You’re eating a banana while working. You suddenly notice an email from your boss that you haven’t replied to. You shove the banana down your throat and your fingers swiftly start typing a reply, while you struggle to chew the banana. You are done typing a few seconds later, but notice that your banana is gone! You check under your desk, maybe you’ve dropped it? Then it hits you. You’ve eaten it, but it doesn’t feel like it at all!

Could you relate to the above?

When was the last time you really had a look at what was on your plate and enjoyed a meal? With technology entering every aspect of our lives in addition to ‘hustling’ (read: being busy) 24 x 7, we seldom pay attention to the food we eat. We mindlessly eat what is within our reach, not realising the consequences. We wolf down our food without chewing, phone in hand and rush to our laptops to send out emails. What can be a good 10-15 minutes spent on just eating is now a 5 minute hastily done job!

Mindfulness is defined as being aware or conscious of something.  Mindful eating involves being aware of the food you eat and getting rid of distractions that might interfere with your eating experience. It also involves noticing the texture, the colour and flavor of the food. Mindful eating primarily relies on hunger and satiety cues, to initiate eating. Further, it incorporates the practice of not being critical or judgemental of the food you are eating . For example, if you really want a doughnut, by all means eat it. Do not label it as a ‘bad’ food. By looking at the first few principles, it is clear that we do not adhere to it,considering our busy lives.

But how do we incorporate mindful eating on a daily basis? This is very simple:

  • Eat when you are hungry
  • Differentiate between actual hunger, boredom, stress and other emotions
  • Ensure that when you eat a meal, you do not have any distractions. This means, no screens
  • Try and eat in silence
  • Chew your food thoroughly
  • Notice the texture, flavour and smell of what is in front of you
  • Eat until you are nearly full

These can be used as starting points to slowly adopt mindful eating as a habit. Start by applying these principles to one meal a day, and then gradually increasing the frequency. Mindless eating habits often takes a toll on our health. Being aware of what we eat and how we eat also matters.

REFERENCES:

  1. Nelson J. Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat. Diabetes Spectrum. 2017;30(3):171-174.
  2. Harvard Health Publishing. 8 steps to mindful eating – Harvard Health [Internet]. Harvard Health. 2019. 

Gut health is currently the new buzzword in the health and fitness industry. Products claiming to improve your gut and its function are slowly increasing. This might make you wonder what the fuss is all about! Gut microbes, microbiota, microbiome… What do these terms mean? Why is the gut so important? Read on to find out!

What is the gut and gut microbiota?
The gastrointestinal tract or in simple terms, the digestive system which starts from the mouth and ends at the rectum, are collectively termed as the gut. However, what people usually refer to when they use the term ‘gut’ is the intestines.
The gut, all the way from the mouth to the rectum contain a number of microorganisms (also called microbes) that are tiny microscopic organisms which are not visible to the naked eye. Microbiota refers to all the microorganisms living in the same environment, while microbiome refers to all genes of these microbes. So, the gut microbiota refers to the large community of microbes that reside in the gut.
What is the function of the gut microbiome?
The gut microbiota plays an important role in digestion, absorption and metabolism of food (1). Beyond this, the gut bacteria are also thought to play an important role in obesity (1), immune function (2) and also influencing mood (3) . In fact, our gut bacteria is said to have an impact on most of our physiological functions, directly or indirectly (2). While the research around the gut microbiota is ongoing, it is clear that it is a key factor in several aspects of the body’s optimal functioning.
What are the common gut related disorders and why does it occur?
In certain situations (for example, a disease condition) the microbes that reside in your gut can be disrupted. This will be different from the microbe community that was present when your body was healthy. This is termed as dysbiosis (2). Dysbiosis can be caused by change in eating habits, bowel movements and even medications taken when one is ill. (2). However it is to note that what changes in the microbiota are helpful or not is still being looked into.
Some of the most common gut related disorders you would have come across are constipation, indigestion and diarrhoea. However, conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease, lactose intolerance and colitis are also gut related.
What can I do for a healthy gut?
The following simple tips can be incorporated in order to ensure your gut microbes are functioning well in order to support your body’s optimal functioning;
Diverse diet: As mentioned before, a large and diverse community of microbes reside in our gut. To support these microbes, our diet needs to be equally diverse. Our food serves as substrates for these microbes to thrive. It is clear that the diversity of our diet determines the diversity and richness of the gut microbiota (4). The increasing number of fad diets is also an issue of concern as it encourages elimination of food groups, which in turn affect the diversity of the gut microbiota (5). Fibre intake and polyphenols also play key role in shaping the microbiome. Low intake of fibre paired with high fat and sugar intake may reduce certain microbe groups in the gut (6). Polyphenols are found in foods like tea, chocolate, spice, seasonings,herbs and even fruits and vegetables. Interactions between polyphenols and the gut microbes can also impact health (7).
What can you do? Ensure your diet is diverse by varying the foods you eat on a daily basis. Consume fibre rich food such as whole grains, lentils/legumes, fruits and vegetables. Aim for at least 25-30g of fibre a day. Fruits and vegetables, also ering rich in polyphenols provide an additional benefit.
Fermented foods: Fermentation is a natural process by which bacteria break down substances into simpler forms. Examples of fermented food are kimchi, yoghurt, kefir among several others. These are commonly termed as ‘probiotics’ since they contain live cultures of microorganisms in them! While the research on probiotics is still ongoing, they do seem to show promising effects on enriching the existing gut flora (8). Why not give this a go?
Stress: This is something that affects each one of us on a day to day basis. While everyone knows that extreme stress is unhealthy, little do we know that stress also affects the diversity of microbes in the gut (9). Yes, you heard that right! While we do know how stress negatively affects several aspects of health, it also has an impact of the tiny bugs living in your gut.
In conclusion, gut health is a growing area of research. While there are a number of questions unanswered, the field seems vast and promising. It is clear that the gut plays an important role in several aspects of human health. Hence, it is necessary for us to understand this and nourish the gut by living a healthy lifestyle.

