How do you know that your new super-healthy eating habits are worth the hype? The latest health trends, like activated charcoal and blue majik, while aesthetically pleasing for your Instagram pictures, have no actual solid scientific evidence backing up their supposed health benefits. Just because Gwyneth Paltrow declares dairy as the devil incarnated in milk form, should you throw out all your cheese? How many people know what gluten actually is? And who decides the next big social media food trend to go viral?
Dietician and spokesperson for Dietitians of Canada Kate Comeau describes “clean eating” as a vague and unscientific term used by bloggers. Yes, switching out junk food for a healthier option is commendable and highly advised. However, it can be taken too far, to the point of demonizing a piece of toast. So where do you draw the line?
Registered dietician Lindsey Schnell calls out vilifying certain foods in the name of health promotion as “food fear-mongering”. It does not make people healthier. In fact, it destroys the aim of having a healthy relationship with food, which is vital to success with diet and weight control in the long-term. In short, you are not sentenced to death because you ate a few carbs. That way of thinking is destructive and can lead you down a dangerous path of food deprivation and eating disorders. “Everything in moderation” is something you’ve heard before but it remains true. Of course, there are people who have legitimate health concerns, like being lactose and gluten intolerant, and modify their diets accordingly. Then there are those who grab the “gluten-free” option but don’t even know what it means.
Every so often, a familiar food is declared evil and a new health food trend emerges. People stop eating potatoes and start guzzling coconut water (which has always been around and is a household staple in many parts of the world), but who decides what’s popular? Let’s look at some of the beloved insta-famous trends featured in hipster coffee shops and Whole Foods.
Activated charcoal has been credited with whitening teeth, but the inclusion of the product in lattes, pizza crusts, and hotdogs has blown up in recent years and is marketed as a detox product. Activated charcoal is used in the medical world as a drug sponge to reduce the absorption of drugs and other poisons after ingestion. Huge doses are given to clear harmful substances out of the gastrointestinal tract. The amount of charcoal added to your latte might make for a pretty picture, but it’s not enough to medically detox your system. If, however, you’re constantly consuming it, you run the risk of also detoxing other medicines and things like birth control. This raises another question: what is the obsession with detoxing? Your body already naturally detoxes itself. We can’t seem to leave our bodies alone, or let food just be food.
There are some fads that are probably going to stay, like the ever-popular juice cleanse. For about $60 a day, Greenhouse Juice Co. will deliver eight bottles of emulsified kale, almonds and celery to do what your kidney and liver does for free. This is not to say it can’t be beneficial to your health, but when taken to extremes with cleanses lasting weeks, it can do more harm than good. Agave nectar has also found its permanent place in coffee shops, replacing sugar and other sweeteners with its myriad attractive claims. Sugar is often shunned for its excessive amount of fructose (about 50%), but agave contains up to 70 to 90%. So it may be natural, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthier.
Eating healthy doesn’t have to be complicated. Behind the mirage of “clean eating” fads and hefty price tags lie basic principles of eating healthy. Eat the actual fruit or vegetable instead of juicing, and throwing away all the fibre that keeps you feeling full and satisfied. Don’t waste your money on an overpriced bowl of kale salad, make your own. Read the label instead of taking nutrition bars for face value. Shopping the perimeter of the grocery store is a classic rule of thumb. This means fresh produce, meats, dairy and grains. Stay away from the centre aisles, often stocked with processed and packaged foods. Eat a lot of vegetables and drink a lot of water. None of this is new. Before you go spend over $50 on a 12-pack of watermelon water just because Beyonce has a share in the company (WTRMLN WTR), take a step back and rethink the validity of these health food trends and consider whether you’re really reaping the more-than-likely glorified benefits.
Helen Jacob | The Edge Blog