Making Sense of Passing Food Fads

If you think you’re too clever to fall for the latest food fad, you’ve already been duped! The introduction of unfamiliar foods into our diets started thousands of years ago as people traveled from one region to another and had to barter for food along the way. Since the foods being offered were unfamiliar, the sellers often embellished their value to make a good exchange. Each time a traveler told the tale of the special properties of the food he obtained on his journey, a fad was born.

We now know this willingness to try new foods and share our locally sourced foods with others contributed not only to the survival of our species, but to our fascination with new foods. It has also made us easy targets for food fads.

What is a food fad?

A food fad starts when a food is promoted with claims that sound too good to be true. “Fights cancer,” “Erases wrinkles,” and “Melts belly fat” are just a few examples that lure us in. As more and more people hear about the food and start buying it without questioning the “benefits,” the claims become accepted as common knowledge because everyone is talking about them as if they were true. The facts, or truth, about the food are not relevant. It is the shared belief in the claims that make it a fad.

Thanks to our hyper-connectedness on social media today, we become aware of food fads more quickly than ever before. Marketing campaigns can target us with messages that align so closely with our pre-existing beliefs and values that we rarely question whether they’re true or not. Then when we start seeing the latest dairy-free milk, or plant-based burger, or gluten-free pasta in grocery stores and on restaurant menus it’s easy to believe the claims about them are true.

Are all food fads bad?

One of the good things about food fads is they can get us to try something new. If you’ve ever added kale to your smoothie, or blended mushrooms into your hamburger, or shaken hot sauce on your eggs instead of salt you have reaped health benefits from those choices even if the fad didn’t live up to the hype that first drew you to it.  But you can suffer potential harm when you get caught up in fads that make you give up otherwise nutritious foods you were eating. For example, some people stop eating foods containing gluten because they believe the claim that gluten can make them fat. It can’t. Others stop buying conventionally grown produce and will only eat organic because they believe it’s more nutritious. It’s not. And then there are those who won’t eat anything containing GMOs based on the false claim they’re bad for the environment. These and many other food fads are not good for your health or your budget. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell the good fads from the bad without doing a little research.

cheeseburger and French fries

What you eat and drink with your burger is as important as what the burger is made from.

Finding a fad worth sticking with

If you haven’t tried one of the new meatless burgers showing up on fast food menus across the country, doing your own investigation to see if the claims about them are true would be a good place to start. Anyone caught up in that fad says these “plant-based” burgers are better for you and the environment than beef burgers. The problem is the claims for these burgers don’t question what else you are eating or drinking along with them or what you eat when you’re not having one.

If you really want to go “plant-based,” consider this: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day for optimal health, yet most Americans consume less than half that amount. Since eating one of these “plant-based” burgers doesn’t even count as a serving of vegetables, doesn’t it make more sense to actually eat more plants, like whole fruits and vegetables, to meet that goal? I certainly think so and hope that’s a fad that catches on soon!

Disclaimer:

This blog was supported by the New York Beef Council but all of the content is my own.