Nutrition trends for spring and summer

From probiotics to vitamin gummies, these are the things you’ll be taking to make you healthier over the warming months. Dietitian Susie Burrell reports.

There is always going to be the latest and greatest fad in the world of nutrition. It might be found at the local coffee shop (turmeric latte, anyone?), literally sprouted at the supplement shop or sensationalised in media reports as the new superfood we all need to be eating right now. So here are the latest trends crossing our desks, and what you need to know about them.

Pre and probiotics

Probiotics are microorganisms in the human digestive tract that improve the balance of healthy bacteria, with prebiotics promoting the growth and function of different types of these bacteria. Probiotics help reduce digestive complaints and help with optimal nutrient absorption.

Probiotics can be found in various food sources, including fermented drinks and yoghurts. It’s been shown just 1-2 serves of these foods each day can reduce bloating in sensitive stomachs. For people who don’t eat dairy, probiotics are also available in supplement form, which can be an effective way to get your daily dose of good gut health.

Make sure your diet also contains prebiotics, which feed the good bacteria in your gut. They make your gut healthier and better able to absorb nutrients from your food. Foods that naturally contain prebiotics include onions, leeks, celery, wheat bran, soy beans, rye and bananas. Aim to include at least 1-2 serves of these foods in your daily diet.

Collagen

Sold as the secret to eternal youth, the collagen in our cells preserves skin elastically and joint mobility — but does taking a supplement reduce wrinkles and defy ageing? The jury is largely out on this one. The good news is that collagen supplements aren’t harmful, so if taking it makes you feel better and even look better there will be no harm done. But it could be argued that eating more fresh fruits, vegetables and fish will give you similar results for a much cheaper price. Supporters claim that marine sources of collagen are the best supplementary forms, and can be found at the chemist.

Plant proteins

Once upon a time you would be hard pressed to find anything other than whey protein in your gym shop, but now there are all sorts of bean, pea and rice proteins. The key thing to consider when you’re looking for a non-dairy protein is the mix of amino acids. A single source protein such as brown rice or pea may not have a complete amino acid profile compared to a mix of several plant protein sources. Ideally you want a protein that offers a complete amino acid profile for optimal absorption and utilisation in the body. Look for mixes of pea and rice protein to achieve a full amino acid profile.

Algae supplements

Forget fish oil, the latest way to get your daily dose of omega 3 fats is via algae. A source of chlorophyll, long chain omega 3 fats and iodine, algae is a nutrient rich organism at the base of the food chain and is a significant source of the long chain fats EPA and DHA. While many of us will benefit from extra omega 3 fat in our diet, it is worth checking the labels as some algae supplements may be lower in omega 3 than many fish oil capsules available.

Vitamin gummies

Chances are you have a bottle of vitamin C or a random herbal lurking in the back of your medicine cabinet. The vitamin industry in Australia is enormous and growing every day, as we all seek the answer to health, youth and longevity in a tiny capsule. For those who don’t like to swallow capsules or horse pills, you can get your daily multivitamin in a chewy lolly — a gummi. The question of whether you really need a daily vitamin in the first place is another story entirely, with very few adults in Australia clinically deficient in key vitamins and minerals.

Activated charcoal

You may have seen the trendy black ice-creams, charcoal coffee or black burger buns. Activated charcoal is purported to be a fantastic detox ingredient, but does it live up to the hype? In short, no. The black colour of these gimmicky foods is achieved by adding charcoal powder, but you need to be careful as it can be dangerous for the gut. Clinically, charcoal is used to treat poisoning and drug overdoses as it helps to bind to dangerous substances, but it doesn’t differentiate what it binds to, so can cause intestinal blockages. Most of the proposed benefits of activated charcoal, including detoxifying and cleansing, remain unproven.

Adaptogens

This is the name given to a group of plant foods that are thought to have an anti-stress role in the body, found in rosemary, turmeric and liquorice root. This specific range of plants are claimed to have anti-inflammatory benefits, and can now be found in a range of supplementary products. However the nutritional literature all point to the whole food as being the benefit to your health as opposed to just the sum of its parts — the concentrated supplement. Try to go for the entire food rather than the tablet.

Apple cider vinegar

Supplement and health food companies have been working on remixes of this age-old diet remedy for the past couple of years as an elixir for weight loss. A type of vinegar made from an apple cider, there is some evidence that it helps to regulate blood glucose levels for individuals with elevated glucose. Unfortunately this benefit does not extend to the average person. Thankfully it’s harmless, so if you like to include a teaspoon or two in your daily routine there’s no reason to stop (it does make a great salad dressing).

Nootropics

The name given to any type of cognitive enhancer, nootropics include both drugs and supplements designed to improve mental performance. Frequently available in supplement stores, nootropics are generally a mix of amino acids, stimulants like caffeine and guarana and herbal ingredients proposed to boost memory, motivation and cognitive functioning. While some of these ingredients, stimulants in particular, are proven to boost various aspects of performance, some other ingredients lack the evidence to support their claims, so do your research and be wary of what you’re buying.