2022 was a year full of food trends–from baked oats to Cloud bread, there were some pretty yummy and delicious recipes to be shared. But it's also a place where foods that can harm your health can go viral.
"Food trends are oftentimes started by people with no medical background or healthcare credentials," says Lauren Manaker, RD, registered dietitian with FitOn. "While these trends may sound promising, they aren't necessarily the best thing for your health."
"Since everyone can be an influencer or have a large following on social media nowadays, this can lead to a lot of misinformation to circulate," adds Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics. "Misinformation and false information about food, nutrition, and health can lead to serious health consequences and can be very dangerous."
And while they may not be downright unhealthy, some food trends in 2022 were deceptively harmful.
"Other food trends I've seen over-simplify health and nutrition or hyper-focus on one specific food or drink for good health," says Jen Scheinman, RD, registered dietitian and Nutrition Affairs Manager for Timeline Nutrition. "On their own they may not be unhealthy, but they tend to play into unhealthy eating behaviors or give false promises of good health. There are so many mixed messages about what to eat for good health and so many of these trends add to that confusion."
Here are 14 of the unhealthiest food trends 2022, ranked in order with #14 being "least unhealthy" and #1 being "most unhealthy." We understand that people may have differing opinions on what is considered to be the most unhealthy, but our dietitians have carefully chosen the items on this list based on their knowledge and expertise.
This trend started on TikTok as a way to keep avocados green after cutting them.
"People on social media claim that keeping cut avocado in water in the fridge can help keep your avocado from browning," explains Manaker. "But doing this can lead to food borne illness like listeria."
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Vegan egg substitutes completely took off in 2022. On TikTok, there are currently over 24.3 billion views on vegan egg videos.
"The great news for vegans or those with egg allergies is that they now have plenty of egg-free substitutes available, but unfortunately, a lot of these vegan egg options are high in sodium and contain a lot of carbohydrates, which a regular egg doesn't contain," says Ehsani. "If you are vegan or have an egg allergy, stick to the classic flax and water egg substitute, because it contains healthy anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats."
The reason this trend is so far back on our list is because yes, some vegan egg varieties are on the unhealthier side, but some aren't as bad. It's about finding the healthiest ones.
Squeezing lemon into black coffee was another food trend in 2022 that blew up because of its promises of weight loss.
"On its own, mixing lemon with coffee probably has little health risk, but as a weight loss tool, there may be some issues. There is no evidence that combining these two things will aid in weight loss, and promoting these types of trends plays into the diet culture mentality of quick wins for weight loss," says Scheinman. "Plus, Americans already rely way too much on caffeine for energy and don't need a reason to be reaching for more."
Instead, Scheinman suggests that for weight loss, a focus on a healthy diet and exercise are the way to go.
Pink Sauce, a sauce made of sunflower seed oil, honey, chili, garlic, and dragon fruit, took TikTok by storm.
"However, this sauce has been linked to inaccurate food labeling and improper storage instructions," says Manaker. "This sauce, and the missteps made, can lead to serious illness for certain people."
Meant to be a 'healthier' version of Coca-Cola, this soda trend involves pouring balsamic vinegar in sparkling water.
"Let's be honest, soda (even diet soda) is not a healthy drink, but that doesn't mean that replacing it with balsamic vinegar and sparkling water is better," says Scheinman. "Plus, balsamic vinegar is meant to be used as a condiment in small amounts. Drinking a lot of it could irritate your throat and stomach. If you enjoy the occasional soda, do so without the guilt of finding a healthier option. If you drink soda regularly, try substituting flavored sparkling water."
"What I Eat in a Day" videos
These videos have been super popular on social media, with influencers and celebrities alike sharing their daily diets. But they can also have negative impacts.
"While most of these videos have good intentions behind them, there is a darker side. Some people may believe that eating the same way as their favorite influencer will get them similar results in terms of weight loss or building muscle strength, or whatever goal they are working on," explains Scheinman. "Everyone has unique nutrition needs, and following someone else's nutrition plan won't address those needs. If you are diligently eating the way these influencers eat and not seeing results, it can lead to feelings of frustration or even worse, contribute to disordered relationships with food and body image."
