De-bunking Social Media and the Claim to Health

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Ten years ago, when we wanted to learn about a specific subject you would have to open a newspaper, an encyclopedia, or maybe even do a specific google search. In today’s culture, social media keeps us up to date on our friends’ daily lives, current news, and social happenings. The latest obsession blowing up social media is food! Every day our accounts are filled with a eat this, not that mentality. We see a new food causing cancer, or even better the newest superfood that will help you avoid cancer. How do we know what is true?

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Just like a filter on a picture, the news we read about our food is tweaked and modified. Research is being masked and modified to fit scenarios to the benefit of the viewer. These false stories get shared across different social media platforms, with no valid checks on the content. We end up blindly following the crowd. People post new diets which offer quick weight loss, but at what cost to the body? What even is a superfood? These are questions we should be asking before we share the link. American pop culture is portrayed through food by fad diets, superfoods, and marketing, through the lens of social media. I contend that most news of health and wellness, on social media, is misleading.

According to social media new foods are coming up every day as a superfood. They tend to start like this, deep in the rainforest a new food was found, and it is the cure to all of life’s problems. Soon enough people are shelling out the big bucks for this magical cure. Only to find out, it tastes awful, and it does not work. Sometimes the best superfoods can be found at the local grocery store, but how profitable would that be?

Another great question to ask is who is posting the content. Big corporations pay large sums of money for advertising, and social media has become one of their largest platforms. If it gets the consumer to want the product, they do what the consumer wants. Nevertheless, there is a fair amount of information that is hidden in advertising. Many trigger words like, gluten-free and fat-free, are posted to capture the attention of a consumer. Even though they might not even know what gluten is, they might see this product as healthier based on an article they read on Facebook.

Periodically, there are some articles and products that are true and fantastic shared. One of the great aspects of social media is the ease of sharing new discoveries. Not everything posted is dishonest, it is knowing how to distinguish the difference. Learning the facts and educating yourself on the best way to be the healthiest you.

Food is a great part of our culture, and as Americans, we are all trying to become healthier. We look at our social media accounts every day on multiple platforms. Our friend is showing off their latest acai bowl, or a recipe for keto cookies. We strive to be healthier like them, but is that really what healthy is?

Gluten is a protein in bread that created the elasticity and fluffiness. According to an article published in the Journal of Pediatrics, interest in gluten-sensitivity sky rocked in 2013. With only 10% claiming to have true gluten concerns, others think going gluten-free is healthier and digestive friendly. Another term popping up on social media is celiac disease, which refers to one’s body not having the enzymes to digest gluten. However, it is highly unlikely that you are one with the disease. It has been shown that only 1% of the population is missing that enzyme (Reilly 2008). For those individuals living life gluten-free is a necessity and should be taken seriously. There are many fad diets that revolve around taking gluten out of the diet.

The latest fad diet to come out of these gluten concerns is the keto diet, others that have been popular are Atkins and paleo. While I am sure you will be quick to refer to your friend Suzy who lost 25 pounds on the keto diet. How she posts daily a picture of her healthy fatty, meat meals, sans carbohydrates. A diet that is based on high protein and fat, but low carbohydrates, trying to trick your body into reaching a state of ketosis. Which is when your body uses protein as a fuel source, as opposed to carbohydrates. A promising benefit of the keto diet has been observed amongst the epileptic population (1.2 percent of the total population). Studies do exist to support this claim, but they are only small scale with no conclusive evidence (Hopkins, et al. 2008). In conclusion, diets that lack gluten are only targeted and beneficial towards a very small population. Despite the growing popularity of social media.

An intriguing fact to think about is according to the U.S National Library of Medicine, it is estimated that 65% of the population is lacking the lactase enzyme, or lactose intolerant. Most common in people of Asian descent (2018). However, when was the last time a friend posted on social media about cutting lactose out of a diet? That wouldn’t be good for the milk companies, one of Americas largest economic foundations. According to a research study done by the Global Dairy Industry, in 2014 the dairy industry was expected to be worth 335.8 billion dollars (Reportbuyer 2014). Maybe gluten is just a cover for lactose?

