Mad, bad food fads

Jeanne Horak-Druiff wonders why there always has to be a fad with food?

by: Jeanne Horak-Druiff | 20 Jul 2009

You’re sitting in a restaurant with a group of your friends and the waitress comes to take your order. One orders French onion soup without the crouton and wants to check whether there is flour in the sauces because of her no-carb regime. Another wants apple cider vinegar because she can’t eat till she’s had her warm apple cider vinegar. And a third wants a salad but is interrogating the waitress about whether there is any dairy in the dressing because of his recently self-diagnosed lactose intolerance.

Fair enough, I understand if people are vegetarian/vegan for personal reasons. I fully appreciate that there are people with nut or seafood allergies so severe that they can go into anaphylactic shock and die before the ambulance gets here.

And I have the utmost sympathy for people with a genuine wheat allergy who suffer from coeliac disease. But seriously, people, enough already with the fad diets and the fashionable intolerances!

Let's start at the very beginning
Amazingly, fad diets are a trend that’s been going on for centuries: only the ingredients in favour or disfavour change.

The late 18th century gave birth to a fad known as the chewing movement. British Prime Minister William Gladstone pioneered the idea of chewing food 32 times to aid digestion, but it was taken to its logical extreme by an American businessman Horace Fletcher who chewed food until it dissolved in his mouth (720 chews for one shallot!).

As “proof” of his extreme chewing theory, Fletcher was happy to send his “remarkably odour-free stools” by mail to anybody who asked. Nice.

Although fasting for religious reasons has been around for centuries, the idea of fasting for health reasons is a more modern one. Who among us has not contemplated a “juice detox”? But in 1911 Upton Sinclair wrote that long periods of starvation could cure TB, syphilis, asthma and cancer.

Although he admitted that he had heard of people dying while fasting, he was sure that it was the underlying diseases that had caused their deaths, not the fasting. Which must have been a great comfort to their relatives…

As early as 1958, one Dr Jarvis proposed that the biggest danger to our health was an “excess of alkalinity”. To combat this and to create a more acidic environment in the body, he proposed that people should avoid meat, wheat, citrus fruits and sugar, and dose themselves with two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before each meal.

This is, of course, diametrically opposed the alkaline diet, which advocates keeping the body in a slightly alkaline state by avoiding acid-forming foods altogether, and in so doing allegedly preventing a host of degenerative and autoimmune diseases. Confused, anyone?

And how can we forget good old Dr Atkins and his famous low-carb, high fat and high protein diet that came on the scene in the early 1980s? You know the one where you could have bacon and eggs for breakfast while your friend glumly chewed on bran flakes?

I remember tucking into a baked potato with tuna at my desk back in 2000. A passing colleague enquired in horror whether I was really going to eat that, because as every schoolboy knows, the combination of carbohydrate and protein will fail to digest together, putrefy in my stomach and make me obese. Mmmm. Yes, it’s the Fit For Life diet, which was all about the combinations of food that you could eat and, mysteriously, never drinking water with meals.

I could continue (the list is long – and we didn’t even touch on the caveman diet!) – But why bother? All we know for sure is that by this time next year there will be half a dozen new dietary fads, and dining out with friends will be even more annoying than it already is.

So what’s the craziest food fad or diet you’ve ever tried?

Jeanne Horak-Druiff is the face behind the multi-award winning blog This ex-lawyer based in London now spends all her free-time cooking, photographing and eating good food.

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