I wear many hats in my entrepreneurial dietitian role. I do this on purpose because variety is the spice of life, and I enjoy taking on new challenges. Much of the reason for this is because it keeps me on my toes and forces me to consistently learn new things and stay current on what’s new in the research. Another aspect of dipping my toes in various endeavors is that I get the opportunity to speak with many people from all walks of life and encounter many different opinions.
This gives me incredible insight into how messages about food and health impact individuals and their choices. If there’s one thing the internet and social media have managed to accomplish, it’s making people feel guilty about options in their diet. Guilt for not buying organic produce for the family. Guilt for not following the latest fad. Guilt for eating more than the newest insta model. Guilt for not feeding children plant-based. Guilt for drinking milk or eating meat. Guilt for not drinking milk or eating meat.
Food has become its own supermodel. Am I right? The prettier, the better. However, that’s not the message being conveyed, and that’s when it becomes a problem. As food stylists and gurus compete for followers and develop creativity, sometimes elitism becomes the result. As the search for the unique or obscure in the world of food gets attention, ordinary, everyday food choices, which are perfectly fine, can seem like a below-average choice and something we should feel guilty about.
Ordinary, everyday eggs, cottage cheese, a glass of milk, or a piece of fruit you find at your favorite supermarket are all great choices. Food doesn’t have to be beautiful or obscure to be nutritious. It’s great that food influencers try to be creative and try new foods, but let's not lose sight of the fact that many foods that might not make it into the Instagram feed are a valuable addition to a menu. A $3.99 bag of apples is a wise and economical choice for a family. A $6.99 pack of organic apples is also the right choice but it is not necessary to eat well.
As I scan my internet feed, I’m concerned about how far removed some of these foods and carefully planned meals are from the typical consumer’s reality. Does the average shopper know what kefir is and what it’s used for? What if someone would love avocado, just not on toast? What if a plain old’ peanut butter and jelly sandwich is on the menu for lunch and not gourmet sun butter with chia and cardamom? The concern is by serving everyday foods, and it can make one feel inferior and nutritionally under par.
While it’s terrific to try new foods and do our best to eat a variety of plant-based foods as well as lean protein and dairy, getting caught up in the diet of the day on your social media can do more harm than good.
FADS COME AND GO
While I love avocado and highly recommend it for a variety of reasons, the idea of avocado toast is a relatively new one. This is just one example. You can be sure it will be replaced by something else shortly. None of this is necessarily a bad thing but what if you prefer a simple piece of toast, a bit of jelly and a hard-boiled egg for breakfast? It’s not very glamorous and because of this, it can seem like it’s not as healthy.
Many times I wonder to myself if the root of all these trendy foods and diets is the misleading idea of “clean eating.” Clean eating can mean eating an all-organic diet to some while only eating more produce to another. Although there are many definitions, what I have seen in practice is a tremendous amount of guilt and feelings of inferiority by those who may not be able to afford the expensive, trendy foods. It may not seems like much of a problem, but it is. It leaves people wondering if conventional choices of food are healthy. In essence, aspects of the clean eating mantra assign worth and status to food and are at least partially responsible for food elitism.
ntly I came across a social media post of a young woman who was in her early twenties. She was describing her “healthy” diet of avoiding wheat, all gluten, dairy, and certain meats and “never eats sugar.” In exchange for eliminating several food groups, she was taking numerous supplements and advocating that others do the same. What this young woman doesn’ t understand is that she was likely not meeting her nutritional needs by avoiding whole food groups which may cause health issues. Supplements should never be a replacement for food but only used to supplement an already well-balanced diet. Food is made up of chemicals that work synergistically to provide energy and nutrients to hungry cells. To many, this would be considered “clean eating.” This is not only misguided advice; it can prove to be dangerous as well.
If your budget and schedule don’t allow for beautiful, trendy food, it doesn’t mean you’re not doing a great job putting nutritious food on the table. A simple plate of chicken breast and vegetables that took you 30 minutes to make is excellent and in many cases, equally as healthful. I communicate with people who have no idea what farro or couscous is, but they still manage to maintain their healthy, active lifestyle. Trends are significant and can introduce new foods to people but don’t worry too much about conforming to what others think is good food, you make the choices that fit into your lifestyle and budget. Let the influencers worry about the rest.