Diet Marketing and Fads

There’s a good article in Men’s Journal on the term “Super Food”:

The term superfood has colonized both mainstream and natural-food stores, even though the word has no scientific or FDA-approved meaning, says Dr. Frank Sacks of the Harvard School of Public Health. “It’s just a term somebody dreamed up. The trendy term used to be nutraceutical. Now it’s superfood, and the public needs to be very, very skeptical.” Today’s leading experts use the term to refer only to such everyday natural foods as salmon, broccoli, and blueberries, whose health benefits are supported by reams of research.

Read the whole thing, and take note.

The point isn’t that novel foods don’t have unique health benefits, but emphasizing only a few creates an illusion of simplicity. People are unhealthy or healthy for a lot of reasons. Emphasizing the exotic mis-allocates your attention on pointless minutaie instead of focusing on daily habits which take time to implement. 

The end result is you’re bombarded with a montage of facts and lists that, taken together, confuse more than they clarify. Another article sums up the aggregate effect very well:

The downside, however, is that we can become overloaded with information: the latest exercise discovery, the most nutrient-crammed “superfood”, the ground-breaking medical breakthrough.

While I don’t pretend to have all the answers, I’ve been around long enough to get my head around what’s worthwhile and what’s questionable. And this week, three items turned up in my inbox that all raised the question: would I spend my money on them?

I don’t write articles about the “List of N Things” because I think they’re useless. They’re the fast-food of journalism: cheap and easy to digest, but they’re hollow calories for your brain. 

Meanwhile, Forbes has a new article about the amazing benefits of Chia seeds and how investment bankers are using them to run marathons.

Have a nice day.

4 thoughts on “Diet Marketing and Fads”

  1. If I’m not mistaken, I believe there’s a decent research from a lot of different angles suggesting added nutrients don’t have very much value. I read a story last week that suggested multi-nutritional vitamins were actually cancerous.

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  2. @GR —You’re right, there’s a decent amount of research suggesting the effects of supplementation are small.However, there’s also a lot of research that suggests the overall health benefit of things like iodizing salt is very high.I think the take home point is that for people who are already well nourished and receive a decent amount of supplementation, the benefit of even more supplementation is smaller than we thought.

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  3. I completely agree with this article. Also, I’ve tried a lot of “super foods” and diet fads, but a lot of them haven’t worked for me. I thought that maybe I was doing them wrong, but then I was informed that not all body types works for certain dieting fads.

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  4. @Jill – there’s a growing “anti-diet” fad within the health sector. Most research suggests most people just don’t stick with things for very long and getting off them has adverse affects on your health. A popular meme right now is “health at every size”, which emphasizes sustainable habits without a focus on weight. FWIW, there’s also a decent amount of evidence that suggests people who DO stick to their diets aren’t doing it out of willpower, but because the practice is embedded in some other habit that’s enjoyable…lunch with friends, exercise, etc.

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