1 October 2010

Busting Food Myths with Nicole Senior

Myth: There are bad foods that should not be eaten at all

Nicole Senior

There are no bad foods. It’s all about how often you eat them and whether you get enough of the good foods
The idea that ‘there are no such things as bad foods, only bad diets’ was once embraced by dietitians, nutritionists and the public alike, but more recently has lost its groove. I’d like to see the sentiment get its groove back. The language and rhetoric around food has taken on a good vs bad dichotomy that I don’t think is healthy. Viewing some foods as inherently bad does not reflect good science or good sense, and is highly subjective. It also ignores the richness and diversity of eating experiences that enrich our lives as well as the powerful emotional connections we have with food. Consider the Christmas feast, or the breaking of the Ramadan fast, or even a slice of birthday cake. Do we really want to live in a world without any cake? Is life really worth living without any chocolate? Could we really dispense with the convenience of fast food in our busy lives?

One guy who has really ‘walked the walk’ about all foods having a place is Kansas State University Professor Mark Haub. In the tradition of Morgan Spurlock in Supersize me, Haub went on a 30-day junk food diet of sweetened breakfast cereal, hot dogs, cake, muffins and cookies. He conceded to a serve of vegetables and some milk at dinner to cover his needs for protein and vitamins. His saving grace– and the stark difference between his and Spurlock’s experience – was he limited his energy intake to 1800 calories (7560kJ) a day. Spurlock deliberately overate. Haub’s dietary experiment ended on September 25. He actually lost weight. The message in this story is not to promote an all-junk-food-diet but to prove a point; it’s how much food you eat that matters for weight control. There is no need to banish these ‘fun’ foods, but simply enjoy them in appropriate amounts.

I think the fall from grace of ‘there’s no such things as bad foods, only bad diets’ started when the food industry started using it as a catch-cry to justify their production of less healthy ‘sometimes’ foods. In an obesity epidemic of multiple causes, there is a strong urge to lay the blame somewhere and fun foods are an easy target.

While I believe wholeheartedly that ‘sometimes foods’ have a place in a healthy diet, I do think our food supply is ‘top heavy’ in less-healthy foods at the top of the healthy eating pyramid. However, changing this situation is not helped by casting stones of food hatred from afar. Real change is achieved by engagement, understanding and collaboration. After all, the food industry is just giving us what we want. Unfortunately we like to eat fat, salt and sugar and we don’t want to pay the true cost of food. So we got cheap, less healthy food and both our health and the planet are paying a very high price. Our food supply is up to US as well as THEM.

The solution to a healthier food supply and healthier people is not demonising food – after all it’s just food. Foods are like friends, some are great friends to see often and others are friends we see on occasion. They all have their place and are all good to have. A bit of food diplomacy may be just the thing we need to work towards a new world food order where the great foods have a greater say, and the occasional foods take a back seat.

Nicole Senior MSc (Nut&Diet) BSc (Nut) is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist and author of Eat to Beat Cholesterol and Heart Food . Check out her website HERE.


Anonymous said...

Are you then saying it's OK to eat trans fats? How much and how often?

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I do agree for the most part, but what about foods that are really just chemicals and 'fillers' and probably do more harm than good? Surely even in the realm of "fun foods" there are certain products that are better than others, so it's possible to choose a "healthier fun food" so to speak? For example, choosing grainwaves rather than Cheezels would surely be a better choice, if not just slightly?

Often I think it's a case of too much choice, convenience and laziness...People 20 years ago survived quite fine, and "indulged" in "fun foods" but more homemade things like apple pie, rice pudding, anzac biscuits etc- obviously these things aren't exactly "healthy" but surely they are "healthier options" than buying say, a frozen apple pie and refrigerated custard from the shops, stuffed with emulsifers, preservaties, gums, artifical colours, flavours, extra sugar, fat and salt and a whole range of other things...

Obviously, fun foods aren't essential for physical health but clearly they play an important role in social and mental wellbeing e.g. celebrating a birthday or treating yourself on a special occassion. But I do think there are healthier options within the fun foods category and it is even better if you make them yourself. Even then though, i think people have to be careful to remember that homemade does not equal healthy (Case in point- MasterChef!! Just because you puit "real butter" and "fresh cream" and "raw sugar" into something, it doesn't make that product an "everyday, multiple times a day" option!)
But anyway, I do think we need to remember that the food and beverage industry is an industry, comprised of businesses, with the aim to make a profit, and to maximise that profit. We already know that flavours can be created with fat, sugar and chemicals that tase very nice and very more-ish and while obviously these aren't "addictive" in the drug sense of the word; these tastes and mouthfeels and flavours can become the mainstays in people's diet, moving away from the natural tastes of whole grains, fruits, veggies, unsweetened dairy etc, which then taste 'bland' in comparison (not going into the organic vs non organic produce debate now :P); so people move further and further away from what "real food" is, making it harder to "wean them" back onto real food'.
*Sigh* such a complex topic, sorry for rambling and thankyou for letting me air my thoughts-much appreciated! (And would love feedback :))

Anonymous said...

^Bump :)