REFERENCES:

1) Ursell L, Metcalf J, Parfrey L, Knight R. Defining the human microbiome. Nutrition Reviews. 2012;70(Suppl 1):S38-S44.
2) Shreiner AB, Kao, JY, Young, VB. The gut microbiome in health and disease. Current Opinion Gastroentology. 2015;31(1):69-75
3) Dash S, Clarke G, Berk M, Jacka F. The gut microbiome and diet in psychiatry: Focus on depression. Current Opinion in Psychiatry. 2015;28(1):1-6.
4) Makki K, Deehan E, Walter J, Bäckhed F. The Impact of Dietary Fiber on Gut Microbiota in Host Health and Disease. Cell Host & Microbe. 2018;23(6):705-715. 
5) Heiman M, Greenway F. A healthy gastrointestinal microbiome is dependent on dietary diversity. Molecular Metabolism. 2016;5(5):317-320.
6) Sonnenburg E, Sonnenburg J. Starving our Microbial Self: The Deleterious Consequences of a Diet Deficient in Microbiota-Accessible Carbohydrates. Cell Metabolism. 2014;20(5):779-786.
7) Ozdal T, Sela D, Xiao J, Boyacioglu D, Chen F, Capanoglu E. The Reciprocal Interactions between Polyphenols and Gut Microbiota and Effects on Bioaccessibility. Nutrients. 2016;8(2):78.
8) Bell V, Ferrão J, Pimentel L, Pintado M, Fernandes T. One Health, Fermented Foods, and Gut Microbiota. Foods. 2018;7(12):195.
9) Konturek PC,Brzozowski T, Konturek SJ. Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology. 2011;62(6):591-599.

With several people engaging in fitness and sports, the belief that supplements are the magical key to improvements in performance is making the rounds. Vitamin and mineral supplements are widely used by the general population, which we will address later. This article will cover supplements commonly used by fitness enthusiasts and athletes. Are you using supplements backed by evidence for its efficacy or are you just burning a hole in your wallet? You’ll find out now!

To begin with, what are supplements? Supplements are defined as “a concentrated source of nutrients or other substances with a nutritional or physiological effect.” (1). Like the name suggests, they are to be used to correct nutritional deficiencies or support specific physiological functions. To put it in simple terms, in the absence of food providing adequate nutrients, supplements can be used. That is, to supplement a diet. Supplements are commonly sold as pills, powders, tablets or capsules with a specific dose. The nomenclature of ‘supplements’ varies globally. While in Europe, they are termed as food supplements, in USA they are known as dietary supplements. The Food Safety and Security Act in India have also listed ingredients that a product should contain in order to be classified as a supplement. (2)


(1) Whey Protein: Whey is a milk protein and the water soluble part of milk. Whey protein by itself is marketed in three main forms. (3)

  • Whey isolate: Contains higher percentage of protein (~85-90% or more) since lactose and fat are removed.
  • Whey concentrate: Lower percentage of protein (~80% or more) compared to isolate since lactose and fat are not removed.
  • Whey hydrolysate: Partially pre digested to aid rapid absorption.