A large-scale study, funded by the national institute of health, involving 15,428 adults over the course of 25 years, assessed high, normal, and low carbohydrate diets. As a result, they found that both high and low carbohydrate diets were linked to higher mortality than a normal carbohydrate diet. Sidelmann and his collogues found animal-based low carbohydrate diets, which are more prevalent in North American and European populations, should be discouraged (Seidelmann, et al. 2018). Overall, no matter what Suzy and your other friends are posting, a moderate diet has proven to be the best diet.

Mangosteens, Golgi berries, and acai what do these all have in common? Well other than being hard to pronounce, they have all been deemed by popular vote as a superfood. These foods have been set apart as cures to cancers, heart diseases, and even death. Since we get most of our news from social media, why should we doubt these claims? Especially when the research is coming from well-known universities or mainstream news organizations. A superfood according to Google, a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being. Fairly vague, right? That is because there is no true definition of a superfood. When held to the defined standards of being beneficial for health and well-being, carrots and apples, or any other whole food would be considered a superfood.

So why set these foreign sounding foods apart? It all comes down to money. Robert Davis in his book, The Healthy Skeptic: Cutting Through the Hype about Your Health, he describes a five-step process on how a food becomes a superfood. It all begins with a food manufacturer funds research by a university, they come up with some beneficial findings. Those findings get published. Then, the public relations person from the company blow the findings out of proportions. They use various advertisements and marketing schemas to pop-up on your social media. Next thing you know, you are buying that overpriced exotic pill that dotes being simple and the cure to insert your problem here. The food manufacturer that funded the research just made an instant profit by prying off your weaknesses and abusing marketing (37-42).

When it comes to marketing in the food industry, it is hard to distinguish the truth from the trendy. As a society see a claim being marketed back by a research study and automatically assume it is the truth. However, corporate funding for research in nutrition makes it possible to expand and create new studies. It is agreed by most researchers that using corporate money as a bribe to fabricate results would be ludicrous, but the evidence does indicate there is an association with research outcomes and corporate sponsorship. It has been shown that in numerous studies involving milk, soft drinks, and juices studies funded by the industry had a greater positive finding compared to independent studies. As Professor Marion Nestle puts it, it seems counter-intuitive to think that companies would sponsor studies like to produce unfavorable results. (Davis 28).

Nestle has a whole book dedicated to the topic of marketing, politics, and nutrition, What to Eat. She states, to make informed decisions about food choice, you need truth in advertising, the whole truth, and nothing but (511). She brings up a point that very few industries profit on us eating healthy. It is more profitable to prevent illnesses than to treat them (11). Think about that next time you see an ad on Facebook for a healthy processed snack.

Social media has become an easy marking platform for industries. Be sure to look for randomized clinical trials, where individuals are randomly selected to receive the placebo or the factor being tested, these tend to be the most credible. Thesis studies are the hardest to fabricate. One of the least credible research myths that we fall into is animal research. These studies can have an unpredictable outcome on humans, and therefore should not be linked for credibility. If you have questions about a study that popped up on your social media, look to see what kind of study was done, if it was peer-reviewed and who paid for the study. These two indicators can account for credibility on the research. Another great tool is using a site called Quackwatch who is dedicated to combat health-related myths and frauds (Davis 28-29).

Davis, Robert J. The Healthy Skeptic: Cutting through the Hype about Your Health. University of California Press, 2008. 37-42

Hopkins, I. J., and Betty C. Lynch. Use of Ketogenic Diet in Epilepsy in Childhood. Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health. vol.10, no.1111, 10 Mar. 2008. PAGE NUMBER

Lactose Intolerance – Genetics Home Reference – NIH. U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 11 Dec. 2018, ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/lactose-intolerance#statistics.

Nestle, Marion. What to Eat. North Point Press/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. 11, 511

Reilly, Norelle R. The Gluten-Free Diet: Recognizing Fact, Fiction, and Fad. The Journal of Pediatrics, Mosby, 13 May 2016, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022347616300622?via=ihub.

ReportBuyer. The Milky Way. PR Newswire: News Distribution, Targeting, and Monitoring, Global Dairy Industry, 19 Aug. 2014, www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/global-dairy-industry—the-milky-way-271782401.html.

Seidelmann, Sara B, et al. Dietary Carbohydrate Intake and Mortality: A Prospective Cohort Study and Meta-Analysis. The Lancet Public Health, Elsevier, Sept. 2018.

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De-bunking Social Media and the Claim to Health. (2019, Apr 10). Retrieved July 1, 2022 , from
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