1. Selling you "raw" superfoods which should be cooked!
Let me just use one example to illustrate my point: Maca. This Peruvian root has been a medicine to its traditional people for thousands of years. It has always been cooked. The reason for this is that its so called "active properties" (must refrain myself here from ranting on treating herbs as though only one or one group of their chemicals are important) must be cooked because they are heat-activated. This article does an excellent job of explaining in further detail with reference to the actual chemical reactions that take place. The bottom line is that to obtain any benefit from maca and not stress out your digestive system- the plant must be gelatinized, extracted in alcohol or cooked. The health industry has made raw food diets and veganism so trendy that people on the raw-food-only bandwagon are convinced that cooking food destroys it and that all foods are better raw. Unfortunately, this is just untrue and there are people behind that marketing that are laughing all the way to the bank.
2. Turning traditional foods into trendy superfoods in the first place.
I'll stick with the example of maca. 30 years ago, only traditional Peruvian people in the Andes knew what maca was. Since its discovery as a "superfood", the crop has been exploited for profit to the point that now the price of maca has soared so high that local people in Peru cannot afford it. For a detailed account of the economic and social problems the hype of this crop has caused, read here.
I have watched this industry turn chia seeds from a funny clay pet you gave your grandma that liked gardening for her birthday, to another huge commodity in the health industry. Like maca, marketers even went as far as to try and make outrageous distinctions between color (black or white chia seeds or red, black or yellow maca). Sure, these foods may be very good for you, but at what cost? I'm not talking about the balance of your checking account. I'm talking about the environmental and social impacts. Wherever you are, you have "superfoods" growing right in your neighborhood, for free. I'm talking about common weeds like dandelion, chicory, burdock, and chickweed. The earth is abundant with free food and medicine and we don't need to exploit anyone to maintain our health. We are a culture obsessed with defying age and the wellness industry knows it- in truth, they are banking on it. But in the end, we will all die, no matter how many superfoods we consumed. Seek health, but do it with awareness and a conscience.
3. Essential oils.
You don't have to take several thousands of pounds of flower petals or plant parts to get one ounce of oil to receive health benefits from plants. Now, don't get me wrong, I actually do love and use essential oils. They make lovely natural perfumes, add wonderful scent to natural beauty care remedies and I appreciate aromatherapy. I also find particular oils especially useful during acute lung and sinus congestion as they can be very penetrating compared to use of a tea or decoction, topically, and can be more easily applied. However, there are some very outrageous claims circulating about the use of essential oils. Exercise extreme caution if told to ingest essential oils, as due to quality or production methods, many of them are highly poisonous if used internally (just look up pennyroyal's history). Most brands of essential oils are diluted with fillers, extenders and perfumes to make up for their poor distillation practices and are unsafe for ingestion. There is no reason to spend a fortune on certain expensive essential oils to reap similar benefits that can be had from using an inexpensive (or free if you grew it!) tea or infusion made from the same plant. I think JP Sears hit the nail on the head with this video.
4. Agave nectar:
The name would have you believe you're getting some kind of juice from a succulent plant-- wrong! It's actually a highly processed, high-fructose sweetener made from the starchy root ball. Read more about it in my previous blog post about the health hazard that is agave. The point is, this sweetener stresses out your liver and is not a healthy sweetener and yet it is added to all kinds of foods in health food stores that are marketed as being better for you like vegan ice cream, protein bars, raw food desserts and juice and smoothie bars across the nation. Call them on it, by not buying their products (or at least don't consume them under the pretense that they're a health food).
5. Convincing you to take synthetic vitamins.
While it is true that due to soil depletion and the way our modernized foods are processed, packaged and stored, our foods contain less vitamins and minerals than they should which can contribute to nutrient deficiencies. What isn't true is that you have to consume vitamin pills to correct the problem.
When we eat foods, the nutrients those foods contain are in a perfect combination to help your body utilize them. Vitamins and minerals work synergistically (which means they need each other to be properly absorbed and utilized by the body). Most of the vitamins consumed by pill form are simple excreted via urine & feces and never actually utilized by the body at all. (1)
Taking massive doses of synthetic vitamins does not necessarily mean you will absorb them, and worse, if they do go in, your body may have trouble using and excreting them. In order to absorb and use supplemented vitamins, your body may have to rob the necessary co-factors from body stores to come back to homeostasis and this is like borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.
There are multiple sites online that do a better job of explaining this huge topic. Check out Dr. Mercola's to start.
