Whether you contribute to the healthy living community or just peruse your blog feed from time to time, chances are you’ve heard—and formulated your own—arguments regarding so-called “good” and “bad” foods.
Admittedly, I’m guilty of (silently) passing judgment on my coworkers who eat frozen, microwaveable meals every day at work while I munch on carrots and hummus or heat up my home-cooked leftovers.
At the grocery, I often cringe when I see parents of young children loading up their shopping carts with Little Debbie cakes, multiple flavors of soda, and boxed meals full of empty calories.
But I have to ask myself—is this view healthy?
I’m a big fan of the Michael Pollan philosophy: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Basically, this means I try to consume foods that are close to their natural state—i.e., foods that are minimally processed.
Despite the different diets and food philosophies we hear about daily, most of us can agree that a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats (or other proteins if you’re vegetarian or vegan), legumes, and healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, nuts, etc.) is much better than a diet heavy on simple carbohydrates, white flour, sugar, trans fat, and any number of artificial sweeteners, preservatives, or food colorings.
But is it fair—and healthy—to demonize foods that fall into this latter category?
I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t love a grilled cheese with, not one, but two, slices of Kraft American cheese; or a handful of Cadbury mini eggs at Easter; or an ice-cold Barq’s root beer on a warm day; or almost a half-can of Pringles when overwhelmed by a snack attack. (And let us not forget chocolate cake!)
While I don’t consume these foods daily and eat them in moderation with more nutritious and natural foods, I can’t imagine life completely devoid of them. Nor could I imagine life completely empty of more healthful snacks and desserts (oatmeal raisin cookie bites, homemade guacamole, or my raw, vegan banoffee pie bites, for example).
My guess is many of you are like me. You try both to eat with your intuition and to follow the “80-20 rule” (80 percent “good” and 20 percent “bad”) or some variation of it.
You realize natural, whole foods make you feel, think, and look better, but you understand the importance of the occasional indulgence or treat. Too many rules and restrictions are a recipe for misery (eating disorders come to mind), so you do your best with what your grocery budget allows.
Whenever I ponder our food industry and its influence on our health, environment, and economy, I’m left with more questions rather than answers.
I know it makes me angry that huge amounts of our tax dollars end up supporting the processed foods industry by way of farm subsidies.
It frustrates me to read labels claiming to be “all natural” or contain “natural flavors,” both of which are almost certainly false advertising.
It saddens me that so many hard-working families live in food deserts where fresh vegetables are rarely available—or that their government assistance goes further buying Hamburger Helper instead of hormone-free chicken breasts and broccoli.
It also frustrates me that we’re literally becoming addicted to processed foods because of the science involved in making them.
And let’s not forget the resulting costs of healthcare—or the GMO debate—or the factory farming horrors—or the pollution resulting from overuse of pesticides and fossil fuels to transport our food miles from its origin so that we can have tomatoes (or those rock-hard, tasteless, red orbs labeled as tomatoes) and blueberries year-round.
Our food system itself is undeniably something that needs work, but to label foods as “good” and “bad” in an effort to condemn the habits of others—or to restrict one’s own diet—is unhealthy and damaging. We should be mindful of what we put in our bodies, but we shouldn’t let our diets and food choices rule our lives.
What are your thoughts?
Do you avoid labeling foods as “good” or “bad” or follow any specific guidelines?