole and homemade foods. Folks are cooking more. They’re even growing more of their own food in kitchen and community gardens. In fact, food processors are actually getting nervous! Food industry lobbyists have started publishing “educational” articles for dietitians on the many benefits of food processing and the concern that processed foods might be unfairly stigmatized. That’s probably one of the most encouraging signs I’ve seen all year!
Of course, like any good idea, the effort to avoid processed foods can also be taken to ridiculous extremes. There’s nothing wrong with making your own soymilk, grinding your own peanut butter, or evaporating sugar cane juice at home—and there are folks out there doing all of the above. But I don’t think that’s necessary in order to have a healthy diet. I’d be happy if a substantial proportion of your diet didn’t have a bar code on it.
What Does the New Year Hold?
The coming year will no doubt bring a new crop of nutrition trends—and I’m sure some will be better than others! Whatever comes our way, I look forward to sorting it all out and I hope you’ll join me for another year of eating well and feeling fabulous!
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