The rise of the food fads: how plain old healthy eating got left behind

Change underpins fashion, rejecting what was then and replacing it with what is now. This is especially true in the world of nutrition, where there is rarely anything really new, aside from a well-marketed superfood or a fad, which is simply another word for fashion. But accuse anyone in nutrition of being faddy or fashionable and they are likely to be outraged.

Especially apparent is the fashion for demonising individual foods and food groups. Today, you’d think that our enemies were gluten and dairy. Avoiding both is heavily promoted on social media by the ever-posting wellness brigade, who have become celebrities in lifestyle circles. Their influence is undoubted, having, as they do, several million followers, yet many of them claim no relevant qualifications whatsoever (although a handful are studying nutrition at some level at the moment now).

These bloggers and Instagram stars have been written about many times and the nutrition professionals I know hold their heads in their hands when they hear what the well-meaning wellness brigade have to say. But then they aren’t qualified and social media gives them a platform, so what can you do?

However, some of the biggest influencers in nutrition are actually trained, qualified, practising professionals with a trail of letters after their name. Worryingly, this small yet noisy group make pronouncements on the world of nutrition that are more like those of the unqualified wellness brigade.

To get noticed by print, online or social media there has to be a hook, so claims are exaggerated and headlines skilfully created to grab attention.

The stuff we know to be true isn’t new, and it’s increasingly hard to make messages about five a day or eating enough fibre any more interesting. As the fashion is to denounce what was, you can see that headlines about why, say, dairy is so bad for us stand out more than the usual humdrum ‘dairy-is-a-good-source-of-much-needed-calcium’. The latter and the like used to be the mantra of the professionals, but increasingly I read more extreme claims.

For example, Kimberly Snyder, a Los Angeles nutrition professional with a host of celebrity clients, made some interesting remarks in Marie Claire magazine in the summer. The headlines prompted an editor to write that we should ‘prepare to forget everything you already know about healthy eating…’ Of course that would grab your attention.

Kimberly Snyder and Drew Barrymore (Photo: Getty)

Kimberly Snyder and Drew Barrymore (Photo: Getty)

The lovely Kimberly offered several controversial tips such as avoiding dairy, eating fruit differently and having raw sugar as a sweetener, all of which she backs up with a little science (although I don’t agree with her conclusions).

But then she goes and spoils it all with talk about acid-forming foods and alkaline diets and accelerated ageing, which is usually the domain of the unqualified. Links to the Marie Claire piece were circulated online and the nutrition community I follow on Twitter had plenty to say about potential inaccuracies.

Despite this, it will have been read and believed far more than it will have been disbelieved and so another fad, this time about ‘acid-forming’ foods, is perpetuated.

But the good news about a fad is that they come and go, just like the people who promote them. So if you don’t like today’s, don’t worry — there’ll be another one along shortly.


  • Fraser Bailey

    I don’t think any rational person takes any notice of a word that these people say. The only issue is that some of them are paid by the state, which is clearly outrageous.

  • Hermine Funkington-Rumpelstilz

    Plain old healthy eating, in short: pies.