Monday, September 3, 2012

Guess what? There are no superfoods.

I'm not an angry person, so I never rant.  Well, almost never.  I hate the phrase, "superfood."  You see it everywhere- tv commercials, magazine ads, newspaper articles.  The problem is that it is totally meaningless.  The reason there can be no superfoods is because there are no good or bad foods; only good or bad diets.

You can't eat everything that you need to survive in a single meal-there are too many different essential nutrients.  So you eat a variety of foods over time, and what your body responds to is the time-average of all the things you eat over days, weeks, and months.  A good diet is one that has the right balance of everything- protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.  A bad diet is lopsided, too much of one thing, or none of something you need.

So it doesn't make sense to say, "This food is bad for me" because depending on what else you had been eating, that food could be either a good or bad addition to the overall context.  Broccoli isn't inherently healthier than cheeseburgers- they both have things you need, and they both would be elements of an overall healthy pattern of eating. If you had eaten nothing but broccoli for a week, than broccoli would be the worst choice for your next meal.  And if you had gone all day without eating any fat, than a cheeseburger would be the perfect choice.

So there are no superfoods- not oatmeal, not goji berries, nothing.  I think the reason these ads infuriate me is that they are the most despicable kind of marketing campaigns, the argument of "buy this because it is the right thing to do."  And what really burns me is that these people know enough about health to know that what they are saying is a lie.

Another manifestation of this fundamental misunderstanding of basic physiology is recent government efforts to curb unhealthy eating by enacting laws that prohibit things that aren't categorically bad for you.  Mayor Bloomberg has passed a host of laws prohibiting certain foods he believes contribute to obesity.  His most recent "accomplishment" is banning the sale of sodas larger than 16 oz.  The problem with this restriction is that there are situations where drinking more soda than that would be perfectly legitimate.

One example: according to Dr. Tim Noakes (the man who has done more rigorous scientific studies on the physiology of running than any other researcher) a two liter of Coke is the best thing to drink in the middle of running an ultra marathon.  The combination of glucose, sodium, and carbonation is exactly what a person needs if they are in the middle of running 50 miles.

So if someone tries to convince you that you need to eat this one magic thing to be healthy, you can tell them their wrong and be confident in the fact that you weren't tricked into buying something you didn't really need.

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