The Biggest Health Trends of 2022

Health trends for 2022 to embrace and to avoid:

With the start of the new year fast approaching, we asked Juno’s nutrition consultation brand Odhealth to look at the key health trends for 2022. An Odhealth’s AfN registered nutritionist has provided a professional analysis on which trends to embrace and which trends are best avoided this year.

# 1 Improving your gut health

In the last year we have seen a sharp increase in the level of interest in gut health and the potential implications for mental health with an 83% increase in Google searches for ‘gut health’ and a 60% increase in searches for ‘gut brain axis’.

Good gut health is all about achieving optimal gut function for you as an individual, with a lack of digestive discomfort, inflammation or disease. The main area of focus is supporting a healthy microbiota with a good variety and quantity of bacteria strains and a balance between them.

Most of the body’s immune system resides in the gut so altered gut health will have a direct impact on immunity.

The gut is also considered our second brain because of the amount of neurotransmitters produced; the number of nervous cells (more than in the spinal cord) and the direct connection with the brain via the vagus nerve. A healthy gut can therefore positively impact brain function, mood and sleep.

Gut health is also key for optimal nutrient absorption and making the most of the food you eat – you can have an amazing diet but nutrients need to be absorbed correctly to have a positive impact on your overall health.

The role nutrition plays

What we eat directly impacts our gut microbiota and a diet rich in fibre and micronutrients can help some bacteria strains to thrive, increasing their variety and numbers. Prebiotic and probiotics also play a big part in optimising gut health. For this reason many nutritionists will include in their plans fermented foods (those are probiotics) such as kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha and yogurt.

What to be weary of

I would refrain from self-prescribing supplements and foods branded as “gut healing” – only a registered nutritionist can assess the effectiveness and efficacy of such products and make recommendations that are right for a specific individual’s needs. I have seen this many times with self-diagnosed patients who decide to try different supplements (from antimicrobial herbs, to fibre to probiotics) often aggravating their symptoms or causing irritation.

Nutritionist verdict:

Gut health is a key factor of general health so it is very positive that it is now having a moment in the spotlight. Please refer to a registered nutritionist if dealing with specific gut issues, as only a specialist can help you navigate the best protocol.

#2 Ditching the diet

While interest in weight loss remains high, there is a growing backlash against “diet culture” and public opinion towards “fad diets” has shifted considerably in recent years.

We are seeing a desire for a more holistic approach to health and diet with greater importance being placed on promoting good health and not purely the pursuit of physical transformation.

Old models that focus on calorie counting or eliminating entire food groups are having less appeal, as the public is recognising that an holistic and personalised approach to diet is the best way to get maximum benefits and results. That said, in many cases this has led to companies simply re-branding old models and essentially selling the same diet solutions but using more modern “woke” terminology.

What to be weary of

One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to dietary models and even diets that are popularised as healthy options such as vegetarian, vegan and pescetarian diets if not correctly planned and executed can lead to nutritional deficiencies as they eliminate food groups. You can find a nutritionist’s review of the vegan diet here.

You would be well served to avoid restrictive diets such as Atkins, negative counting and Dukan but also be weary of the new wave of “wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing” companies that are selling restrictive diets under modern, friendly branding. If you are being told to cut out or dramatically reduce a food group (such as carbs) without a specific medical reason then walk away. Also be careful to look into any claims by companies claiming to connect you with a “diet expert” or “nutrition coach”. In many cases these “experts” have no more training than completing a 48 hour nutrition course and they are not qualified to be providing nutrition advice. Always look out for whether a coach is registered with the Association for Nutrition – the UK’s register for regulated nutritionists, recognised by Public Health England and the NHS.

Nutritionist verdict:

It's extremely positive that emphasis is beginning to shift to a more balanced, health-centric approach to diet but it’s important to stay vigilant and being duped by an unspurious provider.

#3 Boosting Your Immune System

It’s no surprise that the past few years have made us all more aware of the importance of having a robust immune system and there has been a definite trend towards supporting the immune system with nutrition, supplements and herbs.

The role nutrition plays

The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that without satisfactory nutrition, the immune system is clearly deprived of the components expected to create a successful immune reaction. Deficiencies in micronutrients such as vitamin C, D and zinc can have a negative impact on the immune system.

Gut health is also closely linked with our immune system as 80% of our immune system is in the gut and alteration of the microbiota can alter immune response or trigger inflammation. Probiotics and prebiotics and diets rich in vegetable fibre can support a healthy microbiota and consequently a healthy immune system.

What to be weary of

Again, self prescribing is not a good idea. In the last year we have seen so much advice on social media about taking very high quantities of vitamin D and vitamin C (5000IU and above) to give the immune system a “boost”. Excessive levels of vitamin D accumulating in the body can actually create similar symptoms and effects as being deficient in vitamin D, while excessive supplemental vitamin C gets rapidly excreted often leading to loose stools. For this reason it is always better to refer to a registered nutritionist that might recommend testing before deciding to supplement and create a more holistic immune system supporting plan.

