Whether or not you’re familiar with health buzzwords, they’ve definitely made their way into your everyday conversations. You’ve probably used or heard of terms like ““detox” and “all natural.” These are just some of the health buzzwords you see on social media and even when chatting with friends.
These expressions may seem harmless and just part of our vernacular, but the truth is that they are misleading and can be harmful. It’s even been shown how easily people believe they’re eating healthier because they follow buzzwords on food packaging (such as “fat-free” and “all natural”). Many of these terms are marketing tactics with no science to back up their claims. Generally, terminology is used to make you think you are eating something that is better or safer for you without any real evidence.
The popular health buzzwords you see regularly are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many others that are often used or abused. Read on to find out which ones you should ditch for good.
The term “clean eating” is often used in reference to a diet that contains 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 categorizes foods as “good” and “bad” (after all, the opposite of clean is dirty) and suggests that there is a right and wrong way to eat. It also doesn’t take into account those who don’t have access to fresh fruit and vegetables because of where they live and their income level.
Not to mention that this vague term is completely made up as there is no real scientific definition of clean eating. It can also lead to an obsession with healthy eating and put vulnerable populations (such as young adults) at risk of disordered eating. So let’s reserve the term clean eating to denote foods that have been thoroughly washed and cleaned before consumption.
Growing up in a Latin American household, I was exposed to traditional foods that I didn’t think much about until I was older. I later learned that some of the 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 that are believed to have powerful medicinal properties, such as disease prevention or anti-aging.
You may have seen the term on magazine covers, in health segments on TV, or on your social media timelines. While these foods may provide certain health benefits associated with their nutritional content, there is not enough research to support the claim that a single food can work miracles such as 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 for a quick buck. A better option is to make sure your diet includes a wide variety of nutritious foods instead of focusing on the latest fad ingredients.
Detoxify and cleanse
People usually turn to detoxes and cleansesunder the guise of flushing out so-called “toxins” from the body. These can come in 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 that’s exactly what they are, and not healthy and effective either.
There is no scientific evidence to show that cleanses and detoxes work. Instead, they are an unsustainable (and even dangerous) way to lose weight or “reset” your body. Isabel Vasquez, RD, LDN at Nutritiously Yours LLC & Your Latina Nutrition says that most of these cleanses may make you feel good at first, but that feeling is short-lived. “These are not sustainable, and when we consume excessive amounts of certain vitamins, we simply excrete them in our urine,” he explains.
Instead of extreme cleansing or dieting, Vasquez suggests adequate hydration and adding fruits and vegetables to your diet for digestion and your overall health.
Your body also doesn’t need a detox because your kidneys, liver, and other organs regularly help with cleansing. But if you think that your organs are not performing their cleaning duties properly, it is best to see a doctor who will run tests and give you a proper diagnosis.
Processed foods are products that have been altered (e.g. washed, cut, ground, frozen) or added with additives to preserve freshness and improve taste. These foods can include a variety of items you would find in 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 food” is that it’s generally used as an umbrella term to mean that everything you eat that’s processed is bad for you. When most people think of processed foods, they think of fast food, which is 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 maintain freshness, increase their nutritional value, and be readily available. Some processed foods, such as frozen fruit or oatmeal, are perfectly safe and healthy to eat in large quantities. Processing is not inherently bad or good. Therefore, you can ease your fears about processed foods and instead enjoy them all in a 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 foods or foods that you wouldn’t normally have. These sound like harmless concepts, but they can ultimately affect your relationship with food. Gabriela Barreto, MS, RD, CDN, CFSC, a sports nutritionist and strength coach, says, “This can set people up in a binge-restrictive cycle where they limit certain foods to only be eaten at certain times and in large amounts.”
Even more concerning is if the individual already has a history of food addiction, as this can make these problems worse for them. Barreto adds, “This kind of restriction, which we know doesn’t work, and by setting up unhealthy relationships with food, we’re more likely to hesitate when we can no longer follow those restrictions.”
Instead, she recommends eating a balanced diet that includes foods you love as well as foods that support health without restriction, learning to intuitively listen to your body’s needs, and working on your relationship with food.
“Good” and “bad” foods
Categorizing foods as “good” or “bad” further contributes to this.and it causes people to associate the way they eat with 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 just creates more guilt and shame for choosing certain foods,” 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 behaviors around food and a negative relationship with food.”
Although foods consist of different caloric content, nutritional and taste profiles, the body uses them all for energy. Some foods have more nutritional value than others, but that doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to only those foods. “Can we accept that a piece of broccoli can have more nutrients than a cracker without the cracker being ‘bad’? The food isn’t 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 “natural” is used, it means that the food you are eating has been minimally processed and is therefore safer. The truth is that this word does not determine whether the food is safer for us to eat (as we saw above, processing can be a good thing). In fact, the US Food and Drug Administration doesn’t even regulate the term.
To date, the organization has not established a formal definition for 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 in that food. such as dye. Another problem with this term is that it does not take into account the complex food production and production process. Importantly, “natural” does not equal “organic,” a term regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture. 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, using a natural, unregulated product may pose greater risks or side effects than federally regulated drugs. So take this buzzword with a grain of salt or get rid of it altogether.
“Chemical-free” is a buzzword commonly associated with the saying, “If you can’t say it, don’t eat it.” When the average person uses it about food (or other items), they’re saying that all chemicals are synonymous with being toxic and dangerous. This is easily disproved because a basic science lesson will teach you that everything that exists around you, including the food you eat, is made up of chemicals.
This does not negate the fact that there are toxic chemicals should to avoid, or that you might want to avoid out of caution, food sensitivities, or just personal preference. If you are concerned about ingesting pesticides, for example, you can stick to certified organic products. But it is impossible to completely avoid chemicals in any 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 spreading fear when it comes to our food, and it’s helpful to have reputable sources close at 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 regarding health conditions or health goals.