Health or Hype: A Scientific Analysis of 15 Top Nutrition Trends

Alex Lewis, Arivale Coach, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Alex Lewis
Arivale Coach, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

With no shortage of contradictory articles and blogs out there surrounding nutrition and wellness trends, it can be difficult to navigate through the noise and figure out what’s actually promoting health … and what’s just hype.

At Arivale, we have a team of nutritionists and clinical researchers constantly reviewing the latest research to give our members up-to-date and informed answers for questions around wellness.

Here are our recommendations on 15 health trends:

Coconut Oil

Arivale Says: Hype

Coconut oil has been at the center of the “fat is back” movement, with some recent studies concluding there is no association between intake of saturated fat (which makes up 90 percent of coconut oil’s calories) and cardiovascular disease risk. Coconut oil has been said to do everything from aid weight loss to improve digestion.

While the studies around saturated fat may seem compelling, they are not representative of the vast majority of research linking saturated fat intake to increased cardiovascular disease risk. Furthermore, they have also been criticized for containing major flaws. As for weight loss claims, based on your genetics, you may potentially have an increased risk for weight gain when consuming a diet high in saturated fat. 68 percent of Arivale Members do.

Coconut oil does contain anti-inflammatory properties that make it rightfully popular for skincare.

Bottom line: Occasional use of coconut oil is not a problem. However, we wouldn’t recommend using it as your main oil of choice because of its high saturated fat content.

Chia Seeds

Arivale Says: Health

Once something hits the aisles at Trader Joe’s, you know it’s a full-blown trend! Chia seeds have gone into the mainstream lately, showing up in many granolas, crackers, drinks, and even as stand-alone items (chia seed pudding anyone?).

Like any healthy fat, moderation is important, but chia seeds have numerous important benefits. They are incredibly high in insoluble fiber (2 tablespoons of chia seeds contain 10 grams of insoluble fiber!), which is important for weight and cholesterol management. They are also a good source of Omega-3, an essential fatty acid that is often hard to come by in the typical American diet. (In fact, 47.5 percent of Arivale Members have inadequate levels of Omega-3 fatty acids at their first blood draw.)

For members looking to improve fiber intake and Omega-3 levels, our Coaches often suggest adding 1-2 tablespoons of chia seeds to their breakfast oats or yogurt.


Arivale Says: (Mostly) Hype

In recent years, Kombucha has gone from an obscure fermented tea drink to a full-blown phenomenon, with many claiming it as a superfood for digestion, detoxification, immune support, and energy.

While many of our team members and clients love the taste of Kombucha (and the fact that it’s often low in sugar, depending on the brand), the research around Kombucha is too slight to support any serious health claims. That is not to say there are not any benefits from drinking the tea; it simply means there is no evidence that proves the benefits it claims.

However, stay tuned for our take on fermented foods … which includes Kombucha.

Cruciferous Veggies

Arivale Says: Health

Kale is in vogue, and for good reason. Kale is a cruciferous vegetable, which along with providing many nutrients, helps boost your body’s detoxification system. Other cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, brussels sprouts, arugula, radishes, kohlrabi, rutabaga, collard greens, and bok choi. 

Antioxidants in Red Wine

Arivale Says: Hype

Resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red wine, has been hailed as a natural way to slow aging and fight cancer, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. If only, if only.

A study by John Hopkins University School of Medicine looked at information from 800 adults, ages 65 and older, whose diets were high in resveratrol. There was no correlation between the healthiest individuals and amounts of metabolized resveratrol.

Furthermore, you would need more servings of red wine than would be advisable to get the amount of resveratrol that’s shown benefit in animal trials. Our final word: you’re better off getting antioxidants from fruits and veggies.

Sprouted Grains

Arivale Says: Health

You may have seen sprouted grain sliced bread or sprouted rice in the store and wondered if it’s a better choice than your regular go-to. As it turns out, there are many benefits to choosing sprouted grain products.

In general, research indicates that the sprouting of grains improves the chemical composition and nutritive value of the grains. Sprouted grains have been shown to be more readily digestible, have increased amounts and bio-availability of B vitamins, vitamin C, and folate, have increased fiber, and promote increased absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc.


Arivale Says: Hype

It’s hard not to feel healthy when drinking something green. But don’t let the color or plentiful buzzwords fool you, juice is still juice—high in sugar and low in fiber.

The juicing process virtually eliminates dietary fiber, one of the many great benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. Studies show fiber is important to maintaining healthy cholesterol and it also contributes to feelings of fullness, which is important for weight loss and maintenance. Juice also has a high glycemic index, a measure of how a food raises blood-sugar levels.

While many people point to smoothies as a compromise due to their fiber content, an important problem remains … especially if you are watching your weight. When making juice or a smoothie, it’s easy to put in much more than you’d typically eat if the food were spread out on a plate. Furthermore, when you drink food instead of eating it, the body secretes more appetite hormones which are likely to make us overeat at the next meal. The body is designed to chew food, not drink it.

Intermittent Fasting

Arivale Says: (Mostly) Hype

Intermittent fasting is when you follow an eating pattern that fluctuates between periods of fasting and periods of eating. Commonly, people using this technique will fast for 12-16 hours daily (this includes time sleeping if fasting overnight).