Why whey protein? Do we really know why it is this popular? Or are we just consuming it because everyone else is? Whey protein is rich in essential amino acids compared to its counterparts such as eggs, soy and meat. In specific, it is rich in branched chain amino acids (BCAA) which play an important role in muscle protein synthesis. In fact, whey protein has a biological value (BV) that is greater than the BV of an egg by 15%! (3). BV denotes how fast and how well our body can use the protein consumed. Apart from this, one scoop of whey protein gives anywhere between 20-25g of protein (or more based on the brand)! Convenient isn’t it? its property of rapid digestion, concentration of amino acids and convenience is what makes it popular.

How does whey fare when compared to other protein sources? A study by Tang et al. in 2009 (4) compared the effects of whey hydrolysate, casein (another milk protein) and soy protein isolate on mixed muscle protein synthesis (MPS). It was found that whey protein stimulated mixed MPS to a greater extent compared to soy and casein, both at rest and after exercise. However, soy stimulated mixed MPS greater than casein in both scenarios.

Do you have to consume whey? That depends! Like I mentioned before, whey protein provides 20-25g of high BV protein per scoop and if you are unable to meet your daily protein requirements through your diet, then go ahead. Vegetarians who find it difficult to incorporate complete protein sources into their diet or those involved in strength and endurance training who require higher levels of protein will find supplementing beneficial. You can still consume whey otherwise, simply because it is convenient and light on the stomach. In fact, whey can be added to oatmeal and smoothies to increase the protein content. At the end of the day, it is a matter of personal preference. Remember, it is a supplement.

(2) Casein : Casein is also a milk protein like whey and is a complete protein. The difference between whey and casein lies in their digestion. Contrary to whey which is rapidly digested, casein is a slow digesting milk protein. Casein, like any other protein can be used to meet daily protein requirements but whey seems to be the ideal post workout protein of choice.
However, casein releases amino acids at a much slower rate, so ideally it can be taken before bed, to aid in recovery.

(3) Branched Chain Amino Acids : Branched Chain Amino Acids or commonly known as BCAAs are a group of three amino acids Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. They are also Essential Amino Acids which means they need to be obtained from the diet. Supplementing BCAAs are popular as it is thought to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (6). Contrary to this, a recent review concluded that BCAA supplementation alone cannot promote muscle protein synthesis (6).

Does BCAA consumption help in preventing fatigue? Serotonin regulates feelings of arousal, sleep and mood and is thought to be linked to central fatigue after vigorous exercise (7). The amino acid Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin production. Post a bout of exercise, there is a decrease in BCAAs in the plasma and an increase in free tryptophan, thus increasing the free tryptophan/BCAA ratio. It is thought that supplementing with BCAA could balance this increase and delay fatigue (7). However, most studies provided a combination of BCAAs and carbohydrates during exercise (8). Although BCAAs are thought to reduce markers of muscle damage and soreness after strenuous exercise, its efficacy in doing so post high intensity exercise is questionable (9). Further, there is no direct positive link between BCAA supplementation and reducing markers of muscle damage.

Do you need BCAAs? Honestly, no. If you are able to maximise your daily protein intake and meet them via complete proteins, supplementation with BCAA is not necessary. Complete proteins such as eggs, meat, dairy, whey protein, tofu and other soy products already have BCAAs. Maximise your protein through food/other supplements everyday and save some $$$ on the BCAA!


(4) Glutamine : L-glutamine is an amino acid that is found in protein rich foods like meat, eggs, dairy and tofu. Our body can make glutamine, but there are times when our requirements exceed how much our body produces. So, it is a conditionally essential amino acid. It is to be noted that it does become an essential amino acid only during critical illness or injuries (10).
If you are taking glutamine to build muscle or improve body composition, then hold on to your money. Studies have consistently shown that consuming glutamine does not affect body composition (11). In fact, glutamine does not augment rates of muscle protein synthesis in healthy individuals either! Studies have used doses up to 900 mg/kg lean mass and noticed no increase in lean mass or muscle protein synthesis (12). If you are perfectly healthy, with no serious injury or illness, then glutamine isn’t for you.