This drink took off on TikTok this summer, and is made of Grenadine, maraschino cherry, vodka, and lemon lime soda.
"Talk about a hangover in the waiting. Chock-full of sugar, alcohol, and food coloring, this drink is packed with ingredients that don't provide much in the nutrition department," says Manaker.
SPAM Figgy Pudding
SPAM got a seasonal makeover in its Figgy Pudding variety.
"Although canned fruits and veggies pack a nutritional punch, this canned pork with ham product does not. It's high in total fat, and contains loads of sodium," says Ehsani. "Per 2-ounce serving, it contains 600 milligrams of sodium, 15 grams of total fat, with 6 grams coming from saturated fat. High-sodium and high-fat products can increase one's risk for developing high blood pressure and don't support overall heart health."
With 70 million views on TikTok, this soda and milk combination had tons of people trying it.
"Pilk is a mix of whole milk and Pepsi, which means it's high in both fat and sugar. This drink contains whole milk, which has about 4.5 grams of saturated fat per cup," explains Ehsani. "A diet high in saturated fat can increase LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), which in turn can increase one's risk for developing heart disease and stroke. This drink also contains soda, which is high in added sugar, and a diet rich in added sugar is linked to weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease, as well."
Nacho tables took over TikTok as well in 2022, and became the ultimate party food to have on display.
"Covering a huge table with nachos isn't the most nutritious thing you could do. Sure, it looks fun, but this trend likely leads to overconsumption of chips and cheese (both high in fat and salt), ground meat (if using), and potentially other high-fat or salty options," says Ehsani. "It's best to stick to a smaller portion of nachos if deciding to eat them, and consider topping them with heart-healthy options like avocado, veggies, and beans."
Move over charcuterie boards–butter boards have also taken over TikTok in 2022.
"Butter boards are typically made on porous trays, often made of wood. The butter can seep into the wood and stay on the material—potentially being a source of foodborne illness," says Manaker. "The way people eat the butter board can also increase the potential of contamination as well. Finally, if the board is not properly refrigerated, it can end up in the 'danger zone' of temperatures and harbor foodborne illness that way too."
Not only does this increase your risk of illness, but eating butter off of a board like this may cause you to overeat or make it more difficult to control your portions of butter.
Spaghetti Bread Bowls
With over 290 million videos on TikTok, this is another hearty food trend that went viral in 2022.
"While there is certainly no harm in enjoying this once in a while, this is not a meal that anyone should be in the habit of eating. The combination of pasta and bread provides a lot of carbohydrates in one sitting and leaves little room for veggies or protein," says Scheinman. "Meals need to be more balanced to provide you with all the nutrition you need to stay healthy. Plus, the protein and fiber you get from veggies will help keep you feeling full longer than a meal of straight carbs will do."
The dry scooping trend, which involves taking a scoop of pre-workout protein powder without water, also took off on TikTok this year.
"Eating pre-workout powder without water can lead to inhalation, which can pose serious risks," says Manaker. "This practice may also cause digestive issues."
This trend posed so many concerns that TikTok doesn't allow you to search the term anymore. When you type in "dry scooping" into the search bar, you're sent to a page about how to assess challenges and warnings.
This food trend is the worst one of 2022 according to dietitians, and the FDA also advised against it.
"This has to be at the top of my list. Medicine, including NyQuil, should not be cooked and is only safe to use as directed on the bottle," says Scheinman. "Aside from the risk of using NyQuil in an unsafe manner, consuming raw or undercooked chicken puts you at risk of foodborne illnesses like Salmonella."
She adds that under no circumstances should someone try Sleepy Chicken.
"These types of challenges are especially concerning and dangerous for children and teenagers, who are more likely to be swayed by these viral trends," says Scheinman. This is why, similarly to the dry powder trend, TikTok doesn't allow you to search "sleepy chicken" on their site.