We really need to stop using these 8 health buzzwords

Superfood. Detoxification. All natural. These are some of the health buzzwords you come across on social media or while chatting with friends. They might seem like a harmless oddity of our vernacular, but the truth is, they can be misleading and even harmful.

Many of these terms are marketing tactics with no science to back up their claims. Research has shown how easily people believe they are eating healthier because they follow the watchwords on food packaging (“fat free” and “all natural”, for example). The terminology makes you think that you are eating something that is better or safer for you without any real evidence.

Those ultra common health buzzwords are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many others that are used frequently or misused. Read on to know which ones you should get rid of forever.

Read more: 10 popular fitness myths debunked

Eat clean

The term “clean eating” is often used to refer to a diet that has minimally processed foods and instead focuses on foods that are closer to their natural state. Sounds harmless, why aren’t we always told to eat more fruit and vegetables?

The problem with this term is that it places foods in the categories “good” and “bad” (after all, the opposite of clean is dirty) and indicates that there is a right and a wrong way to eat. It also ignores those who do not have access to fresh fruit and vegetables due to where they live and their income level.

Not to mention the vague term is completely made up as there is no real scientific definition for clean eating. It can also lead to an obsession with healthy eating and put vulnerable populations (such as young adults) at risk of disordered eating. We therefore reserve the term clean eating to refer to foods that have been thoroughly washed and cleaned before consumption.

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Growing up in a Latinx family, I was exposed to traditional foods that I didn’t think much about until I got older. I later learned that some foods I was eating, such as quinoa and chia seeds, were suddenly labeled “superfoods”. Superfood is another term that has no real scientific basis, but is used to describe foods that are believed to have powerful healing properties, such as preventing disease or aging.

You may have seen this term sprinkled on magazine covers, health care segments on TV, or in social media timelines. While these foods may provide some health benefits related to their nutritional content, there isn’t enough research to support the claim that a single food can work wonders like curing someone’s illness.

Calling something the next “superfood” has become a popular marketing gimmick in a wellness industry that knows how to drive people to make money fast. A better option is to make sure your diet includes a wide range of nutritional foods instead of focusing on the latest fad ingredient.

Detoxifies and purifies

People usually turn to detox and cleansing for a rapid weight loss correction under the pretext of eliminating so-called “toxins” from the body. These can come in the form of detox teas, meal replacement smoothies, green juice fasting, and other methods that require eliminating large food groups and consuming very few calories. They may not use the word “diet”, but that’s exactly what they are, and neither is healthy or effective.

There is no scientific evidence to show that cleansing and detoxifying works. Instead they are an unsustainable (and even dangerous) method of losing weight or “resetting” your body. Isabel Vasquez, a licensed dietician and nutritionist at Nutritiously Yours and Your Latina Nutritionist, says most of these cleanings can make you feel good initially, but the sensation is short-lived. “These are unsustainable and when we consume excessive amounts of some vitamins, we simply excrete them in our urine,” she explains.

Instead of following a diet or extreme cleansing, Vasquez suggests getting adequate hydration and adding fruits and vegetables to the diet for digestion and overall health.

Your body also doesn’t need a detox, because your kidneys, liver, and other organs help cleanse themselves regularly. But if you think your organs are not doing their cleaning duties properly, it is best to see a doctor who can perform tests and give you a correct diagnosis.

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Processed foods

Processed foods are products that have been modified (e.g. washed, cut, ground, frozen) or infused with additives to preserve their freshness and improve their taste. These foods can include a range of items you might find in your local supermarket, such as cereals, canned beans, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oil, and your favorite cookies.

The problem with the term “processed foods” is that it is generally used as an umbrella term which implies that everything you eat that is processed is bad for you. Most people, when they think of processed foods, think of fast foods that are higher in calories, fat, sugar and additives.