What about recovery? Glutamine is widely recommended for aiding recovery post training. A recent study did find that co-ingestion of glutamine and leucine (another amino acid) did in fact lead to faster recovery compared to a placebo. Muscle soreness did not differ between the two. (13). Besides strength recovery, it could help in reducing muscle soreness after strength exercise (14,15). Supplementation of glutamine around exercise does seem to enhance strength recovery and possibly reduce muscle soreness.


Like mentioned before, glutamine becomes an essential amino acid in the critically injured or sick individuals. Although exercise also acts as a stressor, immunosuppression observed after exhaustive exercise is not due to plasma glutamine (16). But, what glutamine could benefit is the intestine. Glutamine is thought to be more relevant than glucose as an energy substrate for the gut (17). Hence it could help in reducing exercise induced dysfunctions of the gut.

Thorough research is needed before starting supplement usage. First, it is imperative to understand if there is evidence for the efficacy of the supplement. Second, think about what the use of the supplement is and if it is applicable to your sport/physical activity. Finally, make sure you purchase your supplements directly from the manufacturer’s website. Make sure that the brand you buy is authentic and widely used. Supplements from third party websites could be adulterated/contaminated. The ‘informed sport’ icon on the product is one way to ensure that it is safe. With this in mind, always tell yourself that these are just supplements to a well balanced diet.

References:

 
(1) EFSA. Food supplements.
(2) Health Supplements and Nutraceuticals Emerging High Growth Sector in India
(3) Smithers, GW. Whey and whey protein- from ‘gutter to gold’. International Dairy Journal. 2004; 18(7): 695-704
(4)Tang, JE, Moore, DR, Kujbida, GW, Tarnopolsky, MA, Phillips, SM. Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2009;107(3): 987-992.
(5) Examine. Casein protein.
(6) Wolfe, RR. Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2017; 14(1): 1-7.
(7) Blomstrand, E. Amino acids and central fatigue. Amino Acids. 2001;20 (1):25-34.
(8) Blomstrand, E. Role for Branched-Chain Amino Acids in reducing central fatigue. The Journal of Nutrition.2006;136(2):544S-547S.
(9)Fouré A, Bendahan D.Is Branched-Chain Amino Acids Supplementation an Efficient Nutritional Strategy to Alleviate Skeletal Muscle Damage? A Systematic Review. Nutrients.2017;9(10):
(10) Lacey,JM, Dr. PH, Wilmore, DW. Is glutamine a conditionally essential amino acid?Nutrition Reviews. 1990;48(8):297-309.
(11) Ramezani Ahmadi, A, Rayyani, E, Bahreini, M, Mansoori, A. The effect of glutamine supplementation on athletic performance, body composition, and immune function: A systematic review and a meta-analysis of clinical trials. Clinical Nutrition. 2018;1-16
(12) Candow, DG, Chilibeck, PD, Burke, DG, Davison,KS, Smith-Palmer,T. Effect of glutamine supplementation combined with resistance training in young adults. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2001; 86(2):142-9.
(13)Waldron,M, Ralph C, Jeffries O, Tallent J, Theis N, Patterson SD. The effects of acute leucine or leucine-glutamine co-ingestion on recovery from eccentrically biased exercise. Amino Acids.2018;50(7):831-839.
(14) Street,B, Byrne,C, Eston, R. Glutamine Supplementation in Recovery From Eccentric Exercise Attenuates Strength Loss and Muscle Soreness. Journal of Exercise Science and Fitness. 2011;9(2):116-122.
(15) Legault, Z, Bagnall, N, Kimmerly, DS. The Influence of Oral L-Glutamine Supplementation on Muscle Strength Recovery and Soreness Following Unilateral Knee Extension Eccentric Exercise. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2015;25(5):417-426.
(16) Hiscock,N, Pedersen, BK. Exercise-induced immunodepression- plasma glutamine not the link. Journal of Applied Physiology.1985; 93(3): 813-822.
(17) Cruzat,V, Rogero, MM, Keane, KN, Curi, R Newsholme, P. Glutamine: Metabolism and Immune Function, Supplementation and Clinical Translation. Nutrients. 2018; 10(11):1-31.

