This post is the fifth in a series of six that I’m doing in a sponsor partnership with the Cherry Marketing Institute. As always, words and opinions are mine.
“Put butter in your coffee; it’ll give you more energy and it’s better for you.”
“Eat low-carb, mostly fat … it’ll help you run longer.”
And my favorite: “Stop eating food, just drink Soylent!”
When I think of food trends, this is what I think of. Internet sensations that flare up and often fizzle out just as quickly.
(Actually, I’m not being fair to the three I listed to start this post. There’s some actual science behind the first two, and even if I don’t personally do them, it’s clear they’re working for some people. Number 3, though, is just dumb.)
We all like to laugh at food trends, to pretend we’re experts as we look back at the silly things we used to do (or that people in other camps do now). But some of what we now call trends will endure, and eventually we won’t think of them as trends at all. That’s how change happens.
So which ones are legit? That’s the big question, and your guess is as good as mine.
All of that said, here are five trends I’m betting my health on.
An admission: call me spineless, but I have trouble diving headlong into almost any new diet, preferring to experiment and then tweak to my liking. You’ll see that most of the trends I list here come with an explanation of where I’m not fully buying in, and what I’m doing to moderate.
1. Raw ’til 4
It’s a diet that fascinates me, mainly for the energy boosts I’ve felt when eating this way 100 percent, as well as for the potential athletic recovery benefits. But I’m still on the fence about whether this diet of eating mostly raw fruit and vegetables is a healthy way to eat, long-term.
Mainly, my concern is fat — true 80/10/10 means only 10 percent of calories come from fat, whereas I’ve come to believe that the optimal amount of fat (for someone without weight issues) is probably closer to 20 percent. So I eat a fair amount of avocado, tahini, and other nuts and seeds, aiming for that number. (Despite what the next trend might make it look like, my diet can’t really be called low-fat.)
To hedge my bets, I’ve enjoyed — especially in the warm-weather months — eating a raw breakfast (usually fruit, nuts, and seeds, in the form of a smoothie, plus a cup of coffee, which isn’t raw), followed by a mostly raw lunch (a giant salad topped with tahini-based dressing, plus cooked beans). Then a cooked dinner.
You can see this isn’t even close to the pure form of any raw diet. Call it “mostly raw ’til 4,” if you like. But I believe in the value of raw foods, and I think for most of us, the issue isn’t getting too many, but too few.
Whoa, did my post about giving up oil at home get people worked up! Lots of “Finally! Why did you wait so long?” and also a decent (but not surprising) amount of “You’re crazy and a terrible person for saying olive oil might be unhealthy.” (You should see my inbox.)
I understand all of it, because I’ve been on both sides. The question of whether oil is a health food has been one I’ve wrestled with for about three years, and I’m still not certain of anything.
The balance I’ve struck, for now, is to not use oil when I cook at home (which is most of the time), but to enjoy a delicious and oil-laden meal when I eat out (which is a handful of times each month). It’s been easy to stick to, and I feel great.
3. Tart cherry juice
I first heard about tart cherry juice as a workout-recovery food when ultrarunner Scott Jurek started endorsing it way back in 2010. Five years later, it’s still popular among runners (not just after workouts and races, but during as well), owing to its ability to decrease inflammation and speed recovery.
But it wasn’t until I took a 7-day challenge last summer and noticed some surprising results that I started consistently drinking tart cherry juice, and I have been ever since — even before this year, when I became a sponsored ambassador and started endorsing it myself.
Aside from the anti-inflammatory benefits, tart cherry juice has been shown to improve sleep efficiency, something I’ve started to pay more attention to recently as I’ve become more interested in maximizing my energy throughout the day.
Like any juice, most of the calories in tart cherry juice are from natural sugar, so it’s something I try to drink immediately after workouts, when sugar is favorable to recovery.
I’ve overheard lots of people say they’re “doing Eat to Live,” a reference to Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s #1 New York Times bestseller. Somehow, “eating nutritarian” sounds a little better than that, so that’s what I’m going with.
What’s nutritarian? Basically, it’s eating to maximize the ratio of micronutrients to calories. Fuhrman’s famous formula is H = N/C, or “health equals nutrients divided by calories.” In other words, get as many micronutrients as possible in the fewest number of calories.
Foods that are high on N/C scale (also called the ANDI scale, whose scores you’ve probably seen at the Whole Foods salad bar) are foods like leafy greens, other vegetables, most fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds. Lower on the scale, in general, are animal products, oil, grains, and sugars. See Fuhrman’s nutritarian pyramid and food plate here.
A true nutritarian diet avoids caffeine, alcohol, and salt … putting me squarely in the “NOT a true nutritarian” camp. But I’m not terribly far off, and am happy with the balance I’ve found.
5. Caloric restriction
To me, this one sounds like the least pleasant of the bunch … I mean, it’s called restriction! Somebody in the food trends marketing department lost their job over this one, I’m sure.
But in fact, I believe I’ve eaten fewer calories every year for the past seven or so, as my priorities have shifted from “get jacked in the gym” to “run long distances as fast as possible” to “live a long time and have amazing energy levels.”
Calorie restriction is one of very few factors that are consistently linked to longevity in scientific studies. The question remains, though, as to whether the association is due to an overall reduction in calories — so a proportional reduction of protein, carbohydrate, and fat — or because one of those three macronutrient types in particular (or another grouping of calories; say, just simple sugars) happens to be reduced when you reduce calories across the board.
When you’re an athlete, though, there’s a balance to be struck — at some point, your performance suffers when you focus too much on eating for long-term health, and vice versa. And the crux of the issue, of course, is that the targeted use of calorically dense foods is often beneficial for athletic performance and recovery, but generally not a good thing for longevity and overall health.
(This episode of the Tim Ferriss podcast has an interesting discussion about this problem and the previous caloric restiction question.)
For me, calorie restriction hasn’t been a deliberate change in my diet, but rather an incidental one: with the exception of tart cherry juice — which to me is a replacement of one form of post-workout calories with another, and an athletic-performance decision — all the food trends listed here contribute to an overall reduction of calories. In other words, instead of skipping breakfast or starving myself, the way I’ve gradually reduced caloric intake is simply by choosing foods that in general are less calorically dense than what most people eat. And if you eat plant-based or mostly so, you’ve likely done the same thing.
The Last Trend
Okay, I’ve got one more, one that actually isn’t a trend but that to me is absolutely crucial — and gives you a way to deal with these and all future food trends that arise.
It’s the mindset of experimentation. Every one of these eating habits, for me, started out as (and to an extent still is) an experiment. Basically: try it, and keep what works.
It works the other way, too: as soon as I lose the mentality that says “this is a trial” — if I start to tell myself “this is how I eat, always and forever” — then I start to feel boxed in, and I want to rebel. (Yes, this even arises from time to time with veganism, but probably because of strong ethical motivations that underpin this choice, I’ve never gotten close to changing.)
Curiosity is my friend and my enemy — it gives me the willpower to stick to new habits (which to some probably seem extreme), but it also makes it hard for me to just stay still when it comes to my diet. Just when something starts to feel comfortable, boredom steps in and drives me to try something new.
Over time I’ve had to develop an approach to making changes that takes the advantages and shortcomings of this mindset into account … and that’s the subject of my next post.
Thanks for reading. I’ll see you then.