Superfood. Detox. All natural. These are some of the health buzzwords you come across on social media or while chatting with friends. They may seem like a harmless quirk of our vernacular, but the truth is they can be misleading and even harmful.
Many of these terms are marketing tactics with no science to back up their claims. Research shows how easily people believe they’re eating healthier because they follow the buzzwords on food packaging (“fat-free” and “all-natural,” for example). The terminology makes you think you are eating something that is better or safer for you without any actual evidence.
These extremely common health buzzwords are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many others that are often used or abused. Keep reading to learn which ones you should ditch for good.
The term “clean eating” is often used to refer to a diet that includes minimally processed foods and instead focuses on foods that are closest to their natural state. It sounds harmless because aren’t we constantly being told to eat more fruits and vegetables?
The problem with this term is that it puts foods into “good” and “bad” categories (after all, the opposite of clean is dirty) and suggests that there is a right and wrong way to eat. It also ignores those who don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables because of where they live and their income level.
Not to mention the vague term is completely made up as there is no actual scientific definition of clean eating. It can also lead to an obsession with healthy eating and put vulnerable groups (such as young people) at risk of poor nutrition. So let’s reserve the term clean eating for foods that have been thoroughly washed and cleaned before consumption.
Growing up in a Hispanic household, I was exposed to traditional foods that I didn’t think much about until I was older. I later learned that some foods I was eating, like quinoa and chia seeds, were suddenly labeled as “superfoods.” Superfood is another term that has no real scientific basis, but is used to describe foods believed to have powerful healing properties, such as preventing disease or anti-aging.
You may have seen this term on magazine covers, health segments on TV, or on your social media. Although these foods may provide some health benefits related to their nutritional content, there is not enough research to support the claim that a single food can work miracles like curing someone’s illness.
Calling something the next “superfood” has become a popular marketing ploy in the wellness industry, which knows how to target people to make a quick buck. A better option is to make sure your diet includes a wide range of nutritious foods rather than focusing on the latest fad ingredient.
Detox and cleanse
People usually turn to detox and cleanse forunder the guise of expelling the so-called “toxins” from the body. These can take the form of detox teas, meal replacement shakes, green juice fasting, and other methods that require you to eliminate large food groups and consume very few calories. They may not use the word “diet” but they are just that, not healthy or effective.
There is no scientific evidence to prove that cleansing and detoxing work. Instead, they are an unsustainable (and even dangerous) method of losing weight or “resetting” your body. Isabel Vasquez, licensed nutritionist and nutritionist at Nutritiously Yours and Your Latina Nutritionist, says that most of these cleanses may make you feel good initially, but the feeling is short-lived. “They’re not persistent, and when we consume excess amounts of certain vitamins, we just excrete them in our urine,” she explains.
Instead of going on an extreme cleanse or diet, Vasquez suggests hydrating adequately and adding fruits and vegetables to your diet for your digestion and overall health.
Your body doesn’t need detoxification either, as the kidneys, liver and other organs help cleanse on a regular basis. But if you feel that your organs are not doing their cleansing duties properly, it is best to see a doctor who can run tests and give you a proper diagnosis.
Processed foods are products that have been altered (eg washed, chopped, ground, frozen) or have additives added to preserve freshness and improve taste. These foods can include an array of items you would find at your local supermarket, such as cereal, canned beans, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oil, and your favorite cookies.
The problem with the term “processed foods” is that it’s usually used as a blanket term to mean that anything you eat that’s processed is bad for you. When most people think of processed foods, they think of fast foods that are higher in calories, fat, sugar, and additives.
While it is true that these foods are processed and should be consumed with care, some foods need to be processed to preserve their freshness, increase their nutritional value, and make them readily available. Some processed foods, such as frozen fruit or oatmeal, are perfectly safe and healthy to eat in abundance. Being processed is not inherently bad or good. Therefore, you can ease your fears about processed foods and instead enjoy them all in one well-balanced diet.
Cheat day or cheat meal
The terms “cheat day” or “cheat meal” basically mean that you plan to break your diet by eating high-calorie food or meals that you wouldn’t normally eat. They sound like harmless terms, but they can end up affecting your relationship with food. Gabriela Barreto, a registered sports nutritionist, says: “This can set people into a cycle of restricted binge eating, where they limit certain foods to only being eaten at certain times and in large amounts.”
It is even more concerning if a person already has a history of food addiction, as this can exacerbate these problems for them. Barreto adds, “This kind of restriction, which we know doesn’t work, and by creating an unhealthy relationship with food, we’re more likely to change our weight when we can no longer keep to those restrictions.”
Instead, she recommends eating a balanced diet that includes foods you enjoy as well as foods that promote health without restriction, learning to intuitively listen to your body’s needs, and working on your relationship with food.
“Good” and “bad” foods
Placing foods in categories such as “good” or “bad” further contributes toand makes people tie the way they eat to their self-worth. These terms are also used interchangeably to describe an individual’s eating behavior as bad or good based on what they ate. “Attributing a moral value to food only creates more guilt and shame around certain food choices,” says Miriam Fried, a New York-based personal trainer and founder of MF Strong. She elaborates, “Guilt leads to restriction, and restriction often leads to unhealthy eating behaviors and a negative relationship with food.”
Although foods are made up of different caloric, nutritional and flavor profiles, the body uses them all for energy. Some foods have more nutritional value than others, but that doesn’t mean you should limit yourself to only those foods. “Can we admit that a piece of broccoli can have more nutrients than a cookie without making the cookie ‘bad’?” Food is not good or bad, it just is,” Fried points out. The more you understand that all of these foods can fit into your diet, the easier it will be to stop labeling them as good or bad.
When the term “all natural” is used, it implies that the food you are eating has been minimally processed and is therefore safer. The truth is that this word does not determine whether a food is safer to eat (as we saw above, processing can be a good thing). In fact, the US Food and Drug Administration doesn’t even regulate this term.
To date, the organization has not established an official definition of all-natural or natural, although the basic understanding is that it means nothing artificial or synthetic has been added to a food that would not normally be expected to be present in that food, such as coloring . The other problem with this term is that it does not account for the complex process of food production and production. Importantly, “natural” does not equal “organic,” which is a term regulated by the USDA. Foods with the USDA organic label must meet strict requirements regarding the use of antibiotics, hormones, fertilizers and pesticides during the production process; natural foods do not.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, natural products are not automatically better or safer for you. In some cases, such as in medicine, it may cause more risk or side effects to take a natural, unregulated product than a federally regulated drug. So take this buzzword with a grain of salt or ditch it altogether.
“Chemical-free” is a buzzword usually associated with the saying “If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.” When the common man uses it in reference to food (or other objects), he is saying that all chemicals are synonymous with being toxic and dangerous. This is easily debunked because a basic science lesson will teach you that everything that exists around you, including the foods you eat, is made up of chemicals.
This does not negate the fact that there are toxic chemicals that Must to avoid or that you may want to avoid out of caution, food sensitivities, or simply personal preference. If you’re worried about ingesting pesticides, for example, you can stick to certified organic produce, but it’s impossible to completely avoid chemicals in every food. Blueberries, for example, consist of chemicals known as anthocyanins, chlorogenic acid, pterostilbene, and flavonoids.
Without context, these chemicals seem like something the average person should fear. The truth is, marketing plays a big role in instilling fear when it comes to our food, and it’s helpful to have reputable resources on hand to debunk these myths.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.