The fad, fab or fact of eating healthy

Mary Paulose
Filed on November 29, 2013
The fad, fab or fact of eating healthy

Certain kinds of foods attain cult status in the gastronomic landscape. Are they really worthy of such debate on the dining table? We find out

Eating healthy is a topic that will never go out of fashion. Over the years, various items of food and produce have come and gone as the “it” foods of the year. While all foods — natural, that is, not processed — possess their own nutritional value, a few popular, or fad foods, have come into their own and attained an exalted status, thanks to their properties of packing in more than a few essential nutrients into one tiny leaf, grain or stem.

These fad foods, or superfoods, as the buzzwords go, basically have a higher concentration of different nutrients and even organic compounds like proteins and carbohydrates, making them a coveted all-in-one staple for those who are looking to lose weight or just plain clean up their dietary intake.

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You would’ve heard of them all by now — starting from favourites of yore like spinach and broccoli, to the “new fangled” kale, quinoa, kimchee, wheatgrass, goji berries, to dietary fads like gluten-free and paleo. These foods and diets are today trending in an increasingly health-conscious world, both in an effort to cut out chemical content and processed foods in our diet, and also add value to our eating experience by trying out new and different recipes.

But as all new health concepts go, it’s natural to be a bit sceptical about what’s really beneficial for us, versus the hype that surrounds these wonder foods.

Here, we try to sift the wheat from the chaff — speaking to nutritionists and organic foods vendors — to try and understand how these foods can translate into health benefits for you.

Fad Foods Vs Superfoods

Malcolm Slyper runs the Art of Detox, a free online-based service dedicated to a commonsense, preventative approach to disease. He offers cleansing and detox programmes to cure various problems. Slyper himself claims to have cured his long-standing digestive issues, fatigue and Candida-related problems using dietary changes.

“Fad foods or fad diets by definition seek to achieve short term results — usually weight loss — with little concern for long-term implications. But there is a clear and distinct difference between a fad and superfood. A fad food generally seeks quick results at the expense of the bigger picture, whereas superfoods have the potential to empower the individual with improved nutrient intake,” says Slyper.

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Tina Chagoury is chief clinical officer at Live’ly, a specialised Dubai-based health and nutrition establishment that designs nutrition and catering diet services for clients, using a team of clinical dieticians and specialised chefs.

“Most superfoods are not fad foods, as they offer high benefits and their intake is always healthy and recommended. However, a fad food is only highlighted due to their popularity and their over-use in recipes, restaurant menus etc. After a certain period of time, the craze for these foods will settle down,” says Chagoury.

Some of these are definitely in vogue thanks to diets made popular by Hollywood celebrities and fashion magazines, she feels. “I would highly recommend quinoa though, it’s an amazing grain which has all the amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Most vegetarian sources of amino acids are very incomplete — quinoa is the only complete one. But otherwise, I recommend eating an array of vegetables in different colours: orange, red, green and white.”

Baker & Spice is an artisan food shop, restaurant and retail space that only offers foods made in-house, from scratch, using only raw ingredients, and local seasonal produce. During the local growing season in the UAE (November-April), they also run a popular weekly Friday Farmers’ Market. Yael Mejia is the founder of Baker & Spice. She, for one, is against the very concept and definition of fad foods. “As I know from my own experience, there are no short cuts to anything, neither weight loss nor health. I’m inclined to think that vegetables like kale, quinoa and kimchee are beneficial, but only as part of a balanced diet.”

Deconstructing the Benefits

Slyper’s take is that superfoods are becoming increasingly popular, gaining exposure as a means to augment our nutritional intake in a society that is plagued today by nutritionally-devoid “foods”. Some of these include — but are not limited to — goji berries, acai, chia seeds, wheatgrass, kombucha and kefir, he says. “Leafy greens like kale cater to our un-met nutrient needs as a populace, while kimchee is a great source of intestinal flora.”

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As far as fad diets go, Chagoury contends that some people have taken it too far. “For instance, the gluten-free diet — if you’re actually allergic to wheat products or suffer from celiac disease, it makes sense. When regular people subscribe to it as a ‘health fad’ or to lose weight, it only works temporarily. The same goes for the Dukan diet, a modified version of the Atkins, and currently very popular. It cuts out basic necessities like folic acid and fibre, and overloads your body and kidneys with proteins, harming them in the long run,” reveals Chagoury.

Slyper points out that some people go on fad diets as a perceived quick fix or out of convenience without doing due diligence on the implications of such a diet. “A fad diet is not the answer to what is being presented as mainstream popular food. This requires an individual rethink of their own situation, followed by habits and discipline that support their health objectives and goals,” he says.