While it is true that these foods are processed and should be consumed carefully, some foods must be processed to preserve their freshness, increase their nutritional value and make them easily accessible. Some processed foods, such as frozen fruit or oatmeal, are perfectly safe and healthy to eat in abundance. Processing is not inherently bad or good. Therefore you can ease your fears about processed foods and instead enjoy them all with a well balanced diet.

Cheat day or cheat meal

The terms “cheat day” or “cheat meal” basically mean that you are planning to break your diet by eating a high calorie meal or meals that you would not normally have. They sound like harmless terms, but they can ultimately affect your relationship with food. Gabriela Barreto, a registered sports dietitian, says, “This can predispose people to a limited cycle of binges in which they restrict certain foods to only being consumed at a certain time and in large quantities.”

Even more troubling is if an individual already has a history of food addiction as it can exacerbate those problems for them. Barreto adds: “We know that this type of restriction doesn’t work and by setting up unhealthy relationships with foods we are more likely to experience a weight cycle when we are no longer able to maintain those restrictions.”

Instead he recommends eating a balanced diet that includes foods you enjoy and foods that promote health without restriction, learning to listen to your body’s needs intuitively and working on your relationship with food.


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“Good” and “bad” foods.

Putting foods into categories such as “good” or “bad” contributes further diet culture and it makes people tie how they eat to their self-esteem. These terms are also used interchangeably to describe an individual’s eating behavior as bad or good based on what he ate. “Assigning a moral value to food only creates more guilt and shame for some food choices,” says Miriam Fried, a New York-based personal trainer and founder of MF Strong. She explains: “Guilt leads to restriction and restriction often leads to unhealthy eating behaviors and a negative relationship with food.”

Although foods are made up of different calorie contents, nutritional and flavor profiles, the body uses them all for energy. Some foods have greater nutritional value than others, but that doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to just those foods. “Can we recognize that a piece of broccoli might have more nutrients than a cookie without making it” bad “? The food isn’t good or bad, it just is,” Fried points out. The more you understand that all of these foods can fit into your diet, the easier it will be to stop labeling them as good or bad.

All natural

When the term “all natural” is used, it suggests that the food you are eating has been minimally processed and is therefore safer. The truth is, this word doesn’t determine if a food is safer for us to eat (as we saw above, processing can be a good thing). In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t even regulate this term.

To date, the organization has not established a formal definition of all natural or natural, although the basic understanding is that it means that nothing artificial or synthetic has been added to a food that would not normally be expected in that food, such as dyeing. The other problem with this term is that it does not take into account the complex process of food production and production. Importantly, “natural” is not the same as “organic”, which is a term regulated by the US Department of Agriculture. Foods with the USDA organic label must meet stringent requirements regarding the use of antibiotics, hormones, fertilizers and pesticides during the manufacturing process; natural foods do not.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, natural products aren’t automatically better or safer for you. In some cases, such as in medicine, taking a natural, unregulated product could cause greater risks or side effects than a federally regulated drug. Therefore, take this password with a grain of salt or eliminate it altogether.


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Without chemicals

“No chemicals” is a buzzword that is commonly linked to the saying “If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it”. When the average person uses it in regards to food (or other items), he is saying that all chemicals are synonymous with being toxic and unsafe. This is easily disproved because a basic science lesson will teach you that everything around you, including the foods you eat, is made up of chemicals.

This doesn’t negate the fact that there are toxic chemicals out there should being avoided, or that you may want to avoid out of caution, food sensitivity, or just personal preference. If you’re concerned about ingesting pesticides, for example, you can stick to certified organic products, but it’s impossible to completely avoid the chemicals in any food. Blueberries, for example, are made up of chemicals known as anthocyanins, chlorogenic acid, pterostilbene, and flavonides.

Without context, these chemicals seem like something the average person should fear. The truth is that marketing plays a big part in fear when it comes to our food and it’s helpful to have reliable resources on hand to dispel these myths.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as medical or health advice. Always consult a doctor or other qualified health care practitioner with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goal.

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