Remember that weird slimy, rubbery lump reminiscent of a fleshy alien lifeform or being told heat is your food’s worst enemy? We debunk the health benefits of three diet trends, from controlled bacteria and fermented foods to liquid detoxes

Health and wellness trends come and go faster than you can say no foam skinny oat milk hojicha latte with a double scoop of medicinal mushroom powder. For many, the past two years were spent stuck at home, which meant we had plenty of time to jump on various wellness bandwagons. 

Here, we look at three wellness fads and ask the founder of Sports Nutrition Association and accredited sports nutritionist Alex Thomas to weigh in on why you shouldn’t fall for the hype

#Raw food diet

Alex Thomas. Photo: Sports Nutrition Association

Certified sports nutritionist Alex Thomas

This primarily vegan diet requires food to be ‘cooked’ at no higher than 40–48°C, which basically means one is perpetually eating salads. 

Those who embrace the lifestyle praise how low-temperature treatment of food is the best way to retain their nutrients. A 2018 study shows fruits and vegetables to be more beneficial for mental health when consumed raw. Extreme advocates of the diet even tout the benefits of drinking raw, untreated water. 

But there’s no doubt that heat is one of the best ways to kill bacteria; lukewarm foods are a hotbed for bacteria. The American Center for Disease Control has strict guidelines for the raw and unpasteurised consumption of water and dairy, which can be laced with dangerous bacteria levels.

And in recent years, the trend has gained traction among those exclusively carnivorous, too. “In the short term, it can be safe, and it sits on a spectrum depending on the type of meat and how you are consuming it,” says Thomas. 

But he warns that it’s not a diet that he would recommend. “It can also be quite dangerous, for example, eating raw chicken. I would consider the approach suboptimal and not something I would encourage as cutting out plants altogether is not recommended.”

Be it meat or plant-based, a skewed diet can quickly spiral into nutrient and calorie deficiency; it can be especially dangerous for children, and malnutrition-related deaths have been documented.  “I don’t like diets that cut out food groups, or only focus on one food group unless the individual has an approved medical reason to limit something in their diet,” says Thomas

Besides, missing out on a steamy bowl of ramen and that occasional cup of hot cocoa on a cold day just isn’t worth it for most people.

2020 was the year of the sourdough starter for home cooks everywhere. Superior to dried yeast flavour and nutrition, a sourdough start provided entertainment (an exact formula of time, chemistry, temperature, and a bit of luck). Home brewed fermented carbonated Kombucha tea was a similar pastime for many, but the trend seemed to have fizzled out in 2021. Babying that SCOBY, short for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, was equal parts amusing and gross. 

The dense, fleshy patty turns sweet tea into a fizzy beverage loaded with vitamins and probiotics. However, Thomas says gut health itself is still a bit of a scientific mystery. “There are many claims around gut health, but we don’t know enough about the gut, and none of the research has demonstrated that kombucha specifically improved outcome for gut health.”

There are also a lot of unknowns, too,  when it comes to probiotics. “A certain strain has shown reductions in cold and flu symptoms and another strain [shown to reduce] irritable bowel syndrome. But that is as far as I would be happy to speak about it,” Thomas says.

Home fermentation, however, can be dangerous if not done correctly. The SCOBY starter grows each time it ferments a new batch of tea and can be susceptible to bacterial growth. They can be especially dangerous for children because a fermentation gone wrong (or right, depending on who’s asking) means a boozy drink. 

But a more common danger of kombucha, homemade or otherwise, is its sugar level. The SCOBY feeds off sugar and fruit juices during fermentation- and the more sugar, the quicker the fermentation. 

“Limit your kombucha intake to one beverage every two to three days and just drink it because you enjoy it. Don’t drink it because you are associating it with health.

It took us a few years, but most of us equally caught on that those detox teas influencers and celebrities were promoting on social media did not live up to their hype. While these teas are often touted as weight loss solutions and can suppress appetite, they do little to detox your system.   

“Teatoxes is dangerous to your wallet,” Thomas says. “They cost a lot of unnecessary money, and the weight loss will just be from a lack of food volume in your gastrointestinal tract.

“The truth is, you don’t need to detox, your liver does that by the second, all day, every day anyway, and you can’t trick your physiology in that capacity.”  Drinking too much tea and excessive caffeine intake can strain the liver and other organs. 

He says what most people experience during a teatox is losing weight through the gastrointestinal tract. It induces hyper bowel movement and can lead to severe dehydration. Short-term teatox will unlikely have negative implications for your health, but you may be at risk of nutritional deficiencies if you do them regularly.

Instead of dropping money on these so-called herbal remedies, Thomas suggests eating five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables to promote good bacteria and bowel health.

Also see: Chinese medicine practitioner shares herbal and acupressure remedies to manage alopecia and boost hair health


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