The other problem is with us overestimating the of foods we consume, as opposed to how much physical activity we’re getting. There is a very good rise in terms of awareness in terms of what to eat and what not to eat, the dietician notes. “But the problem is not with people eating healthier — they definitely are — but in not exercising to derive the benefits of nutrition. There is no point if you consume the healthiest diet in the world, but your body is not primed with energy to convert that nutrition into actual benefits,” explains Chagoury. “Even if it’s just a 10-minute jog a day, you to have some physical activity.”

Additionally, some of these so-called fad foods/supplements may be revealed to be less beneficial than commonly believed. “Phylum husk, as an example, has long been touted as being beneficial for bowel health. Research coming to the fore shows a very different and detrimental picture. A diet rich in fruit and vegetable will always be core to a healthy diet. Various fad foods will come and go with the changing whims of society,” states Slyper.

One other thing — don’t decide what will work best for you. That is the job of a doctor or nutritionist. “It’s very important to note this: don’t go online and look for foods and diets that are proclaimed suitable for you. It can be really very detrimental to your health. It’s a nutritionist’s job is to tailor-make your diet and health plan for you,” Chagoury says.

The best way would be to keep it simple and follow our regular meal plans, but try out a few of the superfoods. “With kale, just treat it like a common cabbage. If you’re talking about quinoa, cook it like rice,” says Mejia. “One insight that guides us is that the better the ingredient, the less work in the kitchen to make it edible.”

Whether you subscribe to fad foods or not, the message these experts have is to stay away from industrial and processed foods, and “make sure you find out exactly what you are really eating and buying. Really, the term ‘fad food’ itself makes people feel inadequate and defeats the purpose of trying to live simply and well. It is all commercial hogwash,” proclaims Mejia.

The biggest question is that of our health —“Good habits and a return to sound, whole nutrient-dense food is essential. The pursuit of fad foods that shoot up briefly in popularity is not the solution,” stresses Slyper.

Chagoury breaks down the benefits of popular superfoods here, and offers a couple of recipes you can try out:

Chia seeds — controls blood sugars and appetite

Acai berry — super antioxidant and improves stamina

Faro — magnesium content and mood improvement

Amaranth — a gluten-free alternative rich in calcium and protein

Arrowroot — more protein than potato and yam/rich in folic acid and B vitamins

Triticale — protein-rich, more than wheat

Couscous — rich in Vitamin K and selenium (great for immunity)

Bulgur wheat — iron and slower release of energy

Freekeh — low Glycemic index and high-fibre

Wheatgrass —antioxidant and relaxing when taken in an infusion

Goji berries — great antioxidant and also improves mood

Other popular ‘fad foods’

Chagoury warns about these other food items, which fall under the category of “permanent” fads:

  • •Diet soft drinks: People consume them to save on calories and satisfy their sweet cravings, but these drinks are not only linked to weight issues and obesity, but closely linked to some form of nerve damage and cancers.
  • •Frozen yoghurt: It does have “yoghurt” in its name, but it’s far from being healthy — it has far more sugar than a regular ice-cream. It just has less fat than regular ice-cream.
  • •Cereal bars: People think they’re the new miracle sweet bars with no calories; unfortunately, cereal bars contain the same amount of sugar and calories as a regular chocolate bar, with just less fat and more nuts and dried fruits.
  • •Sushi: People eat all kinds of sushi rolls, thinking it’s healthy and low in calories, but most of them with tempura and mayonnaise are far from healthy, and packed with fats and calories. Choose the plain raw fish or vegetable rolls and sushi.


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Healthy Quinoa Salad

Serves: 6 persons

Calories per serving: 255 Kcal;
Protein: 9gm
Carbs: 41gm
Fat: 6gm

Preparation time: 30 Min


For Quinoa:

2 cups Quinoa

1 tablespoons olive oil

1 garlic cloves, minced

1 onion cut into fine pieces

2 cups vegetable stock or water

Pinch of ground black pepper

For Salad:

1 ½ cup fresh coloured peppers cut into cubes

10 pc cherry tomatoes cut in half

1 cup steamed vegetables (your choice)

½ cup fresh parsley — finely chopped

For Dressing:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 garlic cloves, minced (optional)

Juice of 2 lemons

Salt & fresh coarse ground black pepper to taste


In a cooking pot heat the oil then add the onion and then the garlic. Cook for 3 minutes until golden.
Add the quinoa and stir with the onions for few minutes then add a pinch of black pepper and the vegetable stock or water.

Cook on high heat for 5 minutes then simmer on low heat until the quinoa is well cooked. Empty and let cool completely.

In a salad bowl, put the cooked cool quinoa and then add to it the salad ingredients and mix well.

Prepare the salad dressing and add to the salad just before serving. Mix well.


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