It should come as no surprise that fad-diets tend to be problematic. Rather than turning an eater’s focus towards a balanced food-plan based on intake-moderation, fad-diets tend to feature eater’s cutting foods entirely from their diet, limiting daily consumption macro-nutrients, or having them rely on sole food groups. This isn’t to say that all diets are bad, since some people require vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free diets due to personal health issues, but the average person doesn’t need to be relying on paleo or keto. One of the more prominent diets that has gained traction in recent years is the superfood diet.
The superfood diet purposes itself on consuming foods that are high in nutrients, remove free radicals from the body, and enlighten/balance mood. Foods contained under the superfood banner are the likes of chia seeds, pomegranate seeds, acai, goji berries, avocado, kale, beets, almonds, etc. These foods are healthy, through the perspective that they are naturally occurring foods that are un-processed; however, stating that their health benefits are “super” is more than likely over-dramatized.
Where the food industry could be fostering education on moderation when eating – having eater’s seek out un-processed foods, or teaching consumer how to properly understand their local grocery store – they are instead creating gimmicks and “silver-bullets” that provide eaters with the perceived notion of health. While there are benefits to consuming food that is nutritionally “better” than others, it doesn’t assure that the person eating them will become healthier. Furthermore, tempting consumers with false claims based on nutritional-benefit is more likely to foster unhealthy thinking when approaching future meals rather than leading a healthier lifestyle all-around.
I came across Outside Online’s and Kyle DeNuccio’s recent superfood-infused drinks article and was bothered by this concept. Reporting on a new Oahu-based smoothie spot, the Sunrise Shack, it is declared that these brothers opened this shop to profit off of the current fad. The article is finished off with a DIY papaya bowl recipe that could be made at home. In my opinion, here where an issue arises: most of the foods in this bowl are high-calorie, thus making for a “nutritionally dense” and calorically dense bowl.
This is where moderation should appear, but doesn’t. Whereas someone consuming this bowl should understand the amount of calories within the meal, they are instead being sold a bowl of food that is “highly nutritious, contains fiber, water, vitamins and minerals to improve overall health. Promotes cheerfulness and brightens spirit!” (This description is taken from the Sunrise Shack’s online menu.) Yes, this papaya bowl features a decent amount of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is healthy for you. Similar to an issue that arises in smoothie diets, the amalgamation of ingredients in your food might be nutritionally beneficial, but they may equally make you gain weight if you don’t keep an eye on the calorie count.
Per example, the DIY papaya bowl recipe is as follows (With the calorie count added alongside each ingredient, which Outside Online and Kyle DeNuccio did not do. These are approximations I am making, numerically rounding to the nearest decade while finding these calorie counts online.):
- 1 papaya (70 Calories)
- 1 star fruit (30 Calories)
- 1 handful granola (200 Calories)
- 1 T almond butter (100 Calories)
- 1 handful blueberries (40 Calories)
- 1 handful goji berries (30 Calories)
- 1 handful cocoa nibs (90 Calories)
- 1 banana (110 Calories)
- Presumably 2 T coconut shavings (90 Calories)
- Bee Pollen and presumably 1 T honey (70 Calories)
Nutrients aside, there are ~830 Calories in this Papaya bowl. Now, the shack is geared towards people living active lifestyles, so the customer-base that are consuming these bowls should be okay calorically (likely exercising enough to afford to eat this without putting on weight). Though, someone who may have read this article and end up eating this on their own, thinking that this is a worthwhile meal for macro- and micro-nutrients (and the cheerful, brightened mood promised to come along with it), might not understand how “big” this bowl really is.
This isn’t a new problem for some superfoods, as foods like avocados, almonds, cashews, walnuts, and granola are quite calorically dense. The fact that they are high in calories is not deceptive, or inherently unhealthy, but it can lead to weight gain when not consumed in moderation.
As mentioned previously, this is a problem of the fad-diet industry, where education is left behind while emboldened “quick-fixes” and “miracles” are purported en masse. Fixing the problem means an end to profit, thus they continue selling snake oil while moving helpless or “health”-mindful individuals from one fad to the next. Instead, we should be actively seeking food that features little to no processing, while shopping local if feasible.
While tasty, that avocado toast might not be all that it’s cracked up to be.