Nutrition Trends 2020

The Dietitian Dirty Dozen: Nutrition Trends We Can Leave in 2020

Fitness and Workouts, Nutrition and Diet, Sport Nutrition

Welcome once again folks to my annual year-end wrap up!

These final days of December are always a time for reflection, and looking back on the events of the past year. I mean how much do we all love getting our Spotify or Strava year in review videos? And you’ve gotta check out your top 9 on Instagram, right? No matter how you choose to reflect I think we can all agree 2020 was definitely a year we’ll never forget.

At the end of each year I love to share with you my top nutrition trends that I hope we can FORGET come the new year. Usually it’s a list of strange, surprising, or even dangerous things people created, tried, or sold in the name of better health. And I usually wind up getting pretty sassy while I’m at it.

But, how did my list get it’s start?

Let’s start with a little backstory!

My ‘Dietitian Dirty Dozen’ list originally began back in 2017, the year I started my little blog here. You might recognize a similar title from an organization called the EWG, or Environmental Working Group. The EWG publishes a list annually of the worst ‘offenders’ when it comes to pesticide residues in our fruits and vegetables. They strongly encourage purchasing the organic versions of these items rather than the pesticide-laden conventional ones.

The problem? It’s actually a huge load of BS.

Further to that, organic produce is not actually pesticide-free as they sort of imply. Organic produce simply cannot contain any synthetic pesticides. Instead, growers use ‘natural’ ones. Unfortunately for the EWG, their hope of making us all healthier with their annual list actually does the opposite.

This tactic (a list of the most dangerous produce) actually tends to scare people away from eating more fruits and vegetables at all. This can be due to concerns about pesticides in general, or the sheer cost of buying organic. Some people just can’t shell out the extra cash for organic fruits and vegetables. Depending on where you live, a wide variety of organic produce may not even be available.

The fact is, simply washing your fruits and vegetables before eating them is the simplest and best way to remove any traces of pesticide residues from your produce. No need to spend the extra cash on organic, and definitely no need to worry about it!

For more on ‘debunking’ the EWG Dirty Dozen, click here!

Yea, I thought some of you might notice that!

If you’ve been a loyal blog reader for awhile you’ll know that normally my list includes 12 different wacky, funny, or sometimes dangerous nutrition trends. And I meant to do the same this year! But, as I sat down to start putting this article together, I realized how many of these nutrition trends weren’t really distinct from each other at all. Instead, I noticed that most of what I want to leave behind us in 2020 when it comes to nutrition trends boils down to a few issues.

So, I’ve kept the title for consistency’s sake, but you don’t need to wonder if you’re on the wrong article when you realize my usual ‘countdown’ list is nowhere to be found!

With all that out of the way, let’s dive in! Here are the nutrition trends that I really hope we can leave behind once and for all in 2020!

Bad Nutrition Trend #5: The people who ran 100 miles with no food (for science?)

I really wanted to ease up on the sass this year, but man this one drove me nuts!

In September of this year, a group of eight runners decided to complete a 5-day, 100-mile run only fueling their bodies with water (and black coffee. of course)

The purpose? To prove once and for all that carbohydrates are not necessary for human health or performance, and also that low-carb diets are effective strategies for managing diabetes and pre-diabetes. Two of the runners in the group live with type 1 diabetes, and naturally a 100-mile run is a perfect real-world scenario off which someone can make claims about overall diabetes management. Obviously.

The group claimed they were doing something groundbreakingly scientific, that would prove once and for all that the nutrition guidelines recommending we eat carbohydrates are complete BS.

So, what happened?

Well, yes the group completed their run. And fortunately no one died. But, they also did not contribute anything meaningful to our understanding of performance nutrition, energy metabolism, or our available fuel sources during exercise.

The group claims that carbohydrates from food are not necessary for human life. And in that sense, they’re sort of correct.