Research of intermittent fasting in humans is nascent, and evidence of health improvements is preliminary. Some research suggests it could be used as a tool for weight loss, body composition shifts, and cardiometabolic improvements, but substantial further research in humans is needed before any consensus can be reached—especially since long-term impacts on sustained weight loss, weight regain, and retention of cardiometabolic improvements remain unknown.

Ghee, or Clarified Butter

Arivale Says: Hype

Stop trying to make butter happen. It’s never going to happen.

Many trendy diets have brought the spotlight back to butter, specifically, grass-fed clarified butter or ghee. Fans of ghee point to its high smoke point, medium chain fatty acids, and butyric acid as evidence of its health benefits.

At Arivale, we’re more skeptical of the purported benefits of clarified butter over other healthy fats, and especially as something to consume in substitute for a meal. Similar to our take on coconut oil, there is much evidence still to support saturated fat increasing risk for cardiovascular disease.

Fermented Foods

Arivale Says: Health

OK, we might have been a little lukewarm on Kombucha’s miracle elixir claims, but we’d be remiss if we dismissed the importance of the fermented family. The health benefits of fermented foods—especially fermented dairy products like yogurt and kefir—come from their probiotic content, which can increase microbiome diversity and support healthy bacteria in the gut.

While research on the gut microbiome is still in its infancy, researchers do know that it is very important for human health. At Arivale, members can explore their gut microbiome diversity and might be recommended fermented foods if diversity is low.

Ketogenic and Paleo Diets

Arivale Says: Hype

The Ketogenic Diet was developed in the early 1920s to help children with epilepsy control seizures. The diet is high in fat and low in carbohydrates, and it can be effective in treating the number of seizures in some people with epilepsy. By drastically cutting carbohydrates and replacing them with fats, the diet aims to put you into a metabolic state called ketosis—where it becomes very efficient at using fats for energy. Ketosis also turns fat to ketones in the liver.

In recent years, the ketogenic diet has been used effectively for weight loss; however, there are many concerning side effects that likely outweigh any benefits.

Ketogenic diets may increase LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) and can cause other unfavorable lipid and cardiovascular changes. This may be partly due to the ketones themselves, but is also due to the fact that ketogenic diets are so low in fiber.

Ketogenic diets can also unfavorably impact exercise performance, because the body requires carbohydrates for exercise and, with intense exercise, can quickly burn through stored glycogen. Finally, ketogenic diets are associated with increased fatigue, as fat is burned too slowly to be very effective as a fuel.

The Paleo diet is similar in that it is low in carbohydrates and high in protein and fat. The benefits of a Paleo Diet is that it stresses whole foods over processed foods; however, it does cut out whole grains, legumes, and dairy and thus could possible result in deficiencies of certain B vitamins and calcium. There isn’t enough scientific evidence that the Paleo Diet can prevent or treat any medical conditions.

Eating Breakfast

Arivale Says: Health

That saying about breakfast being the most important meal of the day has some truth to it. While many argue that eating breakfast is important for weight maintenance, there are many important reasons to eat it that have nothing to do with losing weight!

Eating breakfast is important for cortisol regulation (a stress response hormone that fluctuates throughout the day), blood sugar and energy regulation, and brain health and cognition. So, cook up some oatmeal with chia seeds and feel good knowing you’re starting your day right.


Arivale Says: (Mostly) Hype

In recent years, collagen, the most abundant protein in our bodies, has become a popular supplement. Many people drink collagen to support their joints and improve skin.

The research at this time is inconclusive, with mixed results on its ability to treat symptoms of osteoarthritis. Side effects, however, are minimal and mild (some have reported GI distress), so while there is no evidence for its use as a sports supplement, there’s also little risk associated with drinking collagen.

Dark Chocolate

Arivale Says: Both!

Is dark chocolate good for you? The answer is not as straightforward as you’d like. Research is not conclusive and any potential benefits definitely depend on the type of chocolate. In general, you’ll get more benefits from the darkest and least sugary chocolate.

But before you stock up on your favorite dark chocolate, remember that any benefit is not due to the chocolate itself. Chocolate contains flavanols, a bioactive compound that occurs naturally in the cocoa bean. According to some small clinical trials, consuming high doses of flavanols can potentially protect against heart disease and dementia, but more evidence is needed.

The good news is that because of chocolate’s popularity, there is a lot of enthusiasm for research on its benefits. Hopefully, future trials will cast some light on this classic health or hype question.

Buying Organic

Arivale Says: Health

Wouldn’t it be nice (for our wallets) if it were hype? Unfortunately, toxins are ever present in many of our foods and one of the best ways to limit your exposure is to go organic.

And going back to detoxification, buying organic produce is especially beneficial for those with genetic variants impacting their body’s detoxification systems. Knowing you have these genetic variants or deletions can make the organic price feel more worthwhile (though, we’d argue, everyone can benefit from eating organic regardless of their genetics!).

We live in an age of information, and with it, a lot of contradiction when it comes to wellness and nutrition. At Arivale, you can always ask an Arivale Coach—all of whom are Registered Dietitian Nutritionists, Certified Nutritionists, or Registered Nurses—questions about your diet and what practices might best fit your nutrition goals.