Nowadays everybody has an opinion on food and health. And everybody has become some sort of expert. Here I wrote about food faddism and how even the healthiest of diets, the one based on whole plant foods, can become a food fad. In this article I want to show you for what to watch out in order to avoid falling for a food-fad-trap, so let’s get started.
Let’s have a look at the claims
For sure you have come across this kind of claims:
- 23 Superfruits You Need Now https://www.health.com/food/23-healthiest-superfruits-you-need-now
- Top 10 Superfoods for Exceptional Health https://healthwatchcenter.com/2017/06/foods-for-exceptional-health/
- Six Health Benefits of Turmeric: the New Superfood https://guardian.ng/life/wellness/six-health-benefits-of-tumeric-the-new-superfood/
- 10 Anti-Aging Foods to Support Your 40s-and-Beyond Body https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/anti-aging-foods
- Top 11 Superfoods That Can Save Your Life https://medmd.org/11-superfoods-that-can-save-your-life/
The list goes on and on… I didn’t chose the links with any special criterium. All of these articles and the sites they are published at have the same goal: They need clicks. They don’t want to educate about a healthy diet. They don’t want people to be healthy. They wouldn’t be relevant to those people any longer.
Let’s See what “the science” says of the promises made
The truth behind tumeric
Tumeric is the star of the superfood scene. It is golden. It is tasty. It has been used for thousands of years to treat all kinds of conditions. And the claims of its health benefits cover the whole spectrum, from making your skin glow to treat cancer. Unfortunately, tumeric is far from being a cure-all.
In fact, new studies suggest that curcuma, the molecule which for long seemed to be the muscle behind Tumerics superpowers, is instead a false positive. Or causes these in scientific studies, meaning that it deceived scientists to believe that there’s a reaction, but that doesn’t mean that it actually has any real effects on biological processes. In this “Miniperspective” https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.jmedchem.6b00975 published by the American Chemical Society the author concludes:
The likely false activity of curcumin in vitro and in vivo has resulted in >120 clinical trials of curcuminoids against several diseases. No double-blinded, placebo controlled clinical trial of curcumin has been successful. This manuscript reviews the essential medicinal chemistry of curcumin and provides evidence that curcumin is an unstable, reactive, nonbioavailable compound and, therefore, a highly improbable lead.
Some scientists continue to claim that there is evidence that curcumin may contain other chemicals that do have medicinal properties, it’s extremely unlikely that they are as powerful as many have touted, or having an impact on the incredible variety of conditions that Tumeric was promoted to cure. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/turmeric-may-taste-good-its-not-cure-all-180961786/
This goes so far as that scientist have a name for molecules that behave the way curcumin does: PAINS (pan-assay interference compounds and curcumin seems to be one of the worst of its kind. https://www.nature.com/news/deceptive-curcumin-offers-cautionary-tale-for-chemists-1.21269 Curcumin has also been classified as IMPS (invalid metabolic panaceas).
Frustrating for drug hunters that spent a lot of time and money on chemical trials, without any result. And what about unaware customers that added tumeric to virtually everything without any measurable effect. I still recommend using Tumeric, though. It gives your food a beautiful, intense golden glow and adds a very particular flavor, especially if you’re going for Asian tastes and in Tofu scramble. 😉
One of the superfoods of the last years have been Quinoa. Quinoa is a pseudograin that has been farmed by South American indigenous populations in the nowadays Bolivia since over six thousand years ago. For Bolivians it has been a staple food for many decades, before it has been promoted as a superfood in developed countries, which started to import copous amount of it in order to feed their hungry populations. Hungry for superfoods, obviously. Because who really goes hungry now are the children of poorer Bolivian families, which can’t afford to buy quinoa as they used to, because the price has skyrocketed due to the international demand.https://web.colby.edu/st297-global18/2019/01/22/superfoods-dark-side-increasing-vulnerability-of-quinoa-farmers-in-bolivia/ But not only is the population suffering from western “health conscious” consumers. Hundreds of hectars have been plowed up in order to plant quinoa. These areas have been sustainably farmed for hundreds of years by a combination of quinoa planting and lama husbandry. But with the new push to maximize production for export, lama grazing lands have cleared, which leads to the trias of erosion, soil degradation and drought. For more information I recommend this documentary by the German-French educational TV broadcaster DW freely available in English on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRRoYeKztbY
Is Quinoa really a superfood?
