Food for Thought

All food is good
For a whole range of reasons we tend to classify foods as being ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Dietitian Glenn Cardwell suggests we change our way of thinking about food and drop the guilt trip. It’s about the ratio not the food he says in his new book, Getting Kids to Eat Well. Here’s an extract.

Glenn Cardwell

“How can all food be good for you? It doesn’t make sense and let’s face it, trustworthy friends, family and the media constantly remind us that there are bad foods that will harm us and our children. Ask yourself this, however: ‘If I eat potato chips or French fries once a month will it shorten my life or increase my chance of heart disease or getting fat?’ I suspect most of you will say ‘No’. What if you ate the same food five days a week? Your answer will probably be ‘Yes’.

We have been conditioned to think that food is either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. If I ask you to name a few good foods you are likely to list: fruit and vegetables, wholegrain cereals and bread, lean meat, legumes, reduced fat milk or soy drink, and with a little more thought you might include nuts (unsalted, of course), peanut butter, rice and pasta and some of your famous home-made custard or pesto.

If I ask you to name the bad foods, your list might seem to be endless: fast foods, deep fried foods, soft drinks, confectionery, anything with caffeine, crisps, snack foods, coloured bits in breakfast cereals, candy floss, chocolate biscuits, hundreds and thousands … Be honest with yourself – aren’t some of those ‘bad’ foods also your favourite foods? Think about hot pizza on a cold Sunday evening when you couldn’t be bothered cooking, or chocolate melting over your tongue, or a cappuccino and croissants from that great café down the road overlooking the park?


How do you feel when you eat these foods? Guilty? Worried that the food is going to laugh maniacally, bypass your digestive system and leap onto your bottom to remain forever? It is common to feel ‘bad’ after eating ‘bad’ food.

How do you feel when you eat ‘good’ food? Pleased with yourself? Happy you have control over your food and your life? A glow from nourishing your body well?

How you classify food will determine how you feel after eating that food. Classifying food as ‘bad’ just means you feel bad after eating it. Calling it ‘bad’ has given that food a huge amount of power, a power it hardly deserves. Nature is designed such that you should feel grateful and happy after every repast. Feeling guilty or uncomfortable after eating is neither natural nor healthy.

Try spinning it all around. Start labelling a ‘bad’ food as a ‘good’ food. Now, the ‘bad’ foods will lose their emotional power. It can no longer make you feel bad or guilty. When you call a food ‘good’ instead of ‘bad’, the power actually returns to you. Here’s the tricky bit: it is now up to you to eat all foods in amounts that are good for your health and well-being.

Like you, I enjoy eating good quality food and feel much better for it. Indeed, one reason I like to make 90% of my food very nutritious is so I have some flexibility with the other 10% to enjoy, without guilt, some pizza, black jelly beans or corn chips. They may be high in saturated fat, sugar or salt, but as they comprise only 10% of the diet they have little chance to cause harm. This 90:10 mix works for me. You can even eat a nutritious diet based on a 80:20 mix, which is the common blend that most people can enjoy. If you go to a 70:30 mix then you will likely be getting too much fat, sugar and salt in your diet.

As a counter-point, I don’t think there is much benefit in trying to get a 100:0 ratio as you are likely to become food obsessive, striving to reach something called the ‘perfect’ diet. Nothing in life is perfect. Enjoying a treat is absolutely normal and makes life interesting. There is not a scrap of evidence that the occasional chocolate, bowl of premium ice cream or croissant ever led to anyone’s early demise.”

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