Diet and nutrition trends to keep (and toss) in 2019


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By Samantha Cassetty, RD

Another year, another chance to look back at the diet and wellness trends that captured our attention in 2018. It’s not a surprise that the keto diet was the most-searched diet term on Google this year, according to their latest “Year in Search” report. Also near the top of the list: The carnivore diet and intermittent fasting. Keto recipes occupied five out of the top 10 food searches, and at least partially explains the popular craze of subbing veggies for starchy carbs. In 2018, cauliflower catapulted onto the scene—in menus, recipes and packaged foods. Case in point: The search for cauliflower gnocchi was up 2,300 percent. Veggie spirals also made a splash, and this year, it wasn’t necessary to own your own spiralizer. Now, these pasta replacements are widely available both fresh and frozen at your grocery store, as well as on many menus nationwide.

Plenty of other trends emerged this year among those on the hunt for good health. Below is a look at the some of the most popular diet crazes that fascinated us in 2018, as well as some pointers to determine if they’re worthy of a place in your wellness routine in 2019, or if you should bid them adieu before the new year.

Take These Trends into 2019

Digestive health

Granted, probiotics have been on the scene for several years, but the next wave of digestive health products have arrived, and the idea of being good to your gut is likely to last into next year (and well beyond). And science backs up this wellness strategy. There are trillions of bacteria in your gut, and they’re largely responsible for keeping your immune system in fighting shape. Though we’re still in the early phases of research, it’s widely believed that a disruption to this delicate ecosystem, known as the microbiome, can lead to problems outside the digestive tract, such as body-wide inflammation, autoimmune diseases, and metabolic conditions, including weight gain and diabetes.

“Everyone should strive to incorporate probiotics into their daily routine,” advises Roshini Raj MD associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Health. Good gut wellness starts with your diet: Eat whole foods that offer a variety of fiber sources, such as fruits, veggies, and whole grains. These foods supply prebiotics—a type of fiber that feed the good bacteria, allowing them to thrive. A fiber-rich menu also nourishes the diversity of bacteria species in your gut, which helps protect you from diseases. Another dietary key to digestive health is fermented foods. These include yogurt and kombucha, which help keep your gut populated with beneficial bacteria.

Whether or not you need specialty bars and other packaged goods formulated with probiotics is another matter. “Science has not shown that probiotics improve general health,” says Dr. Shira Doron, infectious diseases physician and associate hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center. “Certain diseases and conditions have been studied, with varying results, some of which suggest that probiotics can mitigate symptoms. If you’re taking a probiotic for a specific condition, it is critically important that you use the same strain, formulation and dose that were shown to be effective in clinical trials; otherwise you cannot assume you will experience the same positive effect,” she explains.

And while rare, Doron notes that serious complications can occur. “The greatest risks are in those with severe immune compromise, disruption of the integrity of the bowel, and those with venous catheters in place,” she notes.

Probiotics may be linked to less serious side effects, too. One recent study among 30 people linked probiotics to potential brain fog and GI distress. “Rarely, some people experience side effects from taking a certain probiotic so I recommend they try a different one,” suggests Dr. Raj. As for those new products hitting shelves, Dr. Raj recommends sticking with reputable brands so you know that the probiotics being advertised on the label are actually going to end up in your body.

Mushrooms

The magical mushrooms of 2018 aren’t the psychedelic variety, but instead, are showing up in supplemental pills, teas and coffee, and even chocolate. The variety of mushrooms used in these products are said to be adaptogens, natural substances that help your body respond to various stressors. Some studies suggest that adaptogens can help boost your energy, immunity and ability to concentrate. But there’s a catch: Supplements may be inappropriate for certain people (such as those on medications for diabetes or high blood pressure) and we only have short-term info about their safety. As you know, even natural substances can be toxic, and one study found that a form of mushroom powder led to liver damage, so run any supplements by your doctor or dietitian before making them part of your wellness routine.

On the other hand, eating mushrooms on the regular is a good way to get some immune-boosting benefits as well as fiber and other protective compounds, including vitamin D.

One short study among people eating shitake mushrooms daily for four weeks found that they helped lower body-wide inflammation and boosted immune functioning. Other species are being studied for their potential to fight cancer, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. In addition to salads, omelets, and stir-fries, consider blending mushrooms with ground beef or turkey to cut back on meat and add more plant-based goodness. Or maybe you’d like to nosh on mushroom jerky, a cool new snack that hit the shelves this year.

Diets

A love/hate relationship with weight loss emerged in 2018. The most recent Centers for Disease Control survey found that almost 50 percent of Americans tried to lose weight in the past year—a time when anti-diet sentiment was just as strong. As you can see from popular search terms, we’re clearly not ready to ditch dieting just yet, and that’s okay. Though the word “diet” puts some people off, reaching a healthier weight to feel better, manage your health with fewer medications, or to experience more energy, better sleep, and more confidence are worthwhile goals to pursue. Clearly, I discourage restrictive eating, but if you want to follow a plan that’s more inclusive than exclusive, includes generous servings of veggies, and helps you develop a framework for establishing sustainable, healthier eating habits that also encourages weight loss, I’m not going to knock it.

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