Touted by some as “the World’s Healthiest Food” https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-is-quinoa Quinoa might not only destroy the livelihood of the populations who traditionally relied on it. It might even do so for no extra benefits compared to it’s cousin, the humble millet. Let’s have a look at how the two compare:
Quinoa is known for its incredibly high content of “healthy proteins”, but is it really that powerful?
So while Quinoa is not bad for you millet has a higher protein content, more than double the amount of iron and doesn’t destroy Bolivian families. Also Millet is much lighter on your pocket. If you want to read more about the dark side of superfoods, I recommend you read this third article of the superfood-series.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple Cider vinegar can be 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 has been used for ages for pretty much everything: “weak bones” (osteoporosis), weight loss, cramps and pain in legs or stomachs, sore throats, sinus problems, high blood pressure, arthritis. And then there is the modern dimension of using ACV to “Detox”, stimulate thinking, slow aging, reduce cholesterol, and “fight infection” as a whole. Some people use apple cider vinegar as a panacea for virtually everything. Now, please, repeat with me:
If something seems to good to be true, it probably is!
In the opinion of some, apple cider vinegar seems to be nothing less than a miraculous substance. Now, consuming vinegar might not be a cure-all, but it is safe to consume even on a daily basis, right? Maybe not if you’re a food faddist.
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). https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/apple-cider-vinegar-side-effects
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. https://www.medicinenet.com/apple_cider_vinegar/supplements-vitamins.htm
Of course, keeping an acid on any part of your body for a prolonged period of time is never a good practice, even if the acid is not very strong. This is the behavior of a true “believer” or food faddist. So, while apple cider vinegar may actually have some positive health benefits, it is always possible to exaggerate it. The dose makes the poison!
The juice cure for cancer
Some claims might be outright dangerous, for example the claim that juicing can heal cancer. This is problematic of course if somebody refuses the appropriate treatment an relies on juicing alone. But there are even more dangers to it. In a study, the cases of 65 patients with oxalate induced renal failure were reviewed. Getting et al. (2013): Oxalate nephropathy due to ‘juicing’: case report and review. Am J Med. 2013 Sep;126(9):768-72. DOI What the patients had in common was an unbalanced diet rich in oxalate rich fruit and vegetable juicing. We’re talking kiwis and berries, grapes, green leaves, like collard greens, beet root leaves, dandelion and mustard green, spinach, rhubarb, as well as beans and lentils. All healthy foods, right? Right!
Unfortunately food faddist may believe that more of these undeniably healthy foods leads to even more health benefits. This example clearly shows that this is not necessarily true. These persons exaggerated the intake of raw foods, to the point of risking their lifes! Never go into the extreme and never become a food faddist.
We already covered Curcuma, but off course there has been some miraculous healing claim about pretty much every spice known to human kind. The problem with these claims are that most scientific studies use amounts nearly impossible to consume in a balanced diet. In order to get some of the health benefits spices must be supplemented ias concentrates, pills or powders. On the other hand, consuming large amounts of whatever spice on a long term would not at has never been part of a balanced diet. Also most probable long-term effects were not investigated and could have adverse health effects.
You see the problem here? Using oregano or all-spice, cinnamon or basil, in normal daily amounts will not hurt you, but will also not confer the health outcomes which are claimed by superfood advocates. Large amounts of the same spices may have beneficial effects on certain conditions, but may not be safe on the long term or for some patients.
Be aware when you hear the drums roll
If someone claims to have found the one superfood, superdiet or supercure it is probably a money making marketing tool. It’s up to you to apply Sanity and Reason and disbelieve any superclaim from all those selfproclaimed supergurus out there!
The scientist behind pretty much every paper I read are prudent with their claims. Most often then not they finish with a sober “more research is needed”. If a scientific paper recommends the unsupervised intake of high amounts of any substance to the general public it is most likely a bad paper. Journalists and bloggers don’t report on ifs and maybes. Caution doesn’t induce clicks.
The ultimate superfood diet
No diet, taken to the extreme is a good diet. Be it vegans, raw foodists, fruitarians or Keto, Atkins, or very low carb fads. Gluten is not the evil. Turmeric is not a wonder cure-it-all and the entire concept of a Superfood is highly questionable. A healthy diet and lifestyle is all about variety, balance and moderation.
If one consumes a varied diet of whole foods, mostly plants and closest to their natural state, all the incredible phytochemicals will automatically be present in their daily meals, without even the need to think about which superfoods to include or combining one with the other.
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, relationships.
- 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.