We live in a time when, theoretically, we can find information on absolute anything with just a google search. We tend to swan along convinced that we have trustworthy facts at our finger tips, and a lot of us believe absolutely everything we read on the internet and in the newspapers.
We’re under the impression that the days of governments being able to brainwash their citizens are behind us, as, logically, they shouldn’t be able to hide anything from us anymore, or skew the facts to make us believe what they want us too.
The reality is, however, that despite the fact that we could look anything up and double check facts for ourselves, we tend to believe exactly what’s written in black and white. After all, they wouldn’t lie, would they? I don’t know about you, but I think that most of the human race is fairly trusting. I definitely always believe what people tell me until I’m given a strong reason not to, but in the case of food, we have to go out and find those reasons for ourselves.
The fact is, newspapers exist to sell newspapers. Digital newspapers exist to sell advertising space on their digital newspapers. And they can’t do that without headlines that will really grab people’s attention. There’s nothing that’s more likely to get a bit of a buzz going than an article either claiming that a certain miracle food or diet is the answer to all our problems. The only thing that might top that is an article on the evils of sugars, fats, or slamming the same foods that you could have sworn they were praising just last week.
It's really hard not to be influenced by the headlines. Let’s take the pomegranate as an example. I have no particularly strong feelings on pomegranates or knowledge about them, but I’ll use them to illustrate my point. When you see articles plastered all over the internet telling you that pomegranates, for example, are the super-food to end all super-foods, you’ll probably suddenly see pomegranates everywhere, both because you’re now more aware of them and because the big stores will probably be trying to cash in on the craze.
You’ll end up buying them, and for a while, you’ll swear that you’ve never felt better and that it’s all down to your new, magical super food. Then, suddenly a study will be published and the papers will be saying that actually, pomegranates cause some rare form of cancer (I’m making this up) and that raspberries are the real way forward. You won’t really be sure what to do, but those pomegranates might start looking a lot less appealing.
Food Fad or Fact: Coconut Oil for the Win?
A great example of a recent case of this is the coconut oil debacle. You heard about it, I’m sure. After a few years of coconut oil being lauded in the media as the best thing since sliced bread, coconut oil was branded as the devil by the American Heart Association. Obviously, the media loved that. We were suddenly all warned off coconut oil as being one of the worst kinds of fat, and it seemed like we were all going to drop down dead of heart disease if we kept consuming it.
There were soon plenty of articles out there explaining why the AHA’s recommendations needed to be taken with a pinch of salt, and pointing out that they weren’t actually saying that no coconut oil at all must be consumed, but it was the initial, more controversial articles that would have really grabbed readers’ attention.
Quite a lot of people also pointed out the people funding the study, who included peddler's of canola oil, a suggested ‘healthy’ alternative, had plenty of reasons to want to divert some of the huge amounts of cash being spent on coconut oil into their own bank accounts. Of course, some of the people defending coconut oil were then accused of profiting from it… I could go on. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle.
Now I am in no way suggesting that I am any kind of an expert on nutrition or diet or whether coconut oil is good for you or not. I’ll admit to being a pretty big fan of it and its incredible versatility, but I’m not here to convince you it’s the holy grail of oils.
What I’m saying is that the average person with no specific training in nutrition needs to be very careful about what they read and a little less willing to believe everything they see in the headlines. I too am a very trusting person and my reflex is to assume that everyone is telling the truth. Unfortunately, though, the harsh reality is that we still can’t, and never have been able to, blindly put our faith in what government-run organizations and media outlets are telling us. Pessimistic, I know, but true!
Do your research
If you see a big health claim made somewhere telling you that a certain food or way of preparing food or dietary choice will either make you live forever or kill you, then before you share it on social media, throw out the offending article or go out and buy a year’s supply, do a little more digging. Have a look online to see if anyone is arguing the other side, and check out the points they make and how they back them up. Think about what the motivation of the parties involved could be.
By all means, take up a plant-based diet (I follow one myself) or go paleo, or keto, or whatever you fancy doing, but make that decision yourself based on balanced and thorough research, rather than making a snap decision.
Everything in moderation
I know you’ve heard this a million times before, but it couldn’t be truer. No matter how great a food is for you, or how beneficial a certain diet is, you can always have too much of a good thing.
Listen to your body
Rather than listening to what everyone else has to say, why not try and pay a bit more attention to your own body?
If you’re not feeding it the right things or giving it too much of a certain thing, it’ll find a way to let you know. It might manifest itself in exhaustion, sluggishness or bad skin, but if you’re doing something wrong nutrition-wise it will surface sooner or later. If a report suddenly comes out suggesting veganism is the worst thing you could ever do for your health, but you’ve been thriving on a vegan diet for years, stick with it!
The main message is that when it comes to food and diet, the media is an extremely fickle thing that will jump on bandwagons that they think will get them plenty of attention and exposure. The more confusing, the better! Rather than blindly trusting the headlines, do some more research, give things a go, trust your intuition and listen to what your body is trying to tell you.
Katie is a wellness expert who spends most of her time trying out new plant-based recipes, trail running, and travelling. When she’s not doing that she’s writing for Sleep Health Energy, a one-stop shop for everything you need to know about enjoying top-to-toe health and getting a restful night’s sleep, which will leave you bursting with energy. Follow along on Twitter.