Nutritionist verdict:

Nutrition is key when looking into supporting the immune system, especially for its connection to gut health. It is really encouraging that more and more people are interested in understanding how to support immunity and explore nutrition as an option to do so.

#4 Adaptogenic drinks/adaptogens

The use of natural plant compounds for health by humans has a rich history – and in 2022 a specific plant category is going to make a big comeback: Adaptogens. Those are plants with specific compounds that can support the body through periods of stress, balancing the hormonal and nervous system response and improve energy and resilience to stressors. You might be familiar with some of them: ashwagandha, liquorice, ginseng and medicinal mushrooms just to name a few!

The role nutrition plays

Medicinal mushrooms are the latest adaptogenic compound to be offered to the public in supermarket and health store shelves in the form of powders, supplements and drinks.

The most used mushrooms are shitake, reishi (the eternal youth mushroom), lion’s mane (great brain booster), maitake (useful to regulate blood sugar levels) and the most studies adaptogenic compound is called beta-glucans.

What to be weary of

While there is plenty of good evidence and research on the properties and therapeutic use of adaptogens and medicinal mushrooms, there are also many small studies and trials which findings should be taken with caution. Please verify the source of information of any “miraculous” claim in regards to those compounds and purchase them from legit and reputable sellers.

Nutritionist verdict:

Adaptogens and medicinal mushrooms can be a nice addiction to a balanced diet, but can’t substitute prescribed medications if used to manage diagnosed conditions.

Try swapping your coffee or hot drink for a medicinal mushroom drink; sprinkle some reishi powder on your dishes (great on soups or pasta) or use shiitake instead of normal mushrooms in your meals to get all the benefits of medicinal mushrooms.

#5 Reduced alcohol drinks/alcohol free drinks

There is a surging interest in exploring alcohol free drinks in order to reduce or completely eliminate alcohol, after an increased consumption during the period of lockdown.

This trend is stronger between the younger generation where there has been a cultural shift around alcohol and the potential damaging effects of alcohol abuse.

Although the guideline published by the Chief Medical Officer of the UK found that there is “no safe level of alcohol consumption”, the NHS suggests a maximum of 14 alcohol units (1 unit = quantity of drink that contains 8g alcohol) per week, spread in over three sessions or more. Reducing alcohol intake can benefit different areas of our wellbeing, from increased liver and cardiovascular health to better blood glucose management and more stable mood.

The role Nutrition plays

More and more alcohol free alternatives are available, and many can also benefit our health. This is the case of fermented drinks such as kombucha and water kefir. Tea in kombucha and sugary water in kefir are fermented by microorganisms, producing probiotic drinks.

Coconut water is a source of electrolytes, useful to support the nervous, muscular and cardiovascular system.

A big trend is also mocktails or drinks based on apple cider vinegar, another fermented produce great to support gut health and balancing blood sugar levels.

What to be weary of

Fruit juices, especially from concentrate can be very high in simple sugars and low in nutrients – a better option is fresh fruit juices. Soft drinks can also be very sugary and full of preservatives, something not to be enjoyed too often. Sugar free soft drinks might contain aspartame, which studies have associated with mood disorders, mental stress, depression and development of type2 diabetes.

Nutritionist verdict:

Reducing alcohol intake and not exceeding NHS guidelines is going to be beneficial for overall health. When choosing an alcohol free option be mindful of the sugar intake of that specific drink, and maybe try to integrate coconut water and fermented drinks for additional health benefits.

#6 Looking after our skin (skinmunity)

Skincare is obviously not a new phenomenon but 2022 will see a trend in looking after skin health, not only with cosmetics but in a more holistic way.

The role Nutrition plays

Nutrition can play a big part in skin health as it is one of the main detoxification organs alongside the liver. Toxins and excess hormones not metabolised correctly by an overworked liver or not excreted by our digestive system, can show as blemishes, rashes and unhealthy skin. Making sure to include good sources of proteins like lean meat and fish can support liver metabolism, as well as plenty of vegetables rich in micronutrients. Rapidly dividing skin cells require vitamin A, and collagen formation and protection against sun damage is supported by vitamin C.

What to be weary of

Don’t believe too much in detox programs and teas – the trick is to support your liver, as detoxing is one of its main functions. Studies support the use of collagen supplements for improved skin texture but be aware of excessive or prolonged  intake of collagen as it can disrupt the absorption of other essential amino acids.

Nutritionist verdict:

A balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and adequate protein will support skin health – there is no magic supplement but being consistent with healthy choices will make the difference.

Book a session with Odhealth on Juno and find this original article in Odhealth's blog.

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