New Yearís resolution, maybe you have vowed to go
gluten-free. After all, your neighbor said itís her secret
for shedding pounds and having that healthy, happy glow.
you need a quick reboot after all that holiday eating and
drinking. Wouldnít a "cleanse," of the sort touted
by celebrities, do the trick? Similarly, perhaps youíve been
reading about how fasting a day a week helps set people on the
path to a longer life.
these strategies and others making headlines really work? Are
they actually good for you, and are they worth the attention,
time and money that major life-style changes usually involve?
checked in with health experts on the top diet trends they
regularly encounter through working with clients or poring
through studies. And here are their takes:
publications proclaim the gluten-free frenzy is passť. But
thatís not what experts are seeing, and these same
publications note that an estimated third of American adults
are anxious enough about gluten that they are looking for ways
to reduce or eliminate it from their diets.
foods are still selling strong," says Sonya Angelone, a
Marin County, Calif.-based dietitian and spokeswoman with the
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
and other experts say there is little evidence that most
people need to say no to gluten ó a protein humans have been
consuming in wheat, barley and rye for thousands of years.
gluten-free is only medically necessary for the 1 percent of
Americans who have been diagnosed with celiac disease, an
autoimmune disorder where ingestion of gluten causes damage to
the small intestines and can be life-threatening. Another
small number of people have been told by their doctors they
have gluten sensitivity, in which case splurging on birthday
cake could trigger problems with digestion, immune and even
cognitive function, adds Angelone.
Lomangino, managing editor of Health News Review, doesnít
doubt peopleís claims that they feel better after giving up
gluten, which is often associated with foods that are rich in
refined carbohydrates. But itís most likely a placebo
effect, he says. "Itís not because there is anything
bad about gluten. You feel better because you made a
Ellen DiPaola, an outpatient senior dietitian at UC San
Francisco, says going gluten-free can be challenging but thereís
no harm in it, if it leads people to cut back on high-calorie
breads, pastas and snack foods ó and as long as they replace
those energy sources with healthy options like whole grains,
legumes and vegetables. The problem comes when people believe
that often pricey gluten-free sweets and snacks are more
youíre eating rice cakes all day, instead of potato
chips," says Angelone, "thatís not a healthy
is nothing new, with saints, ascetics and regular people
choosing periods of self-denial as a path to enlightenment,
spiritually and otherwise. Modern-day advocates say
intermittent fasting can help reduce obesity and diabetes,
improve cardiovascular health and extend life.
strategies have people going food-free for 24 hours once or
twice a week, skipping breakfast or eating like a
"warrior" ó fasting daily for 20 hours, then
eating one large meal, usually in the evening.
say, sure, a day of fasting each week could reduce someoneís
weekly calorie intake, which theoretically could help with
weight loss, but overall, they discourage the practice. Its
benefits havenít been proven, and itís not a long-term way
to lose or maintain weight, says DiPaola.
Lisa Cimperman, a registered dietitian at Clevelandís
University Hospitals Case Medical Center and spokeswoman for
the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "From a metabolic
standpoint, we know that in periods of starvation, the
metabolism slows down." She adds that people are prone to
overeat when they break their fast. "It just seems to set
up a bad psychological game."
we canít help ourselves: We still look to celebrities for
nutrition advice. Consider the popularity of
"cleanse" diets, which, similar to fasting, promise
quick weight loss as well as other short- and long-term health
Paltrowís seven-day "Master Cleanse," for example,
involves a sharp reduction in food intake, supplanted by
smoothies and occasional servings of "detox" fish or
are generally skeptical of cleanse programs, because like
fasting diets, they arenít sustainable. They also may
deprive people of sufficient nutrients as well as fiber for
digestion. As for the idea that we need a cleanse program to
remove unhealthy toxins from our bodies, Jessica Shipley, a
dietitian at Stanfordís Nutrition Clinic, says: "We
have organs in our body that are designed to remove
describe "anti-inflammatory" as a loose term that,
along with "clean eating" or "plant-based"
diets, is simply another way of getting at a well-established
idea: Weight management and improved chances of staving off
chronic illnesses ó heart disease, diabetes and cancer ó
come with diets that stress whole, unprocessed foods, plenty
of fresh fruits and vegetables, little added sugar and a
balance of fish and other lean proteins, carbohydrates and
"healthy" unsaturated fats.
comes from Andrew Weil, the Harvard-educated pioneer in
integrative medicine, who says chronic inflammation in our
bodies causes the majority of chronic illnesses, such as heart
disease, cancer, diabetes, depression and even Alzheimerís.
The anti-inflammatory diet he created incorporates
Mediterranean diet practices.
says other diet plans, which also stress portion control,
serve this anti-inflammatory purpose, including the DASH, or
the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, which is endorsed
by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
no one size fits all that works," she says.
cautions against making direct connections between diet and
disease prevention, because diseases can be caused by a
complex interplay of many factors ó including genetics,
environment and stress levels. Still, a healthy diet is part
of a healthy lifestyle, "which can only help stave off or
manage the effects of inflammatory illness or
conditions," she says.
past few years, studies have tried to settle the question of
which diet is best for weight loss: one thatís low in
carbohydrates or low in fat? Studies seem to be swinging in
favor of a low-carb approach.
it matter? Shipley says all diets involving restricting food
in various ways can lead to weight loss. The question is
whether youíre comfortable saying no to bread, rice, pasta
question is, whatís sustainable?" says Shipley.
you like your lifestyle diet enough to feel confident you
could live with it forever?" asks Yoni Freedhoff, a
University of Ottawa assistant professor, blogger on weight
management and author of "The Fix: Why Diets Fail and How
to Make Yours Work." "If the answerís no, try
AND OTHER SUPPLEMENTS
food stores, pharmacies and online retailers are stocked with
a vast array of often high-priced pills, powders and
multivitamins that promise to build muscle, help fat loss and
boost your mood and immune system.
popular are probiotic supplements, which tout their
"gut" health benefits, claiming to help boost the
level of bacteria in the gastrointestinal system that are
necessary for good digestion and overall health.
experts say there is no need for most people to stock up on
supplements ó and contribute to what the National Institutes
of Health estimate is a $37 billion a year industry.
Supplements are only necessary for people who have a vitamin
deficiency or a health condition that makes it difficult for
them to absorb nutrients.
of us? We can get our nutrients from a healthy, balanced diet,
AVOCADO A DAY?
year it seems there are headlines heralding the amazing and
surprising health benefits promised by adding one particular
food to your diet.
year, avocados were in the spotlight, following a Journal of
the American Heart Association study that said daily
consumption of the creamy fruit may lower "bad" LDL
cholesterol and reduce risk of heart disease.
with Health News Review says single-food stories, like those
involving avocados, often originate from studies financed by
related industries. While those studies may offer valid
information, they may also be limited in scope, and their
results canít lead to broader conclusions about reduced
certainly no harm in making avocados or any other food a part
of a balanced diet, Lomangino says. But thereís no evidence
that kale will protect you from cancer or that a daily avocado
will prevent a heart attack. "The idea that there are any
magic properties to any food," he says, "is pretty