When people ask me if a food is good for them, it always reminds me of my lovely brother-in-law, Dan. Dan is my husband’s twin brother and alongside their obvious physical similarities, they share a few personality traits as well. For example, their obsession with dedication to things they love. When Jim or Dan decide on a project or hobby, they throw themselves into it full throttle and nothing else gets in the way. It’s really quite impressive (E.g. the time Jim discovered surfing and we ended up taking 3 years off work to live in the surf mecca of Bali).
So you