Our society has solely been focussing on ‘weight loss’ for a long time now. With the increasing number of individuals buying into the trend of fad diets, it is alarming to see the lengths to which people are willing to go, in order to lose weight. Avoiding carbohydrates, following extremely restrictive diets just before a special occasion, fasting for days together… The list is endless! All this makes me question What is our relationship with food like? Do we look at it as something to nourish us or something that we fear?
This article aims to throw light on our relationship with food. Beyond diets and weight loss, there are several factors that need to be looked at. Scaremongering is very common in the fitness industry and has lead to many of us having a skewed relationship with food.
For instance, When someone is on a ‘diet’ or is looking to change their habits for the better, they automatically assume that the only approach to do so is to be restrictive. This leads to an extremely rigid mentality, which we call ‘dichotomous thinking’. Dichotomous thinking is defined as thinking in terms of binary oppositions such as “good or bad”, “black or white”, or “all or nothing” (1). How does this apply to nutrition? A classic example of this would be ‘clean eating’. ‘Clean eating’ is a trend that has been growing rampantly and involves consumption of whole foods with no inclusion of processed foods. Now, this may look harmless, but invariably this trend has assigned moral values to food. Whole foods are ‘good’ and processed food is ‘bad’. With scant disregard to energy balance, we have assumed that eating ‘clean food’ has the ability to elicit weight loss and has a higher moral value. In contrast, ‘junk food’ is looked upon as inherently ‘bad’ and ‘unclean’. This tends to create fear or anxiety around ‘bad’ foods in the long run. Dichotomous thinking is not only restricted to food, but also weight (acceptable vs unacceptable) and diets (on a diet vs off a diet) (2).
To start with, I’m going to clear one myth that never seems to die in this field. No single food can cause weight loss or weight gain. No single food is inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Assigning moral values to food and weight is problematic. In fact, rigid dietary control is often characterized by dichotomous thinking. Further, those engaging in rigid dietary methods are more likely to report symptoms of eating disorders, mood disturbances, higher anxiety and excessive concern with body size/shape compared to those with flexible dietary strategies (3). This is definitely a cause for concern. In contrast to rigid and restrictive eating patterns, a more flexible approach seems to have a positive effect on behaviours (4).
So how do you change your mindset? While this takes time, if you do have anxiety issues around certain food, the first step would be to stop ‘dieting’. Approach a professional specialising in eating disorders/disordered eating. Your relationship with food is a lot more important than you think. Restrictive eating and dieting only does more damage than good in the long run. Understand that any food in isolation is neither harmful nor beneficial. Some foods happen to be more nutrient dense than their counterparts. This article does not mean to imply that you now have a freeway to load up on cakes and pastries, nor does it say you need to only eat salads. The purpose of this article is to make you aware that extreme restriction is problematic. Learning a more flexible approach, instead of assigning labels to food improves your relationship with food and leads to a healthier lifestyle, both mentally and physically.

References:

(1) Oshio, A. Development and validation of the Dichotomous Thinking Inventory. Social Behaviour and Personality. 2009; 37(6):729-741.
(2) Dove, ER, Byrne, SM, Bruce, NW. Effect of dichotomous thinking on the association of depression with BMI and weight change among obese females. Behaviour and Research Therapy.2009;47(6):529-534.
(3) Stewart, TM, Willaimson, DA, White, MA. Rigid vs. flexible dieting: association with eating disorder symptoms in nonobese women. Appetite. 2002;38(1):39-44.
(4) Smith, CF, Williamson, DA, Bray, GA, Ryan, DH.Flexible vs. Rigid Dieting Strategies: Relationship with Adverse Behavioral Outcomes. Appetite.1999;32(3):295-305.
(5) Palascha A, van Kleef,E, van Trijp, HC. How does thinking in Black and White terms relate to eating behavior and weight regain?Journal of Health Psychology. 2015;20:638-648.

