For many, refusing all animal derived foods and products in ones diet is extreme. For me the opposite is true (but that’s another article). Here (link) I wrote about food faddism and how veganism can become a food fad, if one believes that by avoiding all animal products one can also avert any kind of disease or that some special foods are superfoods.
There are so many so called “superfoods” out there, which have the fame of having the power to cure this or that. Now I wanted to know the real science behind those claims and what I found is much less convincing than most spectacular super-power-for-your-health-claims might suggest, and, most important, the scientists are very prudent with there claims in their papers. But writers don’t report on that. Caution doesn’t induce clicks.
For sure you have come across one of these or similar claims:
7 Superfoods to Help You Live Longer
Top 10 Superfoods for Exceptional Health
Natural Health Benefits of Turmeric, the Newest Superfood
10 Anti-Aging Foods to Support Your 40s-and-Beyond Body
Top 11 Superfoods That Can Save Your Life
And so on…
I wanted examples. I found many. Titles like those mentioned above flood the web in all languages. But what do we learn from them?
We all know that Apple coder vinegar is good for your health. It contains several vitamins (C, B1, B2, and B6) as well as biotin, folic acid, niacin, and pantothenic acid. It also contains small amounts of the minerals sodium, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, iron, and magnesium
In traditional medicine apple cider vinegar is used since ages for every kind of disease, from “weak bones” (osteoporosis), in order to promote weight loss, relieve leg cramps and pain, soothe an upset stomach, sore throats, sinus problems, high blood pressure, arthritis, to help rid the body of toxins, stimulate thinking, slow the aging process as a whole, regulate blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, fight infection and many more.
Some people apply apple cider vinegar to the skin for acne, as a toner, to soothe sunburn, for shingles, insect bites, and to prevent dandruff. It is also used in the bath for vaginal infections.
But, even though apple cider vinegar seems to be some kind of miraculous substance and is safe to consume even on a daily basis a food faddist can exaggerate it.
A young, otherwise healthy woman was consuming 250 ml apple cider vinegar for 6 years on a daily basis. Even though it contains Potassium and is used traditionally to help with “weak bones”, this person developed low potassium levels and weak bones (osteoporosis) after taking 250 mL of apple cider vinegar daily for 6 years. 1
In another report, a woman who had an apple cider vinegar tablet lodged in her throat for 30 minutes developed tenderness and pain in her voice box and difficulty swallowing for 6 months following the incident. (Link)
What was she thinking of keeping a (admittedly low) acid in her throat for so long? Only a true “believer” or food faddist would do something like this. So, why it is true and science backed, that apple cider vinegar can actually have positive health benefits, too much is too much and does not do any good.
As the saying goes, the dose makes the poison!
Let’s check another food fad which I have particular difficulty to accept: gluten free. Checking the numbers one find that only 1 percent of persons are actually gluten intolerant. And another 1 % might be gluten sensitive. That’s it. A big hype around gluten free living for approx. 2 percent of the population that actually do have an issue with it.
Want more examples? Check out “The juice cure for cancer”. In a study, the cases 65 patients with oxalate induced renal failure were reviewed. The main causes was a a diet rich in oxalate rich fruit and vegetable juicing.9 In English, we’re talking Kiwi fruits and berries, grapes, as well as green leaves, just as collard greens, beet root leaves, dandelion and mustard green, spinach, rhubarb, and beans, lentils green beans… and the list goes on and on. So, all beautifully healthy foods, which should be part of any healthy diet, right. Exactly, but too much is too much! Never go into the extreme and never become a food faddist.
Now, beware! Don’t rush to do the opposite and exclude all oxalate rich foods in order to avoid kidney stones or worse. You would be ending up in just another food-fad-trap, like this guy (and eating an unhealthy, boring, color-deprived diet). 10
Or what about “Super food advocates” like, just to pick one among many, but who has, as least, a phd: Bharat B Aggarwai. He wrote a book HEALING SPICES, which is actually a very interesting book – and I totally loved it. The problem is that the author attributes some health effects to spices where most scientific studies use amounts nearly impossible to consume in a balanced diet and therefor must be supplemented in order to have the health benefits shown in some studies. In any case, consuming such amounts on a long term would not be part of a balanced diet and most probable was not investigated and could have adverse health effects. On the other hand if one consumes a whole-food, plant-based diet she will automatically have all the phytochemicals present in those spices as well as other fruits and veggies without even having to think about it or combining one with the other.
Another flaw in his thinking is when he links lower death rates among Indians (PS: he has an Indian background, and many of the studies cited are Indian, too, which could be interpreted by many scientist and not as a flaw in itself, but I have no authority to make this claim here) to the spices they consume (i think it was kardamom or chili) – but doesn’t mention that those same Indians consume a mostly vegetarian diet with nearly no cheese, only small amounts of buffalo milk, joghurt, ghee, fish and seafoods, and, at least traditionally, no meat from cows or eggs at all.
No diet, taken to the extreme is a good diet. Be it vegans, raw foodists, fruitarians on the one hand or Keto, Atkins, or any other low carb fad on the other one. Gluten is not the evil. Curcumin is not a wonder cure-it-all and the entire concept of a Superfood is highly questionable since a healthy whole food diet is all about variety, balance and moderation. Never forget, in reality if someone claims to have found the one superfood/superdiet or supercure it is just a money making marketing tool. It’s up to you to disbelieve any superclaim from all those selfproclaimed supergurus out there!
What to take home:
* Food faddism is wrong, a misinterpretation of the science and can lead to serious health problems.
* Good health is about achieving a proper balance based on three pillars: diet, exercise, love.
* Everything, good and bad, should be done in moderation.
* Do NOT be a food faddist! Always be careful in all your health endeavors to never take any one aspect of your health program to an extreme position.