Food reviewers and influencers on social media have changed the way how one looks at food on the roadside eateries, cafés, restaurants, bars and clubs. While easy availability of all kinds of food and cuisines anytime and anywhere has helped businesses thrive, it has also led to a spike in junk binging — whose health risks cannot be dismissed.
While most reviewers do emphasise that it’s their personal views and experience (as a disclaimer), somehow it seems to get lost in the noise. Their followers, a lot of them, tend to believe in what is shown on various platforms, and choose to ignore the warning.
However, clinical dieticians blame the reviewers on social media platforms for their ambiguity in informing their followers on why the food they’re reviewing must not be consumed frequently. They encourage food bloggers to give more information on the ingredients, preparation and impact of the dish while reviewing them, instead of just showing how it looks.
Tharun Hardy, food promoter and consultant, says that food review, at one point, was about ingredients, preparation and detailed blogs about the origin of the dish. The description of dishes was discussed in detail and written about in blogs and newspapers.
Now the trend moved to Instagram with reels and it’s about whether the food/dish is photogenic.
“People have stopped reading about the food. The reels changed it completely. Now, it’s more about how it looks. Things like Dalgona coffee became famous during the pandemic when thousands of people tried it because it’s attractive and strange,” points out Tharun.
The strange combinations and negative reviews added to the appeal and made it popular. “People who did not write or know about food, they also learnt about how fancy gimmicks work on social media and this is why barter collaboration became very famous,” he opines.
Social media platforms are filled with reels on the ‘best dishes’ or a certain ‘best cuisine’ while the real and artificial flavours are not distinguished properly.
Health experts clearly state that everyone cannot digest everything. Metabolisms differ, and even these change with age and time. “The innovations in food are more on the excessive presentation of cheese, chocolate and chemicals and a combination that are of opposite palate. This increases calorie- intake but who cares if the ambience sells,” rues Tharun.
The cost of food is now added to the ambience and this will continue until people with no knowledge of food stop promoting such food items. “Influencers promote things that can have adverse impact on other people’s lives. There needs to be an ethical shift when promoting good. Earlier, a chef would take a review on the food served to critics, and there was proper feedback, but now it’s all about marketing,” added Tharun.
While food bloggers promote what they eat and experience, they make sure to follow a healthy lifestyle. Not something a lot of their followers know about, which leads to this crucial reminder: there’s a life beyond social media — and this cannot be reiterated enough!
Sukanya Kaur, a city-based food blogger, laments over the inevitability of being influenced by what we see on social media, even though cooking the food she eats is her norm.
“I eat at home when I’ve eaten out a lot of times this week. If my one meal was outside, I’d make sure I eat my next meal at home,” she says.
The food delivery platforms also have a major role in this, as everything you need is available at the click of a button, and delivered home at your convenience. “We need to make a conscious choice to eat healthy. That’s why I never promote something that I cannot eat,” adds Sukanya. “I make sure to balance the food and I try to cut down the calorie-intake.”
KNOW YOUR INGREDIENTS
While we find a well-set plate beautiful and appealing when served to us in fancy restaurants, do we know what goes on behind a click-worthy dish?
Sabiha Banu S, clinical dietician and nutritionist at the Head and Neck Centre & Hospital, says, “Deep- fried items and cheese-heavy food have compounds that make it look attractive but it is also addictive due to the aroma and flavours. Acrolein from reused and heated oil is a major health risk and contributes to formation of compounds in fried food. These compounds will increase the chance of cancer, allergies and food related illnesses.”
People need to be educated about everything they consume and especially, when it’s not made at home. Plus, the lack of physical activity causes obesity, which adds to the problem.
“Obesity is not a cosmetic problem but a medical issue. Rather than focusing on how obesity makes someone look, the conversation must be about calorie-rich food and wholesome food,” she adds.
Food reviewers and influencers on social media focus more on the variety of cuisine, taste, flavour and ambience but seldom do they recommend healthy food choices. Nutrition never seems to make an appearance in most of the posts.
“Food outlets and cafes are under tremendous pressure to attract reviewers and also the public. So they add colouring agents and additives like potassium bromate, sulphites, monosodium glutamate (ajinomoto) etc. Those who consume these dishes often are at a greater risk of ulcer, gastro-intestinal issues, inflammation, PCOS, diabetes and obesity,” elaborates Vijayashree, chief dietician, MGM Healthcare.
Two major health problems that can be caused by eating out are obesity and hypertension because of high fat and sodium content. “Human beings are governed by our emotions. So, we do get influenced by reviewers who promote eating-out. This emotional eating leads to obesity, depression, low immunity etc. Youngsters are not getting enough vitamin and minerals, as most outlets serve food that’s high on calories and fat. So, today’s younger generation suffer from anaemia and lack of vitamin D and B.
When people get the same forward in different groups on social media, they start believing it’s the truth, says Dietician Dharini Krishnan.
“It’s like watching an advertisement multiple times and believing that to be the truth. And, if anybody has a few thousand followers, there’s peer pressure to start following that person,” she avers.
There are 5 food groups we must eat every day. In two meals, at least 4 food groups should be present.
“There are certain food grains which we consume too much of, but our protein-intake is very less. We need to consume more vegetables, lentils, eggs, chicken or fish,” explains Dharini. “We need about 2 cups of these per day but we consume only half a cup of these individually or in any combination, which is about 25% of the required quantity. Seasonal fruits and dairy in the form of milk and curd of about 400 ml per day is ideal.”
Since traditional food habits are fading quickly in the urban milieu, there’s an urgent need to emphasise the importance of balance of nutrients in these foods.
“For example, cereals like rice and dhal are healthier than mixed rice. The combo of rice and dhal makes it a complete protein, while rice or dhal alone are incomplete,” she points out.