“Sorry, I can’t eat cake I’m on a diet”
By definition, a “diet” is the sum of energy and nutrients obtained from foods and beverages consumed regularly by individuals. To put it in simple terms, it is what you eat and drink on a day to day basis. Somewhere along the way, the meaning shifted to something more specific. Something that people dread. You guessed it right – Weight loss.
As a generation, we are used to quick results. Everything from groceries to electronics can be bought with a click. Unintentionally (or not) we have begun to channel that into how our bodies respond to an external stimulus, such as food and exercise. We expect results within a short span of time and will go to great lengths to ensure that it happens! Ever completely cut off a food group or had just juices for a week to shed some weight? That is exactly what I’m talking about.
This is what we call a ‘fad diet’. It’s nothing but a trend that claims to guarantee rapid weight loss and have an upper hand over our perfectly normal balanced diet. Most of the claims around fad diets might seem appealing.
“Guaranteed weight loss in a week!”
“Helps in removing harmful toxins from your body”
“Carbohydrates are stored as fat. Switch to fat as your primary source of energy.”
Sounds familiar? Although these claims might seem appealing, the diet by itself is extremely restrictive. Every single nutrient has a role to play in our body and nothing in isolation is inherently bad. Any ‘diet’ that you choose to follow is completely based on individual preference. But, is it sustainable? Is it personalised to help achieve your goals? It is imperative that everyone is informed of the pros and cons of these diets and make an informed choice. For that reason, here is a compilation of the most popular diets:
(1) Ketogenic diet: Both carbohydrates and fat can be used as a source of energy by the body. The body relies on glucose (broken down from carbohydrates) when one consumes their normal diet (1). In the complete absence or reduced amount (<20g) of carbohydrates in the body, the body enters a state of ketosis, wherein it relies entirely on stored fat for energy. Signs of ketosis can be identified by increased ketone bodies in the blood, headaches and fatigue due to extremely low carbohydrate intake and bad breath. Breakdown of fat results in the rise of ketone bodies in the blood, which are used as an alternate source of fuel. The ketogenic diet involves consuming minimal to no carbohydrates (~5% from diet) and using fat (~75% from diet) as a source of energy. It encourages consumption of copious amounts of fat from sources like bacon, ghee,butter,nuts,cheese etc. Starch, grains, beans and legumes, fruit and starchy vegetables are avoided. The sources of fat usually consumed in a keto diet are low chain triglycerides (LCT’s). Off late, consumption of fat sources that contain Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT’s) like coconut oil are observed. Although they do not contain concentrated amounts of MCT’s, it is suggested that MCT’s generate more ketone bodies and may be more beneficial to incorporate in a keto diet (1).
Pros: A ketogenic diet was developed for children diagnosed with epilepsy. It was said to be therapeutic as fats do not spike insulin. It works by stabilising various mechanisms related to synaptic functions and thus has an anti-seizure effect. So you know who it actually benefits (2). Although, consumption of high amounts of fats can induce better satiety (3), thus reducing food consumption in subsequent meals. This can potentially help in losing weight. In order to adapt a ketogenic diet to the current lifestyles and improve adherence, a cyclical keto diet came into the picture. This involves following a keto diet for 4-5 days and increase carb intake for 1-3 days. There is currently no evidence to support the validity of a cyclical ketogenic diet.
Cons: A ketogenic diet can be extremely restrictive. Cutting all sources of carbohydrates can lead to irritability, ‘brain fog’, mood swings, headache and even constipation, due to lack of fibre in the diet. Although it might result in weight loss (provided you’re in a caloric deficit), it may not be sustainable in the long run. I mean, how long are you going to stay away from a good slice of pizza? On a more serious note, the exclusion of whole grains, fruits and vegetables could lead to deficiencies of B vitamins, iron, zinc etc. Further, the long term effects of such a high fat diet haven’t been studied.

