2018's Biggest Health Fads: Are They Legit Or Nah?

It's that time of year again - when we are inundated with information about what the next great wellness blogger will be instagramming non-stop as a cure-all for, well, all.

So what do the experts make of this year's biggest trends - hemp, proats, flexatarianism, adaptogens and seaweed? I spoke to nutritionist Catherine Saxelby from Foodwatch to find out.

Hemp

Image: iStock

The Claim:

On November 12, hemp was legalised in Australia for human consumption after more than 15 years of lobbying from the hemp industry and Healthy Life became among the first in Australia to stock hemp food products including Green Path Organics hemp protein powder and Made in Hemp protein powder, seeds and oil. Rich in protein, essential fatty acids, minerals and vitamins, including large amounts of magnesium, manganese, fibre and folate, hemp has a five-star health rating and is the second highest source of vegetable protein in the world.

It also has a complete amino acid profile, including all nine essential amino acids which the human body can't produce on its own and Omega 3, 6 and 9 which are critical for brain, skin and joint health. Hemp is also a rare source of gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which is a type of Omega 6 well regarded for its anti-inflammatory properties.

Now that it's legal to consume hemp food products, expect to see hemp protein being combined with porridge, muesli, tea or blended into smoothies. With more nutrients than coconut and olive oil combined, hemp oil can also be used on salads or as a finishing oil while hemp seeds, with their earthy taste, can be sprinkled on any meal to add an instant nutritional punch. Despite what many may believe, hemp contains very little or no delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the psychoactive component of cannabis – which means you won't get high eating it.

The Verdict:

Legit.

"Yes hemp as a food was approved in April last year 2017 and it's a move I'm really happy about," Saxelby says. "Hemp fits my definition of a super food being incredibly high in protein for a seed, rich in omega-3 fats with a positive ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 (which does not occur in most other oil seeds), high in fibre, high in vitamins and minerals."

In addition, Saxelby says, farmers report hemp suits Australia's climate and needs little or no pesticides or herbicides.

"It uses less water, land and resources than other seed crops. A crop can grow within six months so it produces a quick yield. All parts of the hemp plant are used including the stalk (for hemp fibre for clothing) and the leaves (for medicinal uses)."

It's important to note that we are not talking about marijuana here. Low-THC hemp or industrial hemp is the term used, and it does not contain the hallucinogenic cannabidiol (CBD) of marijuana.


Proats

Cheering up this miserable Saturday morning with my weekend fave fruity oat bowl ???????????????? . @deliciouslyella bircher muesli soaked in @plenishcleanse almond milk and @alpro coconut yoghurt. All the fruits, more yoghurt and @pipandnut coconut almond butter ???? . Starting #UFBG 2 deload week today with an upper session, also going to work on my dips and pull ups. . Have a great weekend all ???? . #breakfast #breakfastinspo #oats #proats #glutenfree #birchermuesli #veganprotein #nutbutterlover #fitfood #eatforgains #vegan #healthyfoodshare #instafood #fitfoodie . #fitnessjourney #fitnessgoals #transformation #fuelyourbody #foodisfuel #eattotrain #fitfam #fitfamuk #instafit #flexibledieting #strongnotskinny #girlswholift #girlswithmuscle #deload

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The Claim:

Like all catchy blended words, "proats" takes two great things and combines them into one supercharged entity. A blend of protein rich oatmeal, "proats" is set to be the word on health bloggers' lips in 2018. It's easy to make your own "proats" at home with a few healthy ingredients. For a balanced breakfast packed with protein, anti-inflammatory Omega 3, and natural energy, combine hemp seeds, chia seeds, peanut butter, oats, ground flaxseed, cinnamon and collagen together and add to porridge, muesli, yoghurt or a smoothie.

The Verdict:

Legit, but this isn't new.

"This term is a newie to me but it makes sense (boosting the protein of oats) and I suspect most people are already combining oats with seeds or nuts," Saxelby says. "It's a winning combination for taste and for nutrition – the combo of a grain (oats) with a legume (say peanuts) in well known to improve the overall protein content. The combo of the oats with seeds like chia or hemp is another nice winner as the seeds add 'healthy fats' as well as vitamin E and vitamin K which are not present in any great amounts in grains."

Saxelby recommends adding milk or yoghurt as the protein, and the calcium will make your morning muesli or smoothie even more balanced and healthy.


Flexitarianism

???? N U E V A R E C E T A???? • Muchas veces pensamos que lo que hacemos es tan simple, tan insignificante, que no merece ser contado. • Gracias a todos los que me pedistéis la receta del cuscús de brócoli al limón. Si no es por vosotros, esta receta simplona pero deliciosa se queda en el olvido. • Nunca dejéis de tener una palabra amable, de compartir, de animar, de motivar, de querer...por insignificante que te parezca, seguro que hay alguien para quien, eso, marca la diferencia. • ???????? Os he dejado el enlace de la receta en mi perfil. • Si tienes algo que compartir, por insignificante que sea, sabes que tienes los comentarios para ello! ???? • Buenas noches y que descanséis!✨????