The thing is, carbohydrates are SO essential to human life that if we don’t get enough from our food supply, we actually just go ahead and make our own. The human body is an incredibly resourceful machine. Since we require a constant supply of glucose to fuel key body functions, our liver has the ability to create brand-new glucose molecules. It does this through a process called gluconeogenesis.

Now, what does the liver make these shiny new glucose molecules out of? Amino acids. Where do these amino acids come from? Protein. Where does protein come from? Our muscle tissue.

So, if we’re trying a stunt like running 100 miles with no fuel, we’ll come out of that with a little less muscle than we had before. Interestingly, the post-run full medical workup they bragged about did not include a pre and post body composition test. I wonder why.

The bottom line

If you want to be a better athlete, improve your body composition, and gain muscle mass, eat your damn carbs! Don’t waste your time or performance on the nutrition trends making waves online. And, if you also have any type of health condition like type 1 or type 2 diabetes, consult with a qualified professional on the best nutrition, exercise, and medication regimen for you.

Want to learn more about low carb diets or fasting for athletes?

Bad Nutrition Trend #4: Crap that’s supposed to help ‘boost’ your immune system

If 2020 had one over-arching theme it was definitely the pandemic! Because of this, there were plenty of people who were quick to try to sell solutions for this global health crisis. In the nutrition space this was the creation of diets, protocols, and supplements claiming to boost immune health and offer protection from COVID.

Early on we had companies promoting essential oils, elderberry vitamin C, and zinc supplements. All of which are touted for their immune-boosting potential. As the months progressed it was the books that started to hit the shelves with different diet protocols and detox programs as our salvation.

All you need is a functional immune system, not a boosted one

What’s really important to address here is the difference between a healthy, functional immune system, and one that’s ‘boosted’. We actually do NOT want an immune system that is a little too extra, since that can cause us a variety of other health complications.

In fact, conditions like asthma, food allergies, eczema, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes are all auto-immune disorders in which the body’s immune system is inappropriately ‘attacking’ the wrong things.

Supporting a healthy and functional immune system actually brings us back to the basics of good health. Eating a nutrient-dense diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and getting regular exercise. And, balancing all of that out with enough rest, sleep, and stress management.

It might be boring, but it’s the truth!

While we’re on the subject of immune health, another nutrition trend I think we have to let go of (for the time being anyway) are the diets that promise to cure autoimmune conditions.

What are autoimmune conditions?

The term ‘autoimmune condition’, or ‘autoimmune disease’ are used to describe illnesses that occur from the body’s immune system producing antibodies that attack otherwise healthy body cells. There are over 100 known autoimmune diseases, including things you may be familiar with such as:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • Psoriasis
  • Lupus
  • Celiac Disease
  • Grave’s Disease
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis

…and the list goes on.

Big promises made to people with autoimmune conditions

Autoimmune conditions are serious, chronic, and extremely debilitating in some cases. Which, unsurprisingly leaves people suffering from these conditions looking for help. Since our current scientific knowledge and medical treatments are limited for some of these conditions, people might be left to their own devices.

Unfortunately there is no shortage of people willing to promote and sell ‘cures’ for autoimmune diseases in the form of diets and supplements.

The internet is full of books, plans, and programs promising the eradication of the symptoms of almost any and all of these conditions. They typically require followers to eliminate a very long list of foods, including some combination of:

  • Grains
  • Sugar
  • Red meat
  • Dairy
  • Legumes
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Nightshade vegetables
  • Seed oils
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Food additives

Of course, different diet plans may include different foods in their elimination list, which can be confusing for those seeking answers. It can also leave people with a very short list of things they CAN eat, which can lead to other issues of nutrient deficiencies or low energy availability. Not to mention an increased risk of disordered eating behaviours, since the food fear is sorta baked right in.

What does the science say?

So, this begs the question: is the science really there to support all the claims these diet books, plans, and programs make?

