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Applying Sanity & Reason to Diet and Nutrition

It’s a food faddist’s world (part 1)

Written by Juliane

January 22, 2021

Food what? Have you ever heard this word? I didn’t until I came across it in a study for which scientist were selecting healthy males excluding explicitly vegetarians, vegans or a food faddists. I was intrigued.

So what is a food faddist?

A faddist is a person obsessed with certain behaviors or subjects typically for a short time, and eventually prey to undisciplined and disproportioned enthusiasms, like buying everything needed for fulfilling the craze without critically questioning the need to have it on a long-term. [1]see “Fad.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fad. Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.

What does that mean applied to food?

If somebody believes that certain foods or a certain diet convey some health benefits, through its content of special nutrients in a unique combination, and these claims are supported by the best available science, then you are a sane and reasonable person. However, once the person start making wild, unsupported claims about the ability of certain foods or diets to have “superpowers” or, by themselves, cure a wide range of diseases this same person has fallen prey to a food fad.

“Food faddism is a dietary practice based upon an exaggerated belief in the effects of food or nutrition on health and disease.” [2]McBean LD, Speckmann EW. Food faddism: a challenge to nutritionists and dietitians. Am J Clin Nutr. 1974 Oct;27(10):1071-8. No abstract available. PMID: 4417113

Food faddists are those who follow a particular nutritional practice with [excessive] zeal and whose claims for its benefits are substantially more than science has substantiated.” [3]Jarvis WT. Food faddism, cultism, and quackery. Annu Rev Nutr. 1983;3:35-52. Review. No abstract available. PMID: 6315036

Some examples include the Atkin’s diet or Ketogenic diet, Frutarianism, the Green Juices trend or even to some content the whole-food, plant-based (WFPB) diet.

Hold on, you say, did you just include WHPB in that list?

Yes, bear me just for one more paragraph as I explain. As per definition Food Faddists are obsessed with diets or so-called superfoods, because they believe that the foods they include in their chosen diet can for themselves cure diseases. So, if somebody claims that diseases can be cured just by changing the diet excluding all animal products and processed foods and defy death by disease, it definitely fits the definition.

Yes, many if not most conditions do benefit from the right food choices. But things like genetics and lifestyle, healthy sleep, exercise, exposure to sun and fresh air, and not eating too much (!) as well as healthy relationships, also play a crucial role in overall health outcomes. So, believing that a whole-food, plant-based diet for itself cures disease falls into the category of food fads. (Sorry Dr. Greger and Dr. Campbell. You are still my heroes!)

This is not to say that there is any better diet that one based on whole plant-foods. There’s not! All real “foods” are, per definition, also “superfoods”, because everything that is real “food” is automatically full of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and proteins, pre- and probiotics and fiber.

“Foodstuff” on the other hand may be eaten, but will not confer real nutrition. These include all highly processed foods, refined carbs, sugary beverages, sweets or grassy, fried stuff. All these can be digested by our body but do not deliver a considerable amount of healthy nutrients and are thus treats, something you would eat only once in a while, and not real, nutritious food. In a nutshell the whole concept of “superfoods” makes no sense for whom eats a whole food, plant-based diet, as all we consume are also superfoods. Lucky us!

Animal products on the other hand may be included in the “foods”- list, but as for our best knowledge the adverse effects of their consumption may counteract the positive effect of keeping you fed, so given a choice it might be wise to exclude them altogether from a balanced diet. But if someone chooses to eat an egg once in a while and eat whole plant-foods for most of the time, I think it is perfectly reasonable and for sure it will not cause disease or nullify the otherwise healthy choices s/he makes during the rest of the time.

Science is difficult to interpret, and its easy to cherry-pick a single study to support any given claim, but as a whole it has shown that not certain single foods but a group of foods, namely plant based foods such as grains, fruits and vegetables, berries, nuts and seeds, mushrooms and legumes, consumed in a broad spectrum and as a whole, and in sufficient amounts, are superior for human health and the environment to a diet containing meat, dairy or other animal derived foods, which as a whole and in general contain more problematic substances than the first and create a disease-promoting ambient in the human body.

So what is the take-away?

Whichever diet you chose, don’t claim that one special food over others have miraculous effects on our health. Stay away from claiming that any given food on itself has some miraculous powers. If you’re not a doctor or a certified nutritionist, don’t tell your friends and family to drink wheatgrass juices or eat curcuma everyday in order to treat special conditions. Don’t play doctor and tell people they have to avoid gluten if they want to get rid of their acne or cramps. Diet and nutrition in relationship to disease and health are infinitely complex processes that even the best scientist are only beginning to understand. It would be best if everybody just applied sanity and reason to their everyday food choices and stayed away from food fads of every kind.

References

References
1 see “Fad.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fad. Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.
2 McBean LD, Speckmann EW. Food faddism: a challenge to nutritionists and dietitians. Am J Clin Nutr. 1974 Oct;27(10):1071-8. No abstract available. PMID: 4417113
3 Jarvis WT. Food faddism, cultism, and quackery. Annu Rev Nutr. 1983;3:35-52. Review. No abstract available. PMID: 6315036

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