The Trendiest Food Woo of 2014
January 3, 2014
I know it's only coincidence that the newest Skeptoid episode, Student Questions: Food Woo, Food Woo, and More Food Woo, released on the same week that the new year turned over, but it feels appropriate that it came out the same week that the mainstream media is publishing all sorts of fluff pieces about "upcoming food trends in 2014." From to fad diets to superfoods, it looks like food woo isn't going anywhere in the new year. And it looks like the new crop of trends is just as lame as the old crop.
Most of these fluff pieces appear to be drawing much of their information off of a single press release put out by Today's Dietitian magazine. Today's Dietitian surveyed 500 Registered Dietitians for their list, which seems like a good place to start to get a sense of what's trendy. So what did these dietitians see in 2014?
Sadly, the consensus of those dietitians seems to be that gluten-free, the big woo fad diet of 2013, isn't going anywhere in 2014. Despite all the science, which tells us that something like less than 1% of the population actually has a problem with gluten, we can continue to hear about how bad wheat and wheat by-products are, and I can expect to continue to get disapproving tsks! by the crunchy parents when they learn that I've been sending graham crackers and peanut butter sandwiches with my kids to school.
Skeptoid did a breakdown of the gluten-free fad in episode #239, which was written back in January 2011, and InFact followed up with a video over a year later. Never let it be said that these fad diets don't have traction!
The Today's Dietitian survey also appears to be the source of another predicted food trend that made all the articles: Ancient Grains. Apparently people have been discovering more variety in grains recently, possibly as a side-effect of the gluten-free trend. Since people have been harvesting grain for thousands of years it's easy to make the Appeal to Antiquity to make some of them sound more desirable. Nevermind that common bread wheat has been around for thousands of years, too, or that these "ancient grain" strains have been cultivated in modern times, too; they're old, so they're desirable.
Supposedly ancient grains have more fiber and other nutrients than bread wheat -- which may be true, but as noted in this week's episode, " Every food can be part of a healthy diet, or part of an unhealthy diet; and there's no such thing as a miracle food." It's not likely to be so much more fiber that making the change from rice to quinoa is going to take someone from sickness to health.
Next up is a favorite of mine, superfruits! Rachel Berman over at the Huffington Post predicts that buffaloberries, which are part of some Native American diets (there's that possible nod to antiquity again), could become the next superfruit "according to a study published in the Journal of Food Science." Which is a very loose interpretation of what the study actually does say, that buffaloberries "may provide health benefits and marketable produce for consumption and sale," especially in areas where growing crops is difficult. I'm not sure where Berman makes the leap from "may provide health benefits" to "the next superfruit," but food woo claims have been made from less.
Skeptoid took its first look at superfruits way back in episode #86 from 2008, and the concept hasn't waned since then. The superfruit concept clings to relevance probably because people keep digging up other obscure berries and tropical niche citrus fruits to reignite the fad. I just hope buffaloberries taste better than acai berries did.
The buffaloberry, if it gains traction, won't be alone in 2014. Various other articles predict that the goji berry, mangosteen, pitaya, and blackberry will become "superfruits" in 2014. Sorry acai berries, dragon fruit, and pomegranate; looks like your time has passed.
Not surprisingly, the fad of eating local, which has been trendy for many years now, is apparently still on track to be "in" in 2014. The Today's Dietitian survey reported that "about 38% [of dietitians] say that local is where it's at and 31% tell us that their clients look for sustainable foods when shopping." Skeptoid discussed the sustainability concept in episode #5 in 2006, and eating locally in episode #162 in 2009. Again, there's something to be said for longevity in these fads!
Noticeably missing from the survey is fellow eco-friendly food fad, organic foods. Could it be that organic food is on the way out? Probably not. I suspect it's just become mainstream enough that these dietitians felt it was no longer worth noting as a fad.
The Rest of the Survey
Sadly, the mainstream fluff pieces all fail to mention what is, to me, the most interesting of the survey's findings:
Dietitians report that most (67%) of [an individual's] nutrition information is based on personal beliefs and half-truths rather than published peer-reviewed research. And, 75% say that there will be a preponderance of misinformation to digest in 2014.In other words: another year, another batch of exaggerated food fads for marketers to use when parting fools with money. I guess that means we here at the Skeptoid Blog will have plenty to blog about in 2014.
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