Superfoods: ‘A la carte’ or ‘a la mode’?

Green juice, avocados, kale… we all know the iconic ‘it’ foods that make up our cosmopolitan nutrition catwalk; the must-have eatables that all celebrities and wellbeing publications alike are suddenly promoting. So whilst fashion fads are branching out to what we put on our dinner plate, the seemly obvious question must be posed: Is there any correlation between the scientifically proven health-benefits of these foods and the media-fame they have accumulated, or are such so-called ‘superfoods’ simply wetting our appetite for an empty marketing promise? Should they gain a place on our daily menus, or simply fly-away as another fashion faze?

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‘Did you know one wheatgrass shot contains all the plant nutrients you need for a whole week, and it has twice the iron content of broccoli?’ thus reads the latest food-gossip column. ‘Oh, and it’s now been found that watercress has an even greater nutrient density that kale; it’s got the highest vitamin content out of all leafy greens.’ It so seems that fashion; bored of preaching about what we wear and how we look; appears to have latched on to another basic human necessity; what we eat.

The media is hence overflowing with conflicting information about what we should, and shouldn’t, put on our plates. Any girl of this 21st century generation know that ‘there used to be just fat and skinny’ but the correlation between what we consume and its effect on our appearance seems to have grown deeper roots in the last years, planting the seeds for a fashionable obsession with the foods we must eat to achieve the most attractive version of ourselves. It’s a cleverly targeted market, that of You Are What You Eat; a scientifically proven excuse to harness the modern obsession with aesthetics to promote certain foods that claim to have miraculous results on our inner and outer health.

However; before we jump the gun and assume we are just feeding ourselves on empty marketing we must consider the science versus fashion debate; our modernised version of the old-age science/ religion conundrum.  It would be impossible to deny the factual evidence behind the rising to fame of said superfoods; leafy greens, such as kale, do have an incredibly high nutrient density, and our most instagrammed ‘it’ food, the avocado, legitimately does contain high levels of mono and poly unsaturated fats proven to lower cholesterol; as does the iconic chia seed indeed contain a high about of omega 3s.

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So whilst eating nutrient-packed foods can supposedly do us no harm, the sudden rise to fame of said nutrient packed ‘superfoods’ still becomes problematic. It’s essentially the same backlash as anything that suddenly acquires an influx of media attention; there is a breath of different viewpoints, opinions, and thoughts. Green tea; for example. Becomes the new dietary icon of 2010 due to its acclaimed weightloss properties and high number of antioxidants. Yet ironically, at the same time as it supposedly ‘speeds our metabolism,’ too much of the stuff significantly reduces our nutrient absorption and can leave us vitamin deficient and anaemic. When constantly faced with the appraisal of these foods from the media, at what point do we began to realise that we can indeed have too much of a good thing?

On a similar level, let’s take the ‘juice.’ Most commonly found in a filtered instagram post, often a selfie with a nice candid background – post-run perhaps – listing its contents and just how damn good it tastes. I confess, I too have been a wannabe high-flying food-fashionista and ordered a super-green smoothie with a spirulina shot, under the pretence it was going to do miracles inside and out. But what about that article I read about tips to cut down body-fat, claiming liquid calories were the enemy, not just fizzy drinks but fruit and vegetable juices with their surprisingly high sugar content too? And that one suggesting that fibre was an essential component for our digestive health and fat removal – thus why would we remove all that by turning our vegetables into juice? Surely it’s a risk to dive wholeheartedly into a health fad such as a green-juice detox and trust all that the media says, when so much contradictory information is floating around.

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Interestingly, the rising to fame of an ‘it’ food has consequences not just on its consumers, but on its providers too. Anyone remember good-old quinoa? The all new super-grain, the re-inventor of ordinary porridge; our protein packed alternative to traditional oats. Quinoa gained quite a following, with recipes featuring in many fashion and beauty magazines, and began to rack up quite a cost; after-all, it wasn’t simply a GRAIN anymore; it was so much more. We paid a premium for its supposed health benefits, and the Andean farmers, who produced this staple grain for trade and personal consumption suddenly could not afford their own meals anymore, since its value had risen so greatly. Locals and famers alike began to starve, due to the demand for exportation of their dietary staple that made it impossible to keep this food for domestic use.

So, whilst fashion trends come and go, and clothes and make up trends go in and out of style, I can’t help but feel that whilst the greatest consequence of a bad fashion fad is the entire memory the 90’s circling around chokers and crimped hair, an incorrect food craze could have slightly more serious implications on our health. Take our obsession with a gluten-free diet, for example. 2014 – we all stock up on gluten-free bread and pasta to avoid the terrible side-effects that this nasty protein has on our digestive system and mental clarity; after-all, one-in-four of us are gluten intolerant anyway and 99% of gluten intolerances are never diagnosed. 2015 – It emerges that non-celiac gluten sensitivity may not even exist, and our gluten-free counterparts are simply just fuzed with fatty, chemical gum taking the place of a protein; a sacrifice we only really want to be making if we do indeed have a severe intolerance.

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This surely demonstrates the consequences of the science-media conflict; scientific food findings are blown out of proportion by the media who latch on to the information as a new essential key to health without this being based on any kind of long-term effect and research. Many fashion victims are drawn in to believing that said food is the secret to the glowing skin and visible health we see in the airbrushed, filtered photos of those who advocate their vegan, gluten-free, superfood diet, and we become obsessed with only eating foods that the media declares as ‘healthy.’ And the result of this is so extreme, it’s given birth to an oh-so-modern eating problem; ‘Orthorexia; the health food eating disorder.’ Now a clinically recognised problem, this is where an obsession with healthy eating goes too far, and prevents strict dieters such as ‘raw vegans’ or paleo dieters from breaking their obsessive eating patterns without anxiety or gloom. Essentially; it’s an obsession with fitspiration; the vegan, uber-healthy, raw superfood meals we scroll through on instagram; that makes us feel guilty for eating anything other than these nutrient-packed low-calorie fashion foods.

So, the midst of exaggerations, rumours and expectations; where exactly does this leave us and superfoods? Well, it’s like any healthy relationship. Don’t believe everything you hear or read, don’t over-commit, and make sure your expectations are realistic. Sure, these foods may lure you in with their list of properties and benefits, but essentially they should be the icing on the cake of your daily healthy diet. And a little icing AND cake never killed anyone. No single food is going to be your key to eternal youth and beauty, and you certainly can have too much of a good thing. So remember that when it comes to food-fashion, don’t be afraid to kick it old school: whilst chia seeds and bee pollen drift in and out of our store cupboard as extravagant impulse buys, the longest standing food research does indeed have the most reliable results, so lean meat, 5 a day the trusty complex carb will always be our dinner plate must-haves.

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