It seems like every celeb is hooked on green juice, protein boosters and coconut oil. And instead of being bombarded by crash-diet ads, we’re hearing about cleansing, detox and reboots.
Nutritional experts caution that our adolescents are getting the same messages about health and body image, but they’re more susceptible to what’s being touted in Tinseltown.
“If we’re confused about whether we should be eating coconut oil or not, our teenagers are as well, and they’re particularly vulnerable,” said Marina Chaparro, a registered dietitian for Memorial Healthcare System’s Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. “They’re more into social media than we are. And they tend to focus more on celebrity and social acceptance, which can lead them to be at risk for unhealthy diet practices.”
Understanding what’s healthy and what’s not calls for reading food labels and packaging so kids will know what they’re eating and can see through the hype, said Dr. Agueda Hernandez, director of West Kendall Baptist Hospital’s Family Medicine Residency Program.
Products can be deceptive. We see vegetable and fruit drinks in the supermarket and we don’t realize they’re being pumped with sugar.
Dr. Agueda Hernandez, director of West Kendall Baptist Hospital’s Family Medicine Residency Program.
“Products can be deceptive. We see vegetable and fruit drinks in the supermarket and we don’t realize they’re being pumped with sugar,’’ Hernandez said. “They’re marketed on the produce aisle like they’re healthy.”
Here, then, are some popular health fads, and whether they deserve a place at your table.
Having a glass of juice isn’t cause for alarm, but the trend of juice cleansing — juicing to lose weight or rid the body of toxins — has sparked concerns.
“Juicing is perceived as a healthy, detoxing type of thing,” said Chaparro, the spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “But it really strips away key nutrients. You’re stripping away the fiber in the fruit, and juice lacks protein.”
A glass of juice can also be “a concentrated sugar bomb,” she said, noting it takes three to four oranges to make one 8-ounce glass of juice. “If you drink orange juice, you’re eating three times as much sugar as you would if you ate an orange.”
So what about the cleansing powers of juicing that fans rave about?
“The body has its own way of detoxing itself,” said Sabrina Tapia, a clinical dietitian at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. “Our kidneys are responsible for detoxifying and getting rid of certain toxins.”
Detox isn’t a weight-loss quick fix either. It’s water weight loss that comes right back, experts said.
Having juice or smoothies sparingly as part of a healthy diet has benefits, especially for people who wouldn’t otherwise eat fruits or vegetables. The important thing is to check the label to ensure it’s not swimming in sugar. Hint: The amount of added sugar for an entire day should be no more than 25 grams for women (6 teaspoons) and 38 grams for men (9 teaspoons).
Instead of smoothies, drink water. It’s cheap. It’s healthy. And people don’t drink enough of it.
Almond, cashew, coconut, rice and soy milks are a hit but they have pros and cons, depending on a teen’s overall diet.
“What it comes down to is looking at the quality of the overall diet pattern, not just a singular food,” said Tapia. “We want to know why they want to drink other milks — is it because it’s the newest thing or a health reason.”
Alternative milks might lack nutrients important during the teenage years: calcium, vitamin D, protein and potassium. Cow’s milk is a prime source for these.
“There’s so much need for calcium at this age,” Chaparro said. “You have to compare milks and see if they’re fortified with calcium and vitamin D and how much sugar do they have.’’
Athletes, dancers and gymnasts have to be careful to get enough calcium and vitamin D to avoid fractures and long-term problems, said Dr. Elba A. Iglesias, medical director for adolescent medicine at Joe DiMaggio.
Young people who can’t have dairy products for health or dietary reasons should find alternative milks fortified with calcium and vitamin D and have low sugar levels, and eat calcium-rich foods such as kale, non-dairy yogurt, broccoli and sardines.
Coconut oil, with its sweet tropical scent, is being hailed as a super product used in acne treatments, soaps, shampoos and skin creams. You might even add it to your coffee and smoothie.
“All of a sudden, coconut oil has gotten this halo effect,” Chaparro said. “It’s everywhere.”
Vegans often rely on it to make pie crusts and pastries without butter, and it’s often substituted for other cooking oils, but nutritional experts warn that coconut oil is high in saturated fats. The American Heart Association issued an advisory in June to limit coconut oil, noting that has 82 percent saturated fat, versus 7 percent for canola oil.
If you use coconut oil, buy virgin oil, not partially hydrogenated coconut oil.
Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap, but teens shouldn’t lump simple carbs like white pasta and white bread, which break down quickly into sugar, with beneficial complex carbohydrates.
Complex carbs can be found in foods like oatmeal, sweet potatoes, peas, beans, whole grains such as wheat, oats, brown rice and barley, whole wheat bread and vegetables. They are a vital source of energy and fiber.
Ketosis occurs in a very low-carb diet when the body breaks down fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. “The problem is in extremes or if there is another underlying illness or another supplement they could be taking, which will increase the ketones to dangerous levels.”
Most experts agree that eating more of a plant-based diet is a good thing. But teens interested in a vegetarian or a vegan diet often need to be educated to get the right balance of nutrients.
That may mean introducing foods that might be unfamiliar to them, like tofu, seeds, nuts and tempeh (a soy product).
“Some kids will end up eating more carbs and starches — French fries can be considered vegan,” said Chaparro, noting that kids may gain weight if they don’t understand how to plan their meals. “We need to make sure they’re fueling their bodies and getting what they need.”
If you have a teen who’s a vegan, be sure they’re getting enough vitamin B-12, which is found in animal products but generally not in plant sources. B-12 is a powerhouse, as it helps make DNA, nerve and blood cells, and is crucial for a healthy brain and immune system.
Teens (or adults) can start out trying to eat more healthy but become fixated on food quality and purity. That obsession, orthorexia nervosa, means a fixation on righteous eating.
When trying to eat clean, there’s a tendency to eliminate foods from the diet. “Kids think they have to eliminate fat and fat is a necessary component to a healthy diet,” Iglesias said. “Young girls may not get enough fat to produce estrogen. Their hormones are responsible for their periods and their bone health.”
When this fixation becomes extreme, teens “may feel guilty or experience self-loathing when they eat a cracker or processed food,” Chaparro said. “It’s taking healthy eating to an extreme.”
Left untreated, the problem can lead to malnourishment, anorexia, or a disabling anxiety.
Signs of a problem
▪ Excuses for skipping meals or going to the bathroom after meals.
▪ A change in behavior such as irritability or depression
▪ Withdrawal from friends/activities, excessive sleepiness or fatigue.
▪ Paleness or dryness of the skin, thinning hair or brittle nails, fainting or weakness, change in bowel habits (constipation or diarrhea).