I go through some of the most notorious nutrition buzzwords and why they don’t mean what you think including superfood, clean, detox and more!
As a dietitian, I can tell you that there is a LOT of false information out there about nutrition. I’m used to debunking myths (it’s really what keeps me in business) but when I start seeing these “healthy living” trends turn into catch phrases or nutrition buzzwords, I actually LOSE my shit. A lot of these trendy terms are NOT based on science or evidence and can actually be harmful for our health! Here are some of my top eye-roll-inducing nutrition buzzwords and concepts that I could do to never hear again!
The Worst Nutrition Buzzwords
Ah yes, the myth of the cure-all super hero head of kale – AKA one of the greatest marketing schemes of modern times. Sure, most of these goods are healthy, maybe even super healthy, but “superfood” implies that they are ‘magic bullets’ that will mystically fix everything. Sorry kids, but no single food can do that. For example, even though salmon has omega-3s and protein, eating only salmon and nothing else would be disorderly at best, and dangerously unhealthy, at worst. Ditto for antioxidant rich blueberries and fibre-packed quinoa. Eat a variety of these types of fresh foods and yah, you’ll probably be in good shape, but that’s not magic, it’s just a balanced diet.
“Good” and “bad” foods
Why do humans love to dichotomize and categorize everything? By labeling foods “good” and “bad”, we give food power and give ourselves a ton of shame and guilt. When we eat “bad” foods we assume we too are “bad”, and when we eat “good” foods we feel virtuous. Also, research suggests that when we label foods as bad and off limits, that it simply leads us to want it more. Here’s the truth- food doesn’t have any kind of moral meaning unless you assign it yourself. Also, aside from substances are that LEGIT poisonous like rat poison (which I would say are bad for us), all foods have redeeming qualities. Sometimes that quality is going to be protein or vitamin E, and sometimes it’s going to be the pleasure it provides, or memories it brings back. Whatever it is, you’re eating it for a reason and that reason is “good” enough. Strip foods of these nutrition buzzwords and you’ll quickly find that those “bad foods” lose their power and allure.
When I was a kid I used to ask my mom to wash my grilled cheese because the browned bread seemed “dirty” to me. Obviously as an adult I now see the idiocracy in that (especially knowing that the brown = flavour!). This is what comes to my mind when I hear people say “clean.” This is one of those nutrition buzzwords that remind me of the “bad” food / “good” food mentality and it really just has to stop. When we describe food as “clean” we insinuate that other foods are “dirty” and that again, we take on a dirty, worthless, lazy, gross persona by eating that “un-clean” food. Remember my chat about orthorexia? When we become obsessed with eating clean, we run the risk of slipping into a disordered pattern of eating. Trust me, that is so far from the healthy you’re after. I suggest losing the labels, dropping the nutrition buzz words and learning to find a place and time for all foods.
I hear this one all the time when quacky nutrition “experts” describe the impact of dairy/ gluten/ sugar/ MSG / white flour/ meat / whatever food they’ve decided is “bad” (see above) or plug a specific food or supplement as “anti-inflammatory”. What’s interesting about the word “inflammatory” is that it’s just a natural process that happens in our bodies when we exercise, age, are pregnant, and get sick. One form of inflammation called oxidation is a natural occurrence, but can be enhanced by smoking, excess drinking, pollution, certain drugs, sun damage, radiation etc. When there is too much oxidation it can lead to oxidative stress, which can cause cellular problems and certain illnesses. From a nutrition perspective, antioxidants are one way we can combat the effects of oxidative stress. Remember, we talked about it here! One diet that has shown to be high in antioxidants (and therefore more likely to help reduce the risk of oxidation) is the Mediterranean Diet. But that’s just ONE piece of the puzzle. Inflammation is a complicated condition that cannot be solved (or promoted) with one single food or behaviour. So if someone is trying to sell you a supplement or diet as anti-inflammatory or shame you for enjoying an “inflammatory” hot dog at the ball game, you can be sure it’s a real stretch. See the bigger picture here! If you stick to a balanced diet rich in fruits and veggies (which are great sources of antioxidants), kick the party habits (smoking, drinking and drugs), and exercise regularly, you’ll be in pretty great shape.
Detox & Cleanse
You know I can’t stand this shit. There are so many so-called detox and cleanses out there, all promising that they will flush the toxins right out of your body to yield a squeaky clean body inside and out. Some suggest you’ll lose weight, others promise better skin, gut health and clear thinking. The bottom line is that we have a liver, kidneys, skin, digestive tract and lungs to do all that for us- we don’t need another $10 bottle of putrid green juice. Honestly, I may get some hate mail over this, but I see these cleanses as sadly one of the most socially acceptable forms of disordered eating of our generation. If dieting and restricting calories is uncool these days, cleaning or detoxing is praised and health-washed. The jig is up, guys. Put down the juice and eat-real-food. Really want to cleanse? Check out my science-based detox cleanse tips here (and hint: you’re probably doing most of these things already).
Bottom Line on Nutrition Buzzwords
Guys, I know you probably all know this but these nutrition buzzwords are all used as marketing strategies to get consumers to buy more products/books/diet plans that are usually not even backed up by sciences. I know science is not nearly as sexy as sensationalized media headlines, but science actually works. So until someone can show me what clean eating really means in the literature, I’ll be over here enjoying my regular un-sexy, un-super but amazingly delicious salmon sandwich and blueberry kale salad.
Contribution by RD2B Maxine Seider
Updated on January 19th, 2017
Abbey Sharp is a Registered Dietitian (RD), regulated by the Ontario College of Dietitians. She is a mom, YouTuber, Blogger, award winning cookbook author, media coach specializing in food and nutrition influencers, and a frequent contributor to national publications like Healthline and on national broadcast TV shows.