(2) Paleo Diet: The Paleolithic diet or paleo diet resembles what hunters or cavemen ate several years ago. This diet primarily revolves around what our ancestors had access to – Whole foods. And by that, I literally mean, whole foods only. Sounds easy? Not really. You see, cavemen didn’t cultivate their food. So what they ate was what they could find. So on this diet, the idea is to avoid anything that could be made in a factory. What this diet would comprise of would be meat, free range eggs, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. In order to adapt it to the current scenario, consuming spices/condiments and olive/coconut oil are acceptable. It has been speculated that they did have access to grains. However, evidence for a paleo diet to be superior than a balanced diet is still in question (4).
Pros: Any food that is ‘processed’ such as aerated beverages, most dairy products, legumes/beans, vegetable oils and even grains are not to be consumed on this diet. Since you will be consuming an abundance of fruits and vegetables, there lies an advantage. The focus on whole foods does steer us away from a conventional diet primarily filled with calorie dense foods of low nutrient content. In fact, studies have shown that a paleo diet improves insulin sensitivity, blood pressure and cholesterol (5).
Cons: To start with, the diet is pretty restrictive. More than it, it also creates a list of ‘good food’ and ‘bad food’. That by itself creates a sense of fear of food and is problematic. Further, we can follow a perfectly wise diet even with the inclusion of dairy, starch and legumes. The exclusion of dairy might lead to a deficiency in calcium(4).
(3) Detox diet: A detox diet is used to eliminate toxins from the body and assist with weight loss. These are also commonly known as juice cleanses. However, it can also involve consuming vitamins, minerals, laxatives and other ‘cleansing foods’ (6). While most commercial detox diets do not specify the ‘toxins’ they claim to remove, it should be noted here that the dose of the said toxin determines its harmfulness (7). For example, even an essential mineral like Iodine when present in excess can lead to thyroid disorder. Does that mean iodine in isolation is a toxin?
Various organs in our body, and in specific the liver are involved in eliminating potential toxins from the body. Commercial detox diets lure the masses promising rapid weight loss, but there is no scientific evidence to support this claim.
Pros: Well. This is a tough one. In a recent review on detox diets (7), it was highlighted that some plant based foods like coriander, citric acid (found in citrus fruits) and malic acid (found in grapes) can help in removing toxic metals from the body. However, most of these studies were performed on animals and can’t be generalised to the human population. While these detox diets may be successful in inducing weight loss in the short term, they may not be sustainable in the long run.
Cons: Detox diets involve severe energy restriction and might lead to nutrient deficiencies. For example, by just drinking juices for a week, one may not meet their recommended protein intake! Further, detox dieters could potentially be over consuming supplements/laxatives (7). A variety of nutrients need to be consumed on a daily basis, which a detox diet may not be able to provide.
(4) GM diet: A diet that was initially created for the employee of General Motors (GM), the GM diet allows you to eat a certain combination of foods each day. For example, on day one you eat only fruit (except bananas). On day two, only vegetables. This pattern of consuming specific foods continues for a period of 7 days. Since fruits, vegetables and other items allowed in the diet are low calorie, it has been shown to induce weight loss. However, as much as it is popular, there isn’t any research to support the claims of this diet.
Pros: Although a GM diet does include some whole foods, it follows a restrictive and specific pattern.
Cons: We need a variety of nutrients on a daily basis. By consuming just fruits throughout the day, other nutrients such as protein, fat and several other micronutrients available in whole grains, fruits and vegetables are neglected. Moreover, tendency to feel hungry might be prevalent. The weight lost on a GM diet may be temporary. Since it isn’t something you can follow lifelong (fight me!), there lies a possibility of regaining the weight lost.
Do you sense a pattern with all these diets? All of these diets involve restricting either all your food or a specific food/food group. Do you think that’s sustainable and that you can follow it life long? Not really right? In an ideal scenario, for a diet to be sustainable, it needs to be personalised to suit you and your goals. There isn’t one specific diet that is applicable to everyone. As mentioned before, all nutrients play a specific role in your body. Completely cutting yourself off from one for the sake of losing weight does more harm than good. Always make an informed decision when it comes to your fitness goals. The shortcuts might seem tempting, but remember health is wealth.

References:

1) Walcyzk, T, Wick, JY. The ketogenic diet: making a comeback. The Consultant Pharmacist. 2017; 32(7), 388-396.
2) Rho, JM. How does the ketogenic diet induce anti-seizure effects? Neuroscience Letters. 2017; 637, 4-10
3) Paoli, A. Ketogenic diet for obesity: Friend or foe?. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2014; 11(2),2092-1207.
4) Pitt, CE. Cutting through the Paleo hype: The evidence for the Paleolithic diet. Australian Family Physician. 2016; 45(1): 35-38.
5) Tarantino, G, Citro, V and Finelli, C. Hype or Reality: Should Patients with Metabolic Syndrome-related NAFLD be on the Hunter-Gatherer (Paleo) Diet to Decrease Morbidity?.Journal of Gastrointestinal and Liver disease. 2015; 24(3): 359-368.
6) Allen, J, Montalto, M, Lovejoy, J, Weber, W. Detoxification in naturopathic medicine: a survey. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2011;17(12):1175-1180.
7) Klein, AV, Hiat, H. Detox diets for toxin elimination and weight management: a critical review of the evidence. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. 2014; 28(6): 675-686.
8) Healthline. What is the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet? Everything you need to know.
9) Medical News Today. What are the signs of ketosis?
10) Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Diet Review: Ketogenic Diet for weight loss.
11) Masharani, U, Sherchan, P, Schloetter, M, Stratford, S, Xiao, A, Sebastian, A, Nolte Kennedy, M and Frassetto, L. Metabolic and physiologic effects from consuming a hunter-gatherer (Paleolithic)-type diet in type 2 diabetes. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.2015; 69(8), 944-948.
12) Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Diet Review: Paleo diet for weight loss.
13) Precision Nutrition. The Paleo problem.