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The Claim:

Since 2016, vegan and paleo diets have been slowly taking over Australia, but the next diet fad is tipped to be a little more flexible, which is why it's called "flexitarianism". It's a predominantly plant-based or vegetarian diet, which allows for small amounts of animal-based products. Consuming a plant-based diet can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, two diseases on the rise in Australia, so this new diet could provide the Goldilocks balance for anyone in search of a healthy lifestyle change without having to give up everything they love.

There is also a lot of buzz around the ketogenic diet, a very low-carb, high-fat diet that can help with weight loss, lowering blood sugar and insulin levels and general improved health. It works by shifting the body's metabolism away from carbs and towards fat and ketones, creating a metabolic state called ketosis. Good fats, like those found in avocados, activated almonds or nut butters, are great brain food and many nutrients found in fats, in particular Omega 3, have been found to help with moods, memory and hormones.

If you haven't already heard of bulletproof coffee, 2018 might be the year you start adding butter and oil to your morning cuppa with the combination of saturated fats and coffee providing a more sustained release of caffeine that purportedly suppresses cravings, boosts cognitive function and energy and triggers weight loss by way of ketosis.

Ultimately the best diet is what works for each individual so 2018 could also see more people embracing JERF (just eat real food).

The Verdict:

Legit - but you're probably doing it anyway.

"This is a vegetarian diet where you still consume small quantities of meat, fish, chicken or dairy or eggs in amongst plant foods like vegetables and grains," Saxelby explains. "Think Meatless Monday but most of the week. You're not against meat nor are you a vegan but you eat predominantly plants. You are a 'casual vegetarian'."

"You eat meat when you go out or when a dish calls for it (say one lamb shank in a huge pot of beans) but you don't automatically seek out meat nor eat it each and every day."

Saxelby says this style of eating has many health benefits (more fibre, more phytochemicals, less saturated fat, less greasy fare) and is the basis of the famed Mediterranean Diet, that gets the nod of approval from nutritionists the world over.

"Yes it does lower your risk for being overweight, diabetes, heart disease and several cancers," Saxeby says. "It avoids highly processed foods and means you cook from scratch a lot of the time."


Adaptogens

The Claim:

Just as they sound, adaptogens are a group of healing plants that help the human body adapt during times of stress and with such high levels of stress in modern society, Australians are increasingly in need of adaptogens. From supporting the adrenal glands to improving immunity and the cardiovascular system to aiding fertility, soothing the nervous system and even assisting with good liver and kidney function, adaptogens are set to be the next big thing in health.

While they've been around for hundreds of years, they are having their 15 minutes as Australians continue to seek out a more holistic, natural approach to their health care.

The most common are functional mushrooms, like reishi, cordyceps, and chaga, which are being added to drinks such as tea, coffee and smoothies to boost immunity, support heart health, and even fight inflammation, while also delivering a surprisingly creamy flavour. Don't be surprised to see reishi lattes alongside turmeric and matcha drinks on café menus around the country.

The Verdict:

Legit, but..

"..but who cares?" says Saxelby, "I have heard of these in herbal medicine. But really? Think it's a way to sell products! Sorry."


Seaweed

The Claim:

Found to have higher levels of iodine, potassium, folate, calcium, iron, and magnesium than greens on land, packed with vitamins A and C, and one of the only natural sources of vitamin B12, seaweed is brimming with health benefits which researchers are increasingly starting to uncover. A team at the University of Wollongong is currently conducting trials to further understand the effect of seaweed fibre on gut, metabolic and skin health after initial research showed improvements in non-HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol, inflammation, insulin sensitivity in overweight participants, the levels of good gut bacteria and even psoriasis in one trial participant.

While the Japanese, who have one of the highest life expectancies in the world, have long been singing the praises of this super green from the sea, it is set to increasingly make its mark on the western world in 2018 and beyond. Dried nori, dulse, arame, wakame, kelp and spirulina, make a great low-calorie snack or can be added to meals to bolster their umami taste profile and nutritional content.

The Verdict:

Legit.

"Yes, seaweeds or sea vegetables are a valuable food and source of nutrition (protein, fibres, unusual carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins)m," Saxelby says. "They are often touted as super foods but nutritionists don't know a great deal about them so this new research at the Uni of Wollongong is most welcome. There are hundreds and hundreds of different types and the research is bogged down because much of the early research didn't identify the types well enough for us to know and recognise their properties."

Saxelby says Tasmania is already growing sea vegetables for export, and trying to entice leading chefs to use them in restaurants.

"Both the Japanese and the Irish have long cultivated and dried their sea vegetables. Nori, dulse, arame, wakame, kelp and spirulina would be the ones most familiar to Aussies eg in sushi rolls, in seaweed salad, in salads."

Note: An earlier version of this article included Kanuka, a product our expert did not know much about. We have removed it from the list until we gain more insights into Kanuka's proven benefits.

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