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The Science Behind Popular Diet Culture


Happy New Year!! I truly hope 2021 is a much more prosperous year for you all filled with more light, love and joy than 2020. I'm really looking forward to sharing even more content with you all of this year.

January is usually inundated with people sharing their plans of how they're going to try to lose weight, achieve a 'bikini body' or think-pieces from magazines about diet trends you should follow. As a past follower of these trends, I realised a while ago just how harmful these diet trends can be, as misinformation spreads.

In this blog post, we look at the scientific research behind the effectiveness of 3 popular diet trends: detox teas, juicing, and intermittent fasting to see if they're actually worth a new year's resolution.



Detox Teas


First up is detox teas. We’ve all heard of them, know someone whose tried them and hey, maybe even tried them ourselves. Most branded detox teas promise to help you live a healthy lifestyle, rid you of toxins built up in your body and kickstart your weight loss, through a 14-28 day programme. When they first came to market, detox teas were a huge hit, most likely due to using celebrities and fitness influencers to market the products. Due to a huge proportion of the population seeking a quick fix in their weight loss journey, they were everywhere. Taking a closer look into the teas' websites, there were and still are key pieces of information missing. Firstly, there are no scientific studies mentioned or cited anywhere on the website to back up the benefits claimed. Secondly, looking at the ingredient list in detail you may find particular ingredients such as 'senna' included which is a natural laxative. Despite being natural, the laxatives added into these teas can have a detrimental impact on one's health especially when there is no need to disrupt the digestive system. Another issue that I noticed when looking at the ingredients on the website is that there are no amounts given to any of the ingredients. Therefore, even when doing further research on each ingredient, you have no idea if there is enough of an ingredient to have a significant effect. Overall, looking at the very limited scientific research that exists to the efficacy of detox teas, there is nothing concrete to substantiate their effect on detoxing and weight loss. The research that exists have methodological errors, their study designs could definitely be improved or show no statistical significance on someone when comparing subjects who have not taken the teas. Click this link to read some more information on the controversy surrounding detox products.

Unless you want to spend the first month of the new year on the toilet pan or waste your money on products whose results haven’t been proven, I wouldn't recommend!

Juicing



Juicing involves replacing solid meals with a blended mixture of fruits and vegetables for a short period of time (3-10 days). The main goals of this diet are claimed to be detoxing your body and aiding in weight loss. Already, this seems like an extreme diet which drastically reduces a person's daily calorie intake. Another alarm bell is the fact that someone on this diet regimen will only be receiving nutrients from fruits and vegetables, minimising the total protein and fat intake required for normal functioning of the body. An incredible change to the diet such as this can lead to fatigue, headaches, dehydration a change in the microbiome and not to mention, hunger! Studies looking into the effects of juicing on weight loss revealed either a small decrease in weight that was not maintained long-term or no change at all. More interestingly is the negative effects of juicing to the kidneys. The chemical oxalate is naturally occurring in our bodies and plants (fruits and vegetables). It's been found that increased levels of oxalate in the body (from increased consumption) can cause the formation of kidney stones.

It's worth mentioning that your body already does an impeccable job of detoxing when it's needed, through the actions of the liver, the kidneys, the skin etc. If there is a medical condition impeding these functions, medical professionals will provide further solutions. Juicing is perfectly okay when done in conjunction with solid foods, but it's not recommended to replace meals.



Intermittent Fasting


Intermittent fasting (IF) takes the approach of reducing a person's 'eating window' by either having a longer fasting period each day or having dedicated fasting days during the week. The most common variants of this method of dieting is the 16:8 and 5:2 methods. The 16:8 method calls for the person to eat their meals during an 8-hour period of the day and fast for 16 hours. In contrast, in the 5:2 method, the person can eat during their own personal schedule consuming their normal daily calorie intake for 5 days of the week. On the other 2 days, the person only eats 1/4 of the daily calorie intake. IF has become popular over the last few years and its effects on weight loss and cardiovascular benefits have been loosely studied. More recently, more robust studies have been designed to study the benefits of IF in humans revealing that there does seem to be a reduction in weight and improvements in cardiovascular function. However, this study was conducted to have participants carry out alternate day fasting throughout a period of 6 months or 4 weeks (i.e. strictly no eating at all every second day). The mechanisms in which this diet approach causes a reduction in weight/benefit to CV function have not been completely studied but it is said to be a “promising intervention”.

Of course the alternate day fasting regimen seems very extreme (and personally so does the 5:2) but the 16:8 method does seem manageable, especially if you're not someone who's likely to eat breakfast in the morning or have late dinners. As long as the daily calorie intake is kept up, it seems much safer than detox teas or juicing. Nonetheless, if you try this method and you're struggling or miserable, it's not worth it. Also, it probably won’t cause a huge reduction in weight any more than just changing the composition of your meals.

One major thing to take away from this is to be mindful of what new trends you should participate in, especially when it comes to something as serious as health. If you generally eat a balanced diet (yep, some refined products are okay in moderation) and moving enough to keep your body active, that is absolutely all you need to do. If you have other goals with your body, consider seeking help from a qualified personal trainer AND a registered dietician (a nutritionist is different) before consulting Instagram/Tik Tok hacks. Some diet methods can be very harmful or not intended to be followed by people who may have chronic conditions or are at a high risk of developing one.

I hope this has been helpful in guiding you to look deeper into major diet trends and how effective they really are. Next time, I'll be continuing with the health & fitness theme by putting my biochemistry degree to use and diving into The Science Behind Weight Management. Understanding the physiology of energy utilisation in our bodies really helped to put weight loss/gain/management into perspective for me.

Make sure to like, subscribe and share! Connect with me on Instagram for more content (I'm currently doing a January self-care challenge!!) and I'll catch you in 2 weeks!

Until next time,

D x

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