The art of the food fad: from Atkins to cider vinegar


Food fads, the healthy foods which are meant to change our lives, come and go every year. Have any of them stayed around? What fads are currently being thrown in our faces?

Who doesn’t love a good fad? Some new food with the promise of a quick, sure-fire fix to all our protruding problems. Bandwagons, after all, were made to be jumped on, and food fashion is no exception. Many fads have appeared — and disappeared — over the years, with some literally being little more than the flavour of the week. But what about some of the more popular ones that have stuck around on kitchen shelves, are they now collecting dust or are they continuing to revolutionise dishes?

Take the Atkins diet, as an example of a diet that’s hard to stick on a shelf. A polar opposite to the classic See Food Diet (“I eat all the food I can see!”), this no carb craze swept America and the UK in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, with dieters ditching fruit, vegetables, bread, grains, pasta, nuts and alcohol, resulting in apparent weight losses of 15 pounds in just a couple of weeks. Rapid weight loss like this is actually incredibly unhealthy.

The medical community collectively declared the Atkins diet is no more effective than any other diet, stating weight loss occurs not as a result of carbs being cut but because overall food intake is reduced. Even so, you will still find today plenty of restaurant menus serving up burgers and burritos without their floury frames for a lighter meal. This ‘no carbs=healthy’ trope is a popular one amongst diets that have come and gone over the years.

Let’s not forget, however, that fads by no means have to be health based. Some food crazes don’t even try to claim to be healthy. (Cough, Scotland, how’s your deep-fried Mars bar?) In fact, many fads gain wild popularity before scientific research can back up any claims. Most are declared the new “in thing” because they are following another fashion, the most current of which is healthy alternatives to what are traditionally considered unhealthy foods.

If you go back to the 1950s, one of the biggest crazes was the small screen. In fad terms, that meant the introduction of aluminum trays with peelable foil lids, with meat, mash and veggies steaming underneath. What began in the mid 1940s on airplanes — and continues today — has been in the household ever since. With the introduction of microwave ovens, TV dinners have only gained more popularity by evolving with their flat screen counterparts. You can now ding almost anything into a hot dinner, including the most current diet meals.

Moving into a more health-oriented world, in 2013, one of Greece’s best exports went mainstream: the humble kale. Kale is one of nature’s superfoods—think The Avengers meets fruit and veg. Seriously, is there anything kale can’t do? High in iron, fibre, calcium, vitamins A, C and K, and low in calories, kale is also a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory; and that’s not all. The leafy headed hero is also said to help lower cholesterol and contain numerous cancer fighting substances. It seems everyone loves kale, from celebrities to scientists. The kale craze went mainstream roughly four years ago, and hasn’t slowed down since. It even has its own National Day (October 2nd for your diaries).


Perhaps the only thing kale can’t do is this: it can’t be milked (don’t worry, Kale, neither can I…). This leaves the dairy-alternative door wide open for the almond, another fad which is currently very popular, even without the help of sharp rotating blender teeth. Squeezed into each little nutty jacket is a high level of fiber, protein and various important nutrients, along with good sources of Vitamin E and magnesium. When they’re not lowering your hunger — thus reducing your calorie intake, making them an effective snack for weight loss — almonds still find the time to lower cholesterol levels and assist with blood sugar control, which is great for diabetics.

No wonder someone thought to milk them into a vegan-friendly alternative to cow’s milk. Great news, right? Well, yes and no. While almond milk is low in calories and saturated fats, a lot of the aforementioned awesomeness is diluted, including most of the fibre, protein and antioxidants. As almond milk is watered down, there is a much less concentrated source of nutrients than what you would find in whole almonds. This further depends on how many almonds are used, if they include their skin or not, and how much water is added to the milk. Damn, that’s a bit of a sour note, eh?

One fad that won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth is apple cider vinegar, even if it does possess the dark yellow colouration typically associated with dehydrated urine. This questionably coloured liquid was an ancient folk remedy long before it became the most popular vinegar in the natural health sphere, with claims to a variety of health benefits—only some of which are supported by science.

Those that are supported include weight loss, the lowering of blood sugar levels and cholesterol , and even potential anti-cancer effects—at least in rats. Apple cider addicts beware, though, as excess consumption may have harmful effects, from nausea to throat burn. The enamel on your teeth certainly won’t thank you either! Fortunately, apple cider vinegar can be consumed in a variety of moderate ways: in cooking, as salad dressing, and even as an ingredient in homemade non-alcoholic Pimm’s—that last one certainly helps with that rather distrustful tint! 

If you like your yellow fads to be less suspicious looking, then you’re in luck. Apparently, if you check your fad calendar, you’ll see that 2017 is The Year of the Turmeric. Hailed as “the new kale” (ouch, kale, don’t take it personally) and “nature’s wonder drug”, the yellow spice is claimed to be a natural anti-inflammatory which is able to battle diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Research-backed findings have so far been described as modest, with some evidence showing that supplements of curcumin (the yellow pigment that’s the active ingredient in turmeric) can reduce inflammatory to a similar level of pain relief as ibuprofen. Not enough data has yet been collected to draw a definite conclusion—perhaps we’ll know by the time it’s The Year of the Bacon Rasher. (If only.) For now, we’re living the runway moment of the pulled pork bap, the crispy kale wonder salads and the hard, almond milk freak shake. Whether or not these are 15 minutes of fame fads or a future staple diet remains to be seen.

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Tom Luck

Tom spends a lot of his time talking to imaginary people as he writes his first novel.