If any of you are like me, you spend some time each day reviewing the Facebook or Twitter newsfeed for interesting posts, information, or funny/cute online videos (yeah, we all know they are a time waster, but come on, who can resist the mini-piglets eating a salad). Each day as I engage in this shameful ritual I tend to notice posts that purport a food or a beverage that “melts belly fat”, “detoxifies your body”, “boosts immunity” or has some other to-good-to-be-true superpower. Are these things really all they are cracked up to be?
The answer is no. The human body and therefore human health are extremely complex and to take the whole of nutrition and health and funnel it down to “Drink this lemon water and lose your gut” is both extremely misleading to the public and somewhat discourteous to the body. We’ve all seen them, they claim a shake or infused drink is going to be the catalyst to burning fat, looking younger or any number of zero evidence based claims.
Additionally, we have come to be taught of the existence of superfoods. Let’s review the types of food products we have labeled “super”; blueberries, blackberries, kale, spinach, acai, sauerkraut, avocados, pistachios, beans, broccoli, oats, oranges, pumpkin, salmon, soy, tea, tomatoes, turkey, walnuts, yogurt, etc... There was a time that we called these food products something else, just plain ol’ food!
So why have we been led to believe that heirloom tomatoes cure heart disease and foods possess super powers?
There are two reasons. First, as a culture we have actually lost sight of what food truly is. The foods we have become accustomed to are things like tacos, burritos, hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza etc… These things are all really tasty, but they are decidedly not super, as a matter of fact many people who eat these kinds of foods report a feeling of sluggishness or lethargy soon after their meal. So, these foods are what we have become accustomed to, to the degree that if you ask a child to identify a piece of produce in the grocery store it becomes a toss-up when trying to predict whether or not they can tell you. As a result we have collectively come to call foods that make us feel energized and focused (isn’t that what food is supposed to do)…super!
Additionally, from a social science perspective we tend to label everything around us in order to categorize and organize our world around us into easily understood symbols. These symbols appear to us on traffic signs, through language and in the media. This is a particularly good example of a label that we have affixed to natural foods that has been usurped by the media. Advertisers are crazy about the “superfood” buzzword. It is a concept that has been applied to many of the items that are examples of real whole foods.
The combination of losing sight of what food truly should be and the recent uptick in pseudo-science based claims about the potential of food to cure everything from zits to failing marriages leaves us with a difficult task in sifting through the garbage. But, if you understand that your body is a dynamic complex interplay of systems that needs an array of vitamins, sodium, potassium, cholesterol, fats, sugars and proteins you can begin to think of the fueling of your body not in terms of seeking the one miracle food that will get the job done, but in terms of picking the items your body needs and loves throughout the day; this will result in a perspective shift.
And by the way, it is okay to order a pizza once in a while, just make sure the next meal gives you an array of the stuff your body will appreciate a little more.