Post No.: 0152
A problem in health education right now is that many people currently seem to take their influence and education from social media influencers, brand ambassadors and advocates who are not sufficiently educated or have certain commercial interests i.e. people who have no true expertise on the subject and/or are not sufficiently impartial – hence why we currently constantly see passing trends or fads such as ‘gluten-free diets’ (for people without coeliac disease), ‘raw food diets’ and over-hyping certain ‘superfoods’, for instance. There are a lot of unhealthy or unhelpful generalisations of what’s good and what’s bad for us in the media and on the web.
Scientific studies may reveal something that’s truthful (e.g. about the risks of consuming too much processed meat) but mainstream media and social media will still manage to over-simplify, over-generalise, over-play and over-sell the fears and marketed solutions – because fear grabs our attention and then we want to alleviate that fear. There’s a lot of misinformation out there on the web and in people’s minds being spread and being obeyed, then being spread further, like the misled leading the misled. There are too many false experts with large followings.
I’m aware that I am a blogger too, but Furrywisepuppy and I are different because caring about people’s health comes before profits, this has long been a core area of educational interest for the both of us, and I at least won’t pull my little fluffy punches on this subject!
The ‘wellness’ or ‘clean eating’ industry, generally speaking, is full of nutritionists, where, in the UK at least – unlike being a dietician – it’s not a regulated and accredited profession. Anyone can get a ‘diploma in nutrition’ for about £30 in less than two weeks! So to be a ‘nutritionist’, one doesn’t need any major qualifications i.e. anyone can call themselves one.
This is not to say that all ‘nutritionists’, ‘diet/nutrition experts’, ‘diet/nutrition therapists’, or whatever self-determined title people may give themselves, have negligible qualifications or pass misleading or oversimplistic advice. Some are relevantly qualified or otherwise don’t talk nonsense. But many do because their primary interest is to sell you something that they personally profit from, and that something is not necessarily what you need to live healthily i.e. their advice is not impartial. That something may not necessarily be harmful to your health, you may also find it personally tasty and it psychologically makes you feel like you’re doing yourself some good (as long as you don’t take them as ‘I’ve eaten this good stuff so now I can eat as much of whatever I want for the rest of the time!’) but you’ll likely be paying over the odds financially for something you could’ve achieved in a far simpler and better-value way. Many of these people push over-exaggerated bull**** claims, and some others just jump blindly or naïvely on the bandwagon.
So remember that for many of these people, their primary role is being salespeople who are trying to sell you something (even if it’s just their own book) – not being health care practitioners. Occasionally these two interests align perfectly but frequently they don’t because few people, except maybe local farmers, have commercial interests in promoting local fruit and vegetables, and the products that tend to become highly promoted fads are the more ‘novel and exotic’ products (at least to the relatively new target geographic market e.g. the Chinese have been eating goji berries for centuries but it’s only been a ‘thing’ in the UK in recent years) and likely premium-branded and therefore way overpriced (including most water products) and imported from far away, which likely adds environmental costs.
Even if they’re not directly selling and profiting from any product sales, they give the wrong impression (unless you specifically have a clinically diagnosed health issue) that living healthily is expensive and difficult, as well as stressful for needing to keep up with the latest trends! Any social media influencer who has an issue with these statements has just exposed themselves as primarily being a salesperson. There’s nothing wrong with being a salesperson but that’s who they are when the situation is transparently understood.
If people in the UK think lesser-known-to-us fruit or vegetables from e.g. South America are exotic and therefore great for our health, then maybe people from South America think lesser-known-to-them fruit or vegetables from the UK are exotic to them and are therefore great for their health(?!) ‘Exotic/special’ or ‘boring/standard’ are just a matter of the frame of reference we’re in. As you can therefore see, it’s all marketing guff – no single ingredient or two is a magic bullet for our health because it’s about achieving a balanced and varied diet.
Okay, if it gets people to eat more fruit or vegetables if they’re marketed as ‘exotic’ then what’s the problem? It may even lead to other healthy lifestyle choices. Well it gives the false impression that one must pay a premium to look after one’s health, or that it’s pointless for some to even bother on their budget. (Post No.: 0043 explored how a healthy diet for most doesn’t need to be expensive.) And it’s not always about fruit, vegetables, seeds or other foodstuffs but things like restrictive diets and ‘detox’ procedures too, which can ironically be harmful to one’s health.
Our diet, like our fashion sense, is often used to signal what group we (want to) belong to. So it’s kind of a ‘class’ thing too – fads, trends or cults that generally and mainly only a portion of the middle classes or higher tend to follow because it’s full of overpriced ingredients, that at best only harm your wallet unnecessarily, but at worst these extreme diets can damage you. Over-generalised fear (appealing to emotions) is at the core of many restrictive or one-sided diets (e.g. ‘alkaline only’ diets, or cutting out gluten even if one doesn’t have a gluten intolerance). I would prefer more vocal social media influencers to concentrate on the established scientific truths – not the hypes, fads, pretentiousness or oversimplifications.
