Food Fads—Are They Safe?

March 30, 2015, 12:20pm EDT

Linda Ulerich, RD

There are so many food fads out there nowadays that it is mind boggling. Are these food fads too good to be true? Do they have the potential to be harmful to our kidneys? Well, let’s take a closer look at some recent food fads to see what they are all about and whether they are safe.

Bone Broth Craze:  Bone broth is an age-old curative treatment for those who are ill. Bone broth is also used by most chefs as the base or “stock” for soups and stews. What exactly is bone broth? Like the name implies, it involves simply taking poultry, beef, or fish bones (or a combination of these) and simmering them in water for 12-48 hours until the bones break down. Then, it is strained before consumption. Its high collagen content is touted to make our bones stronger, and improve our hair and skin. But does it work? There is very limited research to support these claims.

Nutritional analysis for an 8 ounce serving of bone broth is around 200 Calories, 17 grams of carbohydrates, 9 grams of fat and 16 grams of protein. This protein is a very low quality protein, which means that it does not contain one or more of the essential amino acids--the building blocks of protein. Bone broth contains very small amounts of vitamins and minerals, except for 40% of the daily value (DV) for manganese, and about 30% of the DV for vitamin C and B6.1

A big concern with heavy consumption of bone broth is that lead accumulates in the bones of animals, so the lead concentration in bone broth can reach 9.5 ug/Liter. That is the equivalent of 9.5 parts per billion (ppb).2 For comparison purposes, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set 15ppb as the EPA’s current legal limit for lead in drinking water. The FDA considers 23ppb the ‘level of concern’, and 50ppb is the upper limit to categorize water as drinkable. A study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology in 2004, found that patients who had chronic kidney disease had worsening of their kidney function when exposed to low levels of lead, even at levels far below the normal ranges.3

Bottom line:  Not recommended as a health curative or health enhancer.

The 8-Hour Diet:  This is a fasting diet in which you can eat any and all of the foods and drinks you want within an 8-hour time period that you choose (i.e. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or noon to 8 p.m.). Then, you fast the other 16 hours in the day. This fasting period supposedly resets your metabolism, but this has yet to be proven. The problem with this diet plan is that it does not limit portions, calories, fat, etc., so eaters aren’t exercising restraint in the quality or quantity of the foods consumed.4 As a result, followers of this diet can end up taking in more calories each day just by knowing they won’t be able to eat for 16 hours. It also doesn’t help people to develop more sustainable, long-term healthy eating habits since it promotes eating anything you want as long as it is within the 8 hour timeframe.

Bottom line:  This diet would definitely be a concern for those with major health issues such as diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease due to the “unlimited” amount of foods and beverages that could contain high amounts of carbohydrates, sodium, fat, potassium and phosphorus.

Master Cleanse Diet:  This diet is also called “The Lemonade Diet” and is the newest juice-based fasting diet by Peter Glickman, who published “Lose Weight, Have More Energy and Be Happier in 10 Days.” This liquid-only diet consists of 3 ingredients: a lemonade-like beverage, a salt-water drink, and an herbal laxative tea that you drink for 10 days. During this 10-day period, you are not allowed any other foods. After 10 days, you gradually add back some other juices and soup, and then raw fruits and vegetables. Lastly, you add in small amounts of meat, but no dairy.5 This juice fast is supposed to detoxify the body by removing excess fat from the body. However, there is no scientific evidence to prove this, and this juice fast is considered by most nutrition professionals to be harmful over the long term. It is very low in the major nutrients we need: protein, essential fatty acids and most vitamins and minerals, thus causing headaches, nausea, dizziness and dehydration. Any weight lost with this juice fast is due to dehydration and loss of muscle mass.

Bottom line:  People with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease should avoid this diet as it may cause extreme shifts in blood sugars, cause heart arrhythmias, and worsen kidney function.

Coconut Oil for Weight Loss:  This weight loss idea is based on the assumption that consuming tropical oils can cause a slight boost in your metabolism. It is a scientific fact that the process of digesting our food causes the body to burn off about 10% of the calories we consume. The fatty acids in coconut oil consist of a type of fatty acid called a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT). These are shorter and more water soluble types of oils than those in olive or canola oils. Thus, MCTs are more readily burned for fuel and have less opportunity to be stored as fat. However, there is no scientific evidence that consuming coconut oil helps people lose weight. Coconut oil contains 12 grams of saturated fat in one tablespoon – more than butter.6  What little boost in metabolism you might have gained from ingesting coconut oil would be offset by the calories you consume, just like any other oil.

All oils contain approximately 120 calories per tablespoon, so we are only burning off about 12 calories (that 10% we burn off) for the 120 calories we consumed. With coconut oil, you might burn of 15% or 18 calories from 120 calories consumed.

Bottom line:  Not recommended.  Although the only real concern is having too much saturated fat in your diet which can lead to heart disease, there is no real benefit to be gained from this practice.

Bulletproof Coffee:  Bulletproof coffee is the craze created by Dave Asprey to boost energy. He was hiking in Tibet when he was given a traditional yak butter tea drink to help him stay hydrated and keep his energy up. As anyone who hikes in colder, high altitudes knows, you burn lots of calories and can become dehydrated very quickly when hiking in these conditions. This high-fat, high-calorie beverage helped replace fluids and calories, and used the tea as a stimulant since it contains caffeine. As a result, hikers would feel more energized due to not only the caffeine, but because they are rehydrated and have replaced calories burned. Dave’s recipe is similar in that he uses grass fed cow’s butter, medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil and hot coffee. It provides around 400 calories, no carbohydrates and 51 grams of fat—of which 80% is saturated fat. The “advantage” to drinking only a serving of bulletproof coffee for breakfast is that restricting carbohydrates is supposed to force the body to burn fat for energy.   Bulletproof coffee staves off hunger longer due to the high fat content. But, if you are taking in more calories (from fat no less!) faster than your body is burning them, you won’t reduce your body’s fat reserves or lose weight.

Also, bulletproof coffee is void of most nutrients, including protein, fiber and most vitamins and minerals.  With this diet, you are substituting a healthy breakfast for a very high-fat beverage. Although some will say they can make up the nutrients in other meals, this can be more difficult than you think, and taking a vitamin and mineral supplement will not replace all the flavonoids, fiber, and micronutrients that real foods provide.7

Bottom line:  Due to the very high saturated fat content and poor nutritional value of this beverage, I would not recommend this practice.