While you were busy cooking your whole eggs in coconut oil, slurping down an acai smoothie, and watching your chicken bone broth simmer on the stove top, the Journal of the American College of Cardiology was hard at work reviewing the most recent literature about some of the latest nutrition fads. In the last several years, we’ve experienced an ideological change in our beliefs about such things as dietary fat, cholesterol, and even fruit, and this has resulted in some shifting in nutritional guidelines. Much of the reviewed research shouldn’t be news, but some of it is surprising.
Eggs are one of the foundations of the American diet. They are a breakfast staple, used in the baking of almost everything, and I personally have reached Gaston-like status when it comes to their consumption (not 5 dozen daily, but a dozen isn’t out of the ordinary). And, the prominent status of eggs in the conventional Western Diet has only increased over the last several years as research into the connection between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol has advanced. Our view has changed so much that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Committee suggested that there is no need to limit consumption of whole eggs, as they have found no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol. After a thorough evaluation of eight new reviews and meta-analyses, the American College of Cardiology suggested that there still be some prudence when consuming whole eggs, as some individuals are considered “high responders” to dietary cholesterol and eggs are energy dense substances. So don’t be tossing out the yolks and don’t bother purchasing those containers of egg white “product,” but proceed with caution when it comes to how many eggs you consume, even if your goal is to grow as burly and brawny as Gaston.
Our attitudes regarding fat have completely changed over the past decade. It is finally generally accepted that dietary fat doesn’t necessarily make you fat, olive oil and even butter are now considered important components of a proper diet, and the saturated fat from coconuts is on prominent display in the health food section of every grocery store. But, before you head to the local GNC® to pick up a tub of coconut oil and slather it all over your morning toast, it might be of benefit to examine the latest research. Luckily, our nation’s cardiologists have done it for you. The supposed magic of coconut oil lies in its high concentration of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) lauric, capric, caprylic, and myristic acid, which have been shown to raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels and possibly even assist in the conversion of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. Unfortunately, the jury is still out on the purported overall cardiovascular health, weight management, blood glucose regulation, and muscle-building benefits of the highly saturated, solid (at room temperature) white gold extracted from coconuts. It is still recommended that most of your dietary fat come from unsaturated (liquid at room temperature) sources with a greater breadth of substantiated research behind them, such as olive and avocado oil.
Going along with the fat craze, the popularity of nuts and nut butters has grown exponentially—to the point where the amount of farmland in California now devoted to almonds is beginning to cause some legitimate ecological concerns. And it’s true, they’re delicious, filling, and chock-full of “good fats.” Review of 13 recent studies confirmed that regular consumption of nuts high in unsaturated fats, fiber, polyphenols, and phytosterols is positively correlated with cardiovascular health and may even be associated with reduced adiposity. While nuts are still energy-dense (high in calories) and portion control needs to be monitored, don’t be stingy with the all-natural peanut butter you slather on your child’s sandwich. And research confirms that a snack-size bag of almonds is still probably the healthiest midday treat you are likely to find in the break room vending machine.
To eat fruit or to not eat fruit? While our standard guidelines regarding fruit and vegetable consumption have not changed, the conventional view on fruit is evolving. Fructose, which comprises 40-55% of the macronutrient content of most fruit, has been shown to have some pretty nasty effects in high doses, and sugar is sugar, right? One of the primary byproducts of this evolving perspective on fruit is a berry boom. Bananas and apples are being substituted more regularly for lower glycemic and higher antioxidant content dark-colored berries. A review of six recent studies suggested that there is strong evidence that the flavonoid-rich fruits are positively correlated with proper inflammatory response, glucose metabolism, and decreased risk for diabetes. Although it may not be smart to eat a hand (the scientific term for a bunch) of bananas a day, it is highly unlikely that you are experiencing any quantifiable negative health outcomes from consuming too much whole unprocessed fruit. That being said, the latest research suggests that swapping that banana in your morning oatmeal for a handful of blueberries is definitely worth consideration.
Juicing has always been an interesting health concept to me. Let’s throw 20 carrots and an apple in a juice extractor, get rid of all the satiating fiber, but leave all the sugar, and call it a superfood. Nonetheless, it is a nutrition craze that has reared its head in the nutrition world countless times over the past half-century, and it’s popular again. The primary rationalization to juicing has been that a liquid form of vegetables and fruits provides not only high doses of vitamins and minerals, but also may improve bioavailability of certain phytochemicals. A review of three studies confirmed that there is no measurable benefit to juicing over the consumption of whole vegetables and fruits, and that the resultant concentration of energy may make it easier to overshoot your daily caloric demands. If you have made it to the end of the day without consuming any fruits and vegetables, a concentrated dose of vitamins and minerals offered by a glass of fresh fruit and vegetable juice may be advisable, but otherwise, whole food consumption is preferred.
Although we’ve been eating since the dawn of time—obviously—nutrition is actually a pretty new science, and keeping up with the latest research and guidelines can make your head spin. The guidelines that were the foundation of my formal university education in nutritional science are now virtually obsolete, so it is always worthwhile to examine the latest research before following your wallet onto the latest superfood bandwagon. Until the next review: whole eggs are still good, although overconsumption may result in growing to roughly the size of a barge (not in the good way), the jury is still out on coconut oil, a handful of walnuts and a cup of blueberries is a perfect snack, and it is still recommended that you eat your fruits and vegetables instead of tossing them in a juicer.
Dr. Damian Rodriguez is the health and exercise scientist for doTERRA International, LLC. He holds a doctorate in health science, a master’s degree in exercise physiology, and countless professional certifications. He has spent most of his life researching nutrition, exercise, and the lifestyle behaviors associated with optimal health. Along with his passion for health, as someone who lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is also involved in bringing awareness to autism spectrum disorders. There are varying opinions about many health and fitness topics. His opinions are his own and not necessarily that of doTERRA International, LLC. Consult your healthcare provider before making any changes to diet and exercise.