Now, I don’t want to drag the ideas around this nutrition trend too much. There very likely is a nutrition strategy that we can use to help combat the symptoms that suffers with autoimmune conditions face. We just don’t quite have the evidence to know exactly what that is yet. Nor can we say with any confidence that a diet that works for one condition will work for them all, or if that diet will even work for all people with that particular condition.

While it seems that nutrition strategies like reducing processed foods and added sugars are steps in the right direction, some of the other foods that make many elimination diet lists have very little evidence to justify their exclusion.

What’s the problem with the claims about autoimmune-curing diets?

The problem is, we’re just not there yet in terms of the science. So, we don’t know who these types of diets are best for, or more importantly, why. We also don’t know what exactly about the diet is working. If we start by eliminating a long list of foods from our diet and feel better, how do we know what the trigger food was?

Does it matter to the people who do find relief in following these diets? Absolutely not. But, there are people making big money off writing books or programs claiming that they have found a solution. They really make it seem like their claims are based on a body of legitimate evidence, but that just isn’t real. Frankly, it’s unethical too.

What should you do if you suffer from an autoimmune condition?

If you’re reading this as someone who has a chronic condition that our current medical or nutrition knowledge can’t adequately manage, you have every right to try some alternative and experimental things. But, It’s important to know where the science ends and where experiment beings. These autoimmune diet books and protocols often just aren’t doing a good job of making that clear.

My advice? Work with an experienced and licensed nutrition professional who can help you work through finding potential food triggers for your symptoms and reduce or eliminate them in a systematic way. They will help ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need to stay healthy while finding potential solutions for your symptoms.

Bad Nutrition Trend #2: The Diet Wars

If there’s one nutrition trend we need to leave behind in 2020, it’s the diet wars!

These past few years, two of the most popular diets having their moment are low-carb/keto and plant based/vegan. The challenge is that at their very core these two diets operate on distinctly different principles.

The people who write the low carb books believe all of our health problems stem from people eating too much sugar and carbohydrate, and that this uniquely negatively impacts our health

The people who write the vegan or plant-based books tell us that the issue isn’t actually carbohydrate at all, it’s saturated fat and animal protein. If we eliminate these from our diets, we’ll stay healthy and help prevent chronic disease.

The people actively promoting either side of this ‘war’ disagree on basically every aspect of nutrition science. They also can’t find common ground on the implications our eating habits have on the environment and global climate. It’s frustrating and confusing for consumers who feel caught in the middle of all the conflicting advice and proverbial shit flinging across party lines.

And if you happen to spend any time in spaces like nutrition twitter, you know that it gets UGLY.

What happens to the folks caught in the middle?

The stress and anxiety over making daily food choices can become too much to contend with. Many of my clients feel paralyzed and overwhelmed, so they wind up spinning their wheels trying a new diet every week. The guilt of feeling like they’re doing the wrong thing is always hanging over their head.

Like most things, the ‘right answer’ lies somewhere in the big, grey middle ground. It’s also going to vary from person to person. Is a low carb or vegan diet right for you? Maybe. Is it the best thing for everyone else too? Maybe not. And that’s ok!

One thing I’d love to see more of in 2021 is more acceptance of other’s personal food choices and less arguing over the ‘best diet’. Let’s do a better job of minding our own plates, and spend less time worrying about what everyone else is doing.

Because no one wants their Instagram dinner post spoiled by someone getting mad that it isn’t vegan, or claiming they’re killing their family by feeding them potatoes. So let’s quit that BS and leave this nutrition trend far behind in 2020!

Bad Nutrition Trend #1: Celebrity-Endorsed Diets (and our general obsession with how celebrities eat and exercise)

My final and biggest nutrition trends we can leave in 2020: Looking to celebrities for their diet and exercise advice.

Just like every other year, 2020 brought us plenty of celebrity-endorsed weight loss trends. This year, some major Hollywood names like Rebel Wilson, Adele, and Kelly Osborne made headlines with their weight loss stories.

