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It’s easy to become a bit cynical and jaded with the food fads that pop up as a new year gets underway, but it is true that experts are uncovering new data and facts all the time about how what we eat affects our health.

In 2018, as new research becomes available, for those who are keen to shield themselves from medical complications and want to give their body a fighting chance against disease, there are some strong trends worth paying attention to.

First, healthy fats are well and truly in this year. Specifically, omega-9s — also known as monounsaturated fats — for their potential to regulate blood sugar levels and promote a healthy weight.

While omega-9 is part of the omega-3 and omega-6 family, your body will not produce omega-9 without having sufficient amounts of 3 and 6 first. So, all omegas are vital and important in their own way within the body.

The power of omega-9

We get omega-9 from animal fats and vegetable oils, which can be found in nuts, some fruits, oils and fish — especially salmon — and it offers a vast range of benefits. It improves lung support, which reduces the risk of asthma; it prevents insulin resistance, lowering the risk of diabetes; it decreases systolic and diastolic blood pressure to reduce the risk of high blood pressure; it prevents the loss of cells, which stops muscular disorder; it increases the chemicals in the brain that prevent stress; it increases the ability to absorb nutrients in the body, which prevents allergies; it improves elasticity in the skin, which protects it from skin cancer; and it reduces the production of enzymes that lead to arthritis.

Embracing the Mediterranean diet

Michael Sole, Performance Nutritionist at Beyond Human, says when it comes to taking in omega-9, look no further than the way people eat in the sunny countries of Europe. “There are masses of evidence that support the benefit of the Mediterranean diet; it has been proven to regulate body weight and subsequently overall health, hence the benefits on blood sugar control, lipid profiles, and other key markers,” he says. “This diet is rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats due to the frequent inclusion of foods such as olive oil, oily fish, seeds and nuts.”

However, he adds: “There is no need to start running to the shops and filling your baskets with olive oil and sunflower seeds. A frequently overlooked factor in nutrition research is the importance of overall energy intake (calorie intake) in line with an intervention, particularly when looking at isolated nutrients. 

“What’s interesting is that when someone follows a Mediterranean diet as an intervention, the likelihood of overconsumption is minimal. Eating substantial amounts of protein and vegetables is a great way to reduce someone’s tendency to overconsume as both of these are very satiating. Therefore, if your intervention is to increase someone’s total omega-9 intake to benefit health, chances are the benefits you are seeing from health perspective is also relative to weight loss, something that can also be achieved irrespective of a boost in omega-9 intake. 

“Also, worth noting is that the typical western diet is often lacking in omega-3, and bases are usually covered with omega-6 and 9, therefore if you were looking to create an optimal health status, I would look to resolve this issue first.”

Aside from omega-9s, this year will also see a focus on the importance of eating for brain health — with an emphasis on the benefits of a nutrient-rich diet featuring foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts and berries now shown to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. 

Eat your way to intelligence

“We have all heard the term brain food, which [refers to] foods rich in antioxidants and good fats that are high in vitamins and mineral and basically whole nutritious foods,” says Sharon McConnell, Training Manager at NRG Fitness. 

“Rather than being wary of certain foods, there are some I would suggest ensuring you have in your diet. These include avocadoes, which are high in monounsaturated fats and full of green powerhouse goodness; beetroot, as it reduces inflammation and boosts the blood flow to the brain; blueberries, which are high in vitamin C and K, fibre and garlic acid, nutrients that protect the brain from degeneration and stress; coconut oil, as it has multiple uses and cures; leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach, which are good for reducing the risk of cancers and promoting a healthy heart; and salmon — the most nutritious brain food that has the most amount of omega fats, which help the normal functioning of neurons.”

Another hot trend is going against the grains, and this is becoming mainstream in health-food circles. Those intent on cutting normal grains out of their diet are trying another kind that is perfect for a throwing in with a pan of sautéed veggies — pseudograins. If you’re out of the health and diet loop, these are superfood seeds known to be gluten-free and extremely high in protein, fibre, and low-glycaemic carbohydrates.

Of course, we’re all well-versed in the most popular pseudograin, quinoa, but you may know less about others such as buckwheat, wild rice, teff and amaranth.

Buckwheat is a fruit seed related to rhubarb and sorrel — not actually a wheat. It’s high in protein, phytonutrients such as flavonoids, vitamins B and E, and manganese, an important mineral. It is best dehydrated and made into a crunchy granola, but you will also commonly find it in the form of Japanese soba noodles.

Wild rice is a seed that is a good source of vitamin B and has almost twice the protein, and six times the amount of folic acid. Teff is a seed that leads all the grains by a wide margin, in its calcium content. One cup of cooked teff has 123mg of calcium — about the same as a half cup of cooked spinach — and is high in vitamin C.