This Week’s Nutrition News Feed

by in Food News, June 6, 2014

In this week’s news: Taking the long view of the diets du jour; growing up on raw foods; and having a complicated relationship with diet soda.

Will Gluten-Free Go the Way of Fat-Free?
Gluten-free. Paleo. Vegan. According to an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times this week, someday we’ll likely look back on the current crop of diet trends with the same regret-slash-sheepishness we now view our fat-free binge of the 1980s and ’90s. (“Think of all the money and meals you wasted on fat-free ice cream and bone-dry chicken breasts that didn’t do you a lick of good,” writer David Sax admonishes us.) As the story points out, Jimmy Kimmel’s hit skit on gluten last month — featuring hilariously cringe-worthy responses from dieters who seem to shun gluten strictly for the cool quotient — perfectly capture our collective dietary cluelessness. But there are some winners out there: Fad diets appear to be big cash cows for food manufacturers, especially when they market products capitalizing on the nutrition words of the moment.

An Early Start to Raw Food
Speaking of diet trends, one to watch out for: feeding kids a raw food diet. With small but popular sites like the Raw Food Family blog popping up, and gatherings such as the Woodstock Fruit Festival — where 20 percent of attendees are families with young children — drawing small but robust crowds, there does seem to be cause for at least a little wariness. All raw all the time can be tough to do healthily even for adults, but in the case of children, their digestive systems may be less equipped to pull nutrients out of these foods. Anemia, B vitamin deficiencies and more can result. There are also potential psychological risks: Putting so much focus on food restrictions can lead to eating disorders down the line.

The Diet Soda Chronicles
What’s even more confusing than fad diets? This week, the prize might go to what we’re supposed to think about diet soda. For some time, researchers have been pumping out studies suggesting that individuals seem to compensate for the calories they’re not getting in diet soda by eating more. However, a new study published in the journal Obesity found that when people switched sugary drinks for sweetened zero calorie ones, they actually lost weight. Granted, the study was funded by the American Beverage Association, but the researchers stressed that this didn’t affect their findings. At first look, they do indeed seem compelling: Three hundred people (all enrolled in the same weight loss and exercise program) were randomly assigned to either a group told to avoid diet sodas and drink mostly water or to a group instructed to drink water plus zero calorie beverages. After three months, those in the diet drink group had lost four more pounds than those in the other. Impressive, right? Not so fast: Critics have pointed out that the paper didn’t disclose what the non-diet soda drinkers were consuming instead; they might have compensated with real sugar in their tea, for example. 

Sara Reistad-Long writes about science, wellness and lifestyle. She is the co-author of The Big New York Sandwich Book and can be followed on Twitter: @sarareistadlong

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