Of course, anytime a celebrity does anything to change their bodies the first thing everyone wants to know is: how did they do it? In these cases it was the Mayr Method, Sirtfood Diet, and gastric sleeve surgery. But, the list of celebrity-endorsed weight loss methods we’ve heard about over the years is long. Like, really long.

Celebrities losing weight. What else is new?

Now, celebrities losing weight is certainly not new or unique to 2020, but when you go looking for the types of diets that celebrities follow, you’ll find yourself down quite the rabbit hole of conflicting diet and exercise advice. It seems half the celebs out there are going vegan, while others are intermittent fasting. Another group is doing keto or low-carb, and a few others might tout the benefits of ‘flexitarianism’. It’s an absolute nightmarish smorgasbord coming from a group of people who unfortunately have zero idea what they’re talking about. Like, literally zero.

Interestingly, more recently Lizzo was caught up in some controversy over her sharing with her social media followers that she was partaking in a ‘smoothie detox’. In addition to being loved for her music, she has also become something of a poster woman for the body positivity and fat acceptance movement. When she shared that she was doing this smoothie detox program, some people were pissed about it. They look to celebrities like Lizzo to be speaking out against these ineffective (and sometimes dangerous) methods, not following them! Many folks felt blindsided by her participating in these same practices instead.

What’s really the problem here?

There’s a few issues here that all feed into this problem. The first, is that no matter what a celebrity does, their fans are going to do it too. It doesn’t matter if it comes with a disclaimer of “don’t try this at home kids”. We’ve been modeling our lives after celebrities as long as they’ve existed. We want to be like our role models! This means in addition to how we dress or style our hair, we also pick up their favorite diet and exercise routines.

Unfortunately celebrities are at their basic core, well, humans! Just like us they’re all unique with different genetics, activity levels, body types, and health concerns. They also have seemingly endless cash to spend on trainers, chefs, or trips to weight loss clinics. What’s important to remember though is that celebrities aren’t nutrition or fitness experts, and ultimately rely on the professionals they work with to get advice tailored for them.

What this means is that just because Jennifer Aniston does intermittent fasting and claims it helps her stay slim, doesn’t mean that IF will help any of us look like Jennifer Aniston. There’s just too many other factors at play (including things like cosmetic surgery) for it to be that simple, or easy.

Can we just stop being so obsessed with celebrities bodies already?

Celebrities and their bodies are under constant scrutiny, especially female celebrities! Both headlines and comment sections are always jam-packed with people’s opinions and assumptions about the weight and health status of the celebrity in question. And they’re often not kind about it.

The celebrities who do embrace their larger bodies might gain support and a following as a role model for the body positivity movement. Unfortunately they sometimes wind up in a ‘damned if you do damned if you don’t’ situation.

If they wind up losing weight (whether intentionally like Rebel Wilson or Adele), or seemingly unintentionally they can face backlash from fans. Or, like in Lizzo’s case, people can feel betrayed when their role model does something seemingly out of alignment with their values. Even if the goal wasn’t necessarily weight loss at all as Lizzo has since stated.

Is there a solution?

In my opinion, to solution to this frustrating nutrition trend is really to stop putting such a focus on people’s sizes, bodies, or daily eating and exercise habits. If we weren’t so hyperfocused on how celebrities look, we wouldn’t need to look to them for diet or exercise advice. In turn, they might not feel the same pressure to do extreme things just to look a certain way. Each of us could eat and move our bodies (and manage/prevent chronic conditions) with the advice of our personal medical professionals without any other crap.

I think we’d all be better off for it

Well, that’s a wrap guys!

Thank you so much for sticking with me and my blog through this crazy rollercoaster of a year. I hope like me you’re all looking ahead with hope, a positive mindset, and some big goals. Here’s to better things in 2021!

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Check out last year’s list! I was much sassier (and probably funnier)

Nutrition trends 2020