Buzz About the Latest Nutrition Trends

Written by Lori Bumbaco, MS, RDN, CSO, LDN, Oncology Dietitian

From avoiding carbs to adding collagen to coffee, nutrition trends of all kinds gained traction over the years. 

Intermittent Fasting 

Our first nutrition trend is one of today’s most popular diets: intermittent fasting. Its most obvious use is for individuals interested in pursuing weight loss, but proponents claim that it also can help improve mental clarity, focus, mood and emotional resilience.  Depending on who you ask, there are many different approaches to intermittent fasting that vary in time spent fasting. 

Intermittent fasting can negatively affect brain function and emotional well-being.  The daytime fasting practices that are currently popular can leave a person feeling drained, without energy and unable to concentrate or think.  Additionally, nutrient deficiencies could result from not eating enough food and not having enough variety in the foods you eat. Both are potential downsides of intermittent fasting, and these deficiencies can impact emotional wellness, as well as brain function and health.  The jury is still out about whether or not fasting results in weight loss that is better than traditional methods of eating smaller portions and including more regular physical activity. 


If you find yourself feeling down or without energy, your current fasting regimen may not be working for you.  But if you still want to take advantage of the benefits of fasting, the easiest way to fast is to tie it to your natural circadian rhythm.  Instead of fasting during the day when you need energy, adjust your fasting to a 12-15 hour overnight fast. Then, starting with breakfast, eat at regular intervals when you feel hunger to help maintain your energy levels and keep yourself feeling well throughout the day. 


Quality Protein  

The next popular nutrition topic is one that has been in the spotlight for several years, protein.  One way to think about protein quality is to consider if it is a complete or incomplete protein. Proteins are made up of a variety of amino acids that have unique roles in the body. A complete protein source provides enough of all nine essential amino acids that aren’t produced in the body naturally. An incomplete protein source either provides some essential amino acids but not all nine, or all nine amino acids but not in sufficient amounts to be considered complete. Most animal sources are considered complete and, with some exceptions including soy, most plant-based foods are considered incomplete proteins.  


High-quality protein is important for all, but especially for those trying to lose weight, older people who need help maintaining muscle mass, and athletes. Proteins, such as whey protein and casein found in milk, eggs and meat, provide all essential amino acids and are easily digestible, making them ideal for muscle repair and growth. For those who are following a plant-based diet, you can achieve a complete protein source by consuming complementary proteins throughout the day, such as rice and beans, hummus and pita, peanut butter on whole grain bread, and quinoa with lentils. 


Plant Based Diets 

The next diet trend is similar in that the interest in plant-based diets appears to be growing steadily.  The number of options of plant-based alternatives exploded on the market, and it seems that everywhere we turn, plant-based options are available.  Is this a good thing?  Maybe.  Some of the plant-based choices are highly processed and are not necessarily nutritionally superior to the original food.  On the other hand, alternatives can be an opportunity to transition away from a diet very high in animal foods.   


Be on the lookout for newer items in the plant-based market that feature wholesome vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and other plants.  The amount of processing affects the nutritional quality of the alternative.  Also, some of the tried-and-true options like dried beans, fresh vegetables, herbs, and whole grains can be enjoyed in their traditional applications.  Imagine starting your day with a hot cereal made from quinoa, or enjoying falafel for lunch, and dining with loved ones while enjoying some masoor dal.   


Gut Health 

The last nutrition trend is the continued interest in how the gut microbiota affects many other systems in our body, including our mental health.  There is a two-way communication between the gut and the brain, which may impact our mood.  Some of the microbes produce neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, known as the “feel good hormones”. 


We can support gut health by consuming a minimally processed, plant-based diet.  This will supply abundant amounts of fiber, especially prebiotic fibers, to the gut.  This type of fiber acts as ‘fuel’ for the probiotics that live in the gut and helps them thrive. Consuming a diverse range of plant-based foods, fermented products and fiber-rich ingredients can help maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria.  Food with prebiotic fibers include bananas, artichokes, garlic, onions, and oats.  

What do you think?  Is there a food, nutrition, or diet fad that you have heard about and would like to know more?  Only time will tell if the trends included in the newsletter will be a passing fad or an important component to include as part of a cancer protective lifestyle.