We are taught the importance of food at a young age. Food, we learn, can be split into four main categories – carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, protein and dairy, and fats. The food pyramid is a visual guide on how we should plan our daily meals. If we follow the pyramid, drink plenty of water and exercise at least 30 minutes three times a week, we are executing the formula to a healthy lifestyle and ultimately, a healthy weight.
This is what eating healthy traditionally meant; but now we want faster and easier ways to achieve a healthy – or ideal – weight. People are jumping on the latest diet bandwagons in hopes of doing less for more. Low-carb, high-protein, vegan, raw food diet – you name it, they have it.
Supporters of a diet will tell you all about the wonderful benefits their diets have brought them – but whether this is scientifically proven or nutritionally balanced remains to be seen. Certain diets have much scientific evidence backing them, for example the Mediterranean diet (which is linked with longevity) and the DASH diet (which manages hypertension and is recommended by the USDA). But a surprising number of diets are in fact controversial and lack the proper evidence to prove their purported health claims.
So this week, we’re going to debunk a couple of the popular diets that have taken the world by storm in the hopes of creating more awareness about the meaning of a healthy diet.
1. Raw food diet
The raw food diet is becoming increasingly popular in modern times. Advanced cooking methods have not done much in hindering the widespread popularity of this diet. The definition of a raw food roughly composes of three points – unprocessed, organic and not cooked above 42 degrees Celsius. Raw food diets are essentially raw vegan diets. Salads, juices and nuts are the main components of this diet.
The cause behind the raw food diet is varied. Some see it as a way to maintain a greener lifestyle, and that it is unethical to eat meat from animals. Some maintain that keeping your foods raw ensures its “life force” is not destroyed. Some will tell you that under high temperatures, i.e. cooking, plant enzymes and nutrients are lost, the former of which plays a role in our overall digestion.
We will now talk about some biology here. In humans, we have specific enzymes to digest specific nutrients. The same goes for plants and other animals. Now, if we were to insert a human digestive enzyme into a plant, there is no guarantee that the enzyme can in any way aid the digestion of nutrients in a plant, and vice versa. We do not currently know whether or not plant enzymes can digest nutrients for us in our body.
Cooking destroys nutrients. This is true, but to a certain extent. Claims that cooking destroys up to 50% of nutrients are exaggerations. Furthermore, some nutrients are only made available through cooking, for instance lycopene in tomatoes. (Lycopene is a phytochemical currently under research for potentially lowering the risk of prostate cancer and skin photodamage.) Cooking also kills bacteria and anti-nutrients on foods.
Let me stress here that the method of cooking is key in determining how much nutrients are retained in the food. Boiling and steaming are definitely much better compared to deep frying or grilling. Cooking your foods in soup form can also help to retain their nutrients.
Your best bet would be to eat your foods in a variety of forms – raw, steamed, stir-fried, soup, to get a variety of nutrients for a balanced diet. To be vegan or not is a matter of personal choice. But if you do decide to go vegan, do not avoid all processed foods as you will need to obtain certain nutrients (like vitamin B12 which is exclusive to animal foods) from fortified products.
2. Alkaline diet
The alkaline diet promotes the belief that certain foods produce acids or alkali in the body, which affect blood pH levels and ultimately overall well-being. Acid ash is produced by meats, dairy products and grains, while alkaline ash is produced by fruits and vegetables, except cranberries, prunes and plums. The diet promotes the consumption of leafy greens, allium and cruciferous vegetables to restore the alkalinity of the blood. Supporters of the diet claim that it provides a multitude of health benefits – from cancer prevention to treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Essentially, we would only be consuming some fruits and vegetables in this diet. There is very little fat, protein or carbohydrate in the diet. From a nutritional viewpoint, it is less balanced and could lead to nutritional deficiencies (like Vitamin B12, essential fatty acids and phytonutrients). Unless one plans very carefully under this diet (processed foods are almost entirely excluded), it will be very hard to fulfil daily nutritional requirements.
The alkaline diet does not directly raise the pH of blood (blood is more acidic when the pH is below 7, and more alkaline when pH levels are above 7). At best, it will raise blood pH minimally. There are no concrete studies linking the alkaline diet with the prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease, or the treatment of arthritis.
Put simply, it is very controversial and is more risky than it is a good diet. Plus, it’s very high-maintenance. A well-balanced diet with more freedom to choose foods will probably yield better health benefits.
Not all diets are bad. But not all our diets are good either. Before following any diet, it pays to do some online research to make sure you’re not losing weight at the expense of losing your health.
Feature photo -diet.proteinnutrition.org
Acid vs Alkaline – http://technotes.alconox.com/detergents/lab-accreditation-requirements/