Wellness influencers should prioritize fact over fad

Nutrition is not black-and-white

A shelf with vegetables. In focus are green onions and bunches of carrots.
PHOTO: Peter Wendt / Unsplash

By: Olivia Visser, Opinions Editor

Content warning: discussions of diets and eating disorders.

In an effort to improve my health by reducing symptoms like fatigue and digestive discomfort, I recently began paying more attention to my diet. I know I don’t consume as much variety as I should, especially when it comes to protein and vegetables. So, I took to the internet to work on some food lists and meal plans. What I stumbled across was equal parts unsurprising and frustrating; many popular wellness influencers tend to have a very all-or-nothing approach to nutrition. Their advice often excludes those who can’t access certain foods for a variety of reasons, which encourages people to avoid small yet helpful nutritional changes because they worry it’s not enough. 

One of the most concerning ideas perpetuated by wellness influencers is that health is one-size-fits-all. I call them “wellness influencers” because that’s what they’re colloquially referred to online — not because it’s entirely accurate. Most of these people don’t have relevant degrees or expertise, and are instead speaking from personal experience and research. While that’s not wrong in itself, it can open followers up to information that hasn’t been properly evaluated for bias and misinformation

For example, I’ve been seeing a lot of posts about how seed oils (canola, sunflower) are unequivocally unhealthy and should be avoided at all costs. Many claim they’re full of “chemicals” from the production process, and contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acids which may lead to inflammation. As is usually the case with health claims, the truth is not black-and-white. Omega-6 acids are essential for our bodies and have never been proven to cause inflammation in human studies. They’re also a great affordable cooking oil option. It is true that many people are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids due to overconsumption of omega-6 acids. However, this doesn’t mean seed oils are disrupting people’s health. Consuming foods like tofu, fish, and nuts can improve your omega-3 intake. Fortified foods, meaning foods with added vitamins and minerals, are also an option that may be more accessible and affordable to some. 

Health is a process, not a state of being — and it looks different for everyone.

Don’t take broad health-related generalizations at face value — always double-check nutrition advice before following it, ideally from a peer-reviewed source or a doctor. You should also be wary of people who promote specific diets as the best option for “overall health.” Whether it’s veganism, keto, or the Mediterranean diet, nothing can universally reduce health concerns and make everyone feel great. As a vegetarian myself, I know my diet isn’t practical or effective for everyone, as much as I’d like it to be. When it comes to nutrition, research has found that “focusing on food quality” is key. This means integrating fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fats, and protein. Variety is important, but it’s also worth noting that whole foods aren’t cheap. People who flaunt their raw vegan diets on Instagram seem to forget that many people can’t afford fresh produce, or may not have the capacity to prepare it.

You’re not “unhealthy” for relying on processed foods for financial, accessibility, or dietary reasons. Making nutritional decisions within your means is healthy. Eating frozen or canned fruits and vegetables can be just as nutritious as fresh, for instance. Health is a process, not a state of being — and it looks different for everyone. Generalizing foods as being healthy or unhealthy can cause considerable mental harm. Moralizing what we eat can lead to food-related guilt or eating disorders. Healthy eating involves more than just the food you eat, and extends to your relationship with it. Foods aren’t inherently good or bad — enjoying a bowl of ice cream or a bag of chips doesn’t mean your diet is poor. Nutrition is a long-term process, and it’s all about variety and balance. At the end of the day, you’ll likely regret missing out on life’s little enjoyments more than you’ll regret eating a slice of cake at your friend’s birthday party.

If you do find yourself browsing wellness sites or social media pages, steer away from those who make universal claims or tell you to avoid a large number of ingredients altogether. Those worth listening to will acknowledge that health isn’t about being thin, wealthy, or able-bodied. They’ll recognize that moderation, variety, and enjoyment are more important than rigid notions of perfection. These people are not doctors, and if they were, they wouldn’t be spouting half the garbage they do. 

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