If you meet a nutritionist/dietitian and they hand you a pre-made meal template without understanding your lifestyle, you need to do just one thing.

RUN.

It is not an unfamiliar practice for ‘nutrition coaches’ and for that matter even qualified nutritionists to hand out premade diet plans to any client that walks in. With the market flooded with ‘detox plans’ and ‘diet plans that require no exercise’, we are made to believe that there is one superior ‘diet’ that can help us achieve our fitness goals. Marketing does play a role, but it also reflects how gullible enough we are to actually be the target audience. It is imperative to understand that each of us are extremely different from one another. Everything from eating habits and food preferences to sleep schedules differ greatly from person to person. So how do we expect one universal ‘diet plan’ to work? You might agree to bite your teeth and eat what that template tells you to. But for how long? Is it teaching you how to build sustainable eating habits or is it just temporary? Are you looking at long term health or short term aesthetic outcomes?

With this in mind, several nutritionists and dietitians are now offering tailor made plans suited to each individual. These ‘personalised nutrition’ plans are slowly gaining momentum. Like the name suggests, these are interventions or advice that are developed from individual characteristics (1). Interventions like these may help in bringing out more effective behavioural changes (2). Personalised nutrition can be applied to individuals with specific conditions such as pregnancy or old age (1). The goal of such interventions are primarily to benefit health, but could also be applicable to meet specific goals such as performance in sport (3).

Here is an excerpt from nutritionist Varsha.

“I once had a client who consulted with a nutritionist before meeting me, this nutritionist did not take the said client’s lifestyle into account, did not interact much and asked her if she wanted to lose X number of kilos in Y number of months. She then based her charges on the number of kilos to be dropped. This has become a common practice. In addition, any information with respect to nutrition, is easily accessible on the internet. People need to know that these claims need to be backed by a body of research. For this reason, it’s always important to get guidance from a professional who is well qualified and up to date with current research.”

In 2016, a large study was conducted by Celis-Morales et al. (4) over 6 months, recruiting participants from seven European countries. They were either given conventional dietary advice or personalised advice based on the individual’s diet and phenotype and/or genotype. It was observed that a personalised diet was more effective in creating sustainable habits. Nevertheless, there are always two sides to a coin. While the theoretical evidence for personalised nutrition is still not clear, marketing can lure consumers into taking unreliable tests that have limited evidence.

In conclusion, it is imperative for you as consumers, to be aware of the various evidence based trust worthy nutritionists who care about your goals and more importantly, your health. While the evidence for personalised nutrition seems promising, it is also crucial for you, to be aware of unregulated tests in the market. Further, it is clear that there is no ‘one size fits all approach’, when it comes to nutrition. A diet and exercise plan suited to YOUR lifestyle, accounting for YOUR food preferences, goals and/or clinical condition(s) is what works always.

References:

1) Ordovas, JM, Ferguson, LR, Tai, ES, Mathers, JC. Personalised Nutrition and health. The British Medical Journal. 2018; 361:bmj.k2173

2) Woolf, SH,Purnell, JQ. The good life: working together to promote opportunity and improve population health and well-being. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2016;315(16): 1706-1708.

3) Jeukendrup, A. A Step Towards Personalized Sports Nutrition: Carbohydrate Intake During Exercise. Sports Medicine.2014; 44(Suppl 1): 25-33.

4) Celis-Morales C, Livingstone K, Marsaux C, Macready A, Fallaize R, O’Donovan C et al. Effect of personalized nutrition on health-related behaviour change: evidence from the Food4me European randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2016;46(2):578-588.

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