Boba (or bubble) tea, spicy ramen, cheesy fried chicken, and many other food trends come and go.
What do they all have in common though?
For one thing, they are made viral through the media, more often in social media such as Facebook and Instagram.
Secondly, the majority of these foods are unhealthy.
Do you know that social media can influence the way you eat and your choice of food?
Be a discerning consumer – do not be unduly influenced by food trends spread through social media.
In this digital age especially, our eating habits and decision-making processes are, to a large extent, determined by numerous smartphone apps, television programmes and social media.
Cases in point: the social media ritual of taking pictures of your food before actually eating it, people lining up for hours to buy the latest food or drink that is all the rage online, and even live-streaming their lavish dinners!
These are mainly driven by the chase for “likes” and comments – the instant gratification of virtual attention.
Sure, the occasional food-hunt with friends may not be harmful, but we need to be cautious about how much influence social media has on our dietary intake and how not to be misguided.
Although they may be more tech-savvy, the younger generation is also easily swayed by these food trends as shown by the 2017 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) on adolescent health.
Social media (37%) and television (36.7%) were reported as the main media sources affecting the dietary pattern of adolescents from Year Four to Form Five.
Why the worry?
The Roman saying “We eat first with our eyes” points us to the issue at hand.
Our sight is the first sense involved in the process of eating, even before smell and taste.
We like looking at colourful and beautifully decorated meals, and social media has made it easier with just a few taps on the screen.
This urge to look at food is what scientists call “visual hunger”, which leads to “external eating”, where the sight or smell of food (external cues) arouses the craving to eat, despite the absence of physical hunger (internal cues).
External eating is linked to overeating and this may result in the rise of obesity.
Moreover, food trends are usually catered to indulge our senses. That is how we are persuaded into becoming repeat customers.
However, the scary facts are that the boba tea you love so much may contain up to 20 spoonfuls of sugar, the cheesy fried chicken is high in fat and calories, and that deliciously spicy ramen may upset your stomach and lead to a bad date with the toilet.
What can we do?
The first step is to realise the subconscious effect of media exposure to our consumption habits.
The next step is to educate ourselves and take action!
Unrestrained temptation leads to unhealthy eating patterns such as overeating and consuming excessive sugar, salt, oil or fat, as well as unbalanced meals.
This brings dire consequences such as obesity and non-communicable diseases, e.g. diabetes mellitus, heart diseases and cancer.
There is no harm in trying boba tea or other food trends, but do so in moderation by controlling your consumption (make it a monthly treat) or choosing healthier options (e.g. less sugar).
Be rational and remember it is just a trend that will soon pass!
You can also prepare your own healthier version of your favourite trendy food.
Use healthier cooking methods (e.g. grilling or baking, instead of deep-frying, chicken) and ingredients (more whole grains, vegetables, spices and herbs; less fat, oil, salt and sugar).
This way you can also tailor the taste to your liking (e.g. spiciness level).
You can also balance your meals by having more veggies and fruits for dinner, if lunch was a burger and fries for example.
If you must try the food at the restaurant itself, ask for less sugar, salt and sauce, or have smaller portions by sharing with family or friends.
Not all food trends are unhealthy. What is important is to follow healthy eating guidelines such as the principles of Balance-Moderation-Variety (BMV), the Food Pyramid and the Malaysian Healthy Plate.
Look for nutritional information of these foods if available.
Healthy trendy foods such as poké bowl (Hawaiian seafood salad), kombucha tea (fermented tea) and overnight oats are actually a good option.
Social media can also be a source of inspiration for healthy eating and active living.
Fellow healthy eaters can share more ideas for your meals.
Many credible experts also share their opinions on the latest dietary issues on social media.
Trends or passing fads can be fun to follow, but it is better to set the trend for ourselves and our family to practice healthy eating.
Remember, be cautious when using social media and do not get tricked into mindlessly following food trends!