Loading up on so-called health foods isn't always healthy.
"Eat more vegetables!" "Try chia seeds for health!" "Lose weight with acai berry!"
It seems as if we're constantly hearing about new super foods or diets to help us lose weight, stay healthy and feel good. While ongoing research is exciting and can help you to understand which foods and nutrients can keep you healthy, sometimes what you hear about that research is misunderstood or taken to unhealthy extremes.
If you're trying to start eating a new food because you're looking for a specific result, think first about whether it's realistic to include it in your diet. People tend to stop eating foods they don't enjoy (such as whole-grain crackers that taste like cardboard), and eating too much of a good thing is not a healthy choice, either.
Sometimes we overeat because we think something is good for us. Research shows that people often overeat when they're eating "fat-free" or "healthy" versions of foods. But eating a giant bag of potato chips is never a good idea, whether they're fat-free or not.
Fruits, vegetables and whole grains
Plant foods can promote a healthy lifestyle, but eating too many of them can cause problems. Fruit is a good example. It's a wonderful source of nutrients. But, eating too much fruit can cause weight gain, bloating, diarrhea and rapid changes in your blood sugar.
Nutrition research changes all the time, and food fads come and go. Sometimes, too much of a good thing can be a difficult concept to grasp. If a little is good for you, a lot must be better, right? Food trends hype whole grains, fruits and vegetables as having magically healthy properties. However, it's important to remember that each food contains different nutrients. It's the whole diet that counts, rather than any single food.
Keep these tips in mind:
- No one food can do what an overall healthy diet and lifestyle would.
- No one food or food group has all the nutrients needed for good health.
- Eating too much of one food can make you gain weight.
- Eating too much of one food group limits the good effects of other healthy foods.
- The body needs consistent exposure to a variety of foods.
- Because the needs of your cells change all the time, variety is the best way to meet their demands.
- Your overall food intake matters most for your health.
- Trendy foods can be expensive.
- Too much of one food, or eating only a few kinds of food, can lead to burnout or an all-or-nothing mentality instead of healthy eating.
- Too much fiber from vegetables, fruits and whole grains can make it hard for your body to absorb some nutrients, upset your stomach, or give you gas or constipation.
The news has recently hyped acai berries for their magical weight loss qualities. This is an example of a too-good-to-be-true product. Marketing, celebrity endorsements and free trials made this berry insanely alluring. However, very little long-term research supports claims that the berry can make you lose weight.
Another food that's getting a lot of attention is the chia seed. (Yes, the same ones that sprout "fur" on Chia Pets.) These seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids, and they supposedly help slow the digestive process and contribute to overall health. What chia seed fans won't tell you, however, is that this same effect could also reverse and cause digestive upsets. Too much fiber, all at once, is not a good thing.
A basic truth of nutrition and health science is that eating a variety of foods means that you get a balance of nutrients. Eating many different foods in a variety of colors supports peak nutrition. The plant compounds called phytochemicals found in plant foods support the best health.
So rather than eating a pound of seeds and berries every day, follow these guidelines for a balanced diet:
- Eat food from all food groups.
- Include two to five food groups each time you eat.
- Eat a variety of foods within each food group.
- Consume whole fresh foods when possible, and avoid processed versions.
- Eat foods when they are in season so that they contain the most nutrients.
- When possible, eat foods that are grown locally and organically.
- Adopt healthy eating habits, including consuming foods that you are likely to continue eating and enjoying over time.
- Try a new food from the produce section weekly to expand your eating horizons.
Eating should make you feel good and give you the nutrition your body needs. Choose foods you like, instead of eating certain foods out of guilt. Buy the in-season fruits, vegetables and whole grains that you enjoy most and take a tasty adventure into something new when it suits you.
Published on April 1, 2011; updated on May 1, 2014.
NutritionWorks co-founder Kathleen Putnam has made her work her passion by helping people improve their health, reduce stress and to live the highest quality of life possible. A dietitian and lifestyle coach for over fifteen years, Kathleen currently consults with individuals in her practice and organizations to support program development.