The bottom line is, your body needs nutrients from food. So use that money you were spending on expensive urine to buy fresh, nutrient rich foods. Also, use herbal mineral powerhouses like nettle and oatstraw in tea form and if you must take pills, use "whole-food" vitamins such as Megafood.
6. The word "natural".
The word "natural" is completely unregulated. Companies can pretty much put it on anything and it so this claim means absolutely nothing. Check your labels. Reading the ingredients on a package is the only way you can be sure whether or not something is good for you or not- not because of fancy packaging with fad words or images. Remember, just because you bought it in a health food store doesn't make it healthy. For your entertainment, watch this hilarious video about the word "natural".
7. The word "organic".
Organic is not synonymous with healthy. Being in a health-food store does not give you a licence to stop reading labels. Examples: Organic corn syrup, organic canola oil and organic sugar are still not good for you, whether or not they were grown and processed without chemicals. There is no need to elaborate.
8. "Gluten Free"
Unless you are truly Celiac, gluten is not your enemy. Simply replacing a diet high in gluten containing grains with gluten free starches and grains is not going to solve your issues. Your diet, whether because of excesses or deficiencies has led to an imbalance in your intestinal tract and whether you react to gluten or any other food is not merely the fault one one big bad protein that has always been there.
I don't want to hear the argument "but wheat is just not the same as it used to be!". You know what's really not the same? The entire standard diets of the modernized world. We opt for convenience over quality and quantity over suitability. You cannot demonize gluten and call a gluten free diet the answer to health. The wellness industry has made such a commotion over gluten that people avoid it without even really knowing what it is in the first place.
For the record, I am not knocking carbs. I love carbohydrates and I consume them daily. The larger issues are how grains and legumes are prepared in the first place and what else is missing from the picture. I soak, sprout and sour almost all of the grains, legumes and nuts/seeds we consume in our household. We also use a lot of mineral rich herbal infusions, broths and seaweeds in our cooking and daily routines.
If you have a healthy digestive system, you don't see food intolerance. Strong digestion is normal for healthy people. If you are reacting to gluten, or any other foods, you have some work to do with healing your digestive tract and the flora that reside there. That may mean temporarily cutting out many foods, including gluten-containing grains, but with proper support, you should be able to include them again once healing has occurred.
9. Taking Advantage of your vulnerability.
I worked in health food stores for nearly a decade and being in this industry, you start to realize that though most of the people in the wellness industry are well-meaning, they are still trying to make money. They have bottom lines, employees to pay, a huge overhead and expiry dates to contend with.
Even though many of the products they carry could potentially improve your overall health- that doesn't mean they are necessary or that the same benefits couldn't be reaped, if not improved upon, by simply eating real food or weeds like dandelion and chickweed that are growing freely in your yard. Worse, there are many supplements that actually can impact your health in a negative way and there IS such a thing as over-doing it.
While I want to believe that most of the people in this industry really do want to help you, even if they reap financial gain in the process, there are still charlatans out there that pray upon vulnerable people. There are many people that come to "natural health" at the end of their ropes because nothing else has helped them and they are absolutely lost and willing to try anything to achieve relief from their ailments. These can be physical, emotional or other ailments, but it doesn't change the fact that when these people come seeking guidance and expertise, there are people out there who are only too happy to empty their pockets and send them on their way.
Here is a personal example: When I was divorced from my husband 6 years ago, a man who calls himself a shaman and a healer in my community told me that I needed to take his 600.00 course or there was no way I could ever have a healthy relationship again and that I would just repeat all of my previous mistakes. If someone tries to convince you that their product or advise is the only way to fix your condition, run. There has never and will never be a one size fits all approach to health, and neither is there only one person that can solve anyone else's problems. Ultimately people can help guide each other towards helpful remedies and lifestyle choices or help each other shift how we think, but it is still the individual that heals him or herself.
10. Convincing you only expensive, rare and exotic plants can "cure" you.
You don't need that rare plant that grows half way across the world and therefor costs a fortune or that is extracted in such a way that it has a patent, to "cure" you. Likely comparable remedies lay waiting within 50 ft of your front door or local park. I will say that our herbal traditions in the West are not as old and therefor we haven't always found exact substitutes for some plants, but that doesn't mean they don't exist or that you can't simply use a handful of other ones in a larger dose to affect a similar result.
So think before you buy. Your body and your planet are counting on you!