Beyonce Instagrams a photo of her #vegan dinner. Millions of people rush to the grocery store to stock up on tempeh and kale.
A national news source reports coconut oil is the secret solution to aging skin. Every 30+ woman immediately starts slathering it on her face at night.
Peanuts are suddenly being touted as a way to reduce the risk of heart disease. Middle-aged men happily begin eating spoonfuls of Skippy.
This is the world we live in. When we're told something is "healthy," most of us blindly trust it as fact. If the news says so, it must be right. Right?
It's time we do a little digging of our own so that we can distinguish between scientific fact and diet fad.
Here are five popular health trends that most of us don't question, but should.
1. Exotic superfoods
Chia seeds. Maca. Spirulina. Cacao. Goji berries. It seems like there's a hot new "superfood" on the market that will change your life every month.
Are these exotic foods truly super, or is it all hype? The answer is two-fold. Yes, these superfoods are unusually high in antioxidants and do have superior qualities. For example, cacao is exceptionally high in iron and magnesium (justifying those chocolate cravings that tend to creep up during "that time of the month!"). Goji berries are loaded with vitamin C (500 times that of oranges by weight) and have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
But is it possible that their role in your diet could be a total game changer? Only if you're eating a pretty clean diet to begin with. If you're someone who's chowing down on processed foods, sipping sugary drinks throughout the day, and sometimes adding a few chia seeds to your morning smoothie, the answer is no. It's not enough to cancel out all the bad stuff. Instead of treating superfoods as a cure-all, why not embrace them as add ons to an already balanced diet? There are plenty of nutritional powerhouse foods that exist without the superfood title including leafy greens, wild salmon, sweet potatoes and avocado.
2. Many supplements
Most supplements on the market are absolute crap. Yeah, I said it. As someone who has worked for a highly regarded supplement company and has witnessed the behind-the-scenes of the industry, I know what's really in those little pills we love to pop. A high percentage of the supplements you see at the big retail chains are loaded with impure additives including fillers, binders and lubricants. These additives cause malabsorption and inhibit your body from utilizing the benefits of the supplement. Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it?
Supplements, similar to superfoods, are overdone and many times unnecessary. There is no one supplement that's going to cure your bad diet. Some supplements may be beneficial, but it's best to consult with your doctor or nutritionist before heading to the health food store to load up on herbs.
3. Diet label affiliation
Diet labels have become almost as controversial as religious affiliation. I've watched former vegan colleagues receive hate mail after they decided to incorporate animal protein back into their diets because it actually made them feel better. Seriously. These things are happening.
Because of our individuality and genetic makeup, it's impossible to find a universally perfect diet. The whole reason that diets such as Raw Vegan, Vegan, Vegetarian, and Paleo exist is to further prove the point that we are all too unique to be eating exactly the same foods. Yet, we're so eager to jump on a diet bandwagon if we think it's the "next best thing." Why is it that we are so easily influenced when it comes to our food and our health?
I'm all for experimenting because that's how you will figure out what foods work well for you. But we have to be conscious of this fact: the nutritional needs of our bodies are constantly changing. So although you may be firmly committed to being vegetarian at one point in your life, if you're told you need to eat beef, you'd better eat beef (grass-fed, of course). Otherwise, prepare to feel completely deficient.
4. Calorie counting
Although we're moving away from the calorie counting trend, it still rears its ugly head in the form of catchy marketing slogans. Food marketers still (successfully, unfortunately) use calorie totals to hide the fact that their "health" foods aren't actually healthy. "Buy me! I'm only 100 calories!" And we do, because at one point in time, counting calories was all the rage.
The latest news? Calories don't matter. Ingredients do. As a former (rather obsessive) calorie counter, I've gone the opposite way and have to tell you — it's beyond freeing. As long as you are paying attention to the ingredient list and quality of your food, and not eating beyond your body's needs, calories are insignificant. That being said, don't completely ignore nutrition labels. They are still useful to review other aspects of a food's nutritional profile such as sodium content and sugar.
5. Juice cleanses
Yup, step away from that 3-day meal of juices because here are the facts. First of all, it is important to give your body a break every now and then, but I prefer whole food cleanses over juice cleanses. Why? Because most people I've met that juice cleanse use it as a crash diet, or as a way to counteract any poor choices that occurred in the recent past (read: starting on New Year's day after binge eating throughout the holidays).
What you also need to question is a juice's efficacy in cleansing your body when it's loaded with sugar. The high sugar content can lead to blood sugar roller coasters, leaving you famished and, well, cranky. Not a fun combination. You can hit the reset button without the high price tag and heaps of sugar. Look for green juices with low-glycemic fruit such as green apples and lemon, and if you do want to cleanse, go with a more food-based variety.
Lesson learned: just because mainstream media dubs something "healthy" doesn't mean that's the absolute truth. Ask "why" before you buy. Educate yourself. Do your research. Because the more informed you are about the food you buy, the better you'll feel about putting it in your precious body.