The term ‘superfood’ is merely a marketing term and has no universally regulated or scientific definition. And if you’ve been tracking all these ‘superfood’ trends over the past couple of decades then if you aggregate them all – you’d realise that all you really need to do is to consume a varied and balanced diet! If you were to try to eat everything these trends suggest but in moderate amounts, then you’ll simply be consuming something that resembled a more-or-less varied and balanced diet. If you were to try to eat them all in the quantities they often recommend for us to eat each of them every day though, then you’ll probably become overweight! You’ll also just be ****ing out the excess water-soluble vitamins you’ve consumed, and storing the rest in your fat, which can be dangerous if these levels of excess fat-soluble A, D, E and K vitamins are high. It’s great to consume these ‘superfoods’ as part of the variety in your diet, especially if you enjoy and can afford them, but you don’t need them against the alternatives if you cannot afford them, and you certainly shouldn’t overeat them or eat them almost exclusively. (Well the term ‘superfood’ is starting to become overused now that it almost includes anything!)
Interviewing the suppliers of a product obviously won’t get us an impartial point of view on that product, and anecdotes and preliminary research aren’t very reliable evidence either. And in almost all cases there are cheaper and just as equally effective alternatives e.g. baobab may reduce blood sugar spikes compared to white bread, but so does any other complex carbohydrate with a low glycaemic index, like brown bread, compared to a refined carbohydrate source with a high glycaemic index, like white bread. It’s science, but useful scientific studies shouldn’t just compare independent variables to a poor alternative but to the best or at least a good alternative. As an analogy, it’s not that useful to know if someone can run faster than a hedgehog – it’s more useful to know if he/she can run faster than a cat. Meow! (Although Sonic is pretty fast.)
Information regarding nutrition only seems complicated because of firms or individuals profiteering or jumping on a bandwagon and misleading or over-exaggerating their claims of a ‘superfood’ or ‘wonder supplement’, in order to sell more of, or associate themselves with, certain (overpriced and/or of questionable benefit) foods, drinks, ingredients, supplements, services, procedures, videos, books, kits, equipment or devices, for instance. But don’t blindly listen to them as if they hold the secrets. Don’t be confused, disempowered or buy into their oversimplified or false claims of ‘quick-fixes’! Listen to credible and independent scientific sources.
Fad diets and trending ingredients distract us from the real sustainable solutions that exist – commercial entities want to sell us (ever more and more) stuff, but most things that really contribute to a simple, good, healthy lifestyle cannot be (easily) branded for sale with an over-inflated profit margin (e.g. rice, beans, oats, apples, carrots, exercise, sleep), whereas an exotic, relatively exclusive, ‘miracle’, ‘superfood’ product, that few people have already heard of and that’s relatively hard to obtain (for a given consumer market), or some specialist procedure, or ‘book of secrets’ – can be branded and sold to people as a pill, in a bottle, in a packet or a booked appointment, with some hyped-up PR and a huge mark-up to go with it.
Really, if these people were truly following the scientific findings then they should probably be promoting the health and environmental benefits of eating more insects rather than unnecessarily restricted diets, for instance. But that’s a much harder sell! (Although at the moment, insect ingredients are quite expensive gram-for-gram and may be sourced from far away.)
The truth is that – for anyone who doesn’t have any specific dietary requirements as advised by their general practitioner/primary care physician – a simple, balanced and varied diet, with the foods and drinks you’ve likely known for decades and don’t need to pay over-inflated prices for, will more often than not result in you being as healthy as you can possibly be! Have lots of different fruit and vegetables, not so many processed foods, alcohol in moderation, don’t smoke, and do lots of regular exercise with just the basic equipment around you or even without any equipment at all. There’s nothing wrong with being adventurous now and again (I am) but the point is you don’t need exotic ingredients or things to be healthy. You can have them but you don’t need them. These fad ingredients or diets are actually making eating healthily seem far more complicated, expensive or inaccessible than it really is – so largely blame this industry for making health messages seem complicated and contradictory, and for making eating healthily seem impossible on a tight budget.
Most health food magazines, blogs and the like have a principal objective of selling subscriptions, affiliate marketing or advertisement conversions, which is nothing wrong in itself, but they know they can better serve this goal by promoting some new and exotic (and therefore usually expensive) product that grabs our attention (e.g. an ingredient that comes from halfway across the world, some unusual diet regime or some novel exercise device) – thus skewing the perception that living healthily must be an expensive undertaking. What’s best for the seller is not necessarily always the best for the consumer, reader, or the (complete) truth.
One can be healthy with easily accessible and relatively inexpensive foods and drinks, and be fit with inexpensive equipment or even no extra equipment, but one must pay attention to the long and well-established (i.e. still robust and relevant despite decades of sustained scientific scrutiny) advice, and not just the latest promoted fads or trends.
(This post has been independently written and is not an advertisement – obviously because no particular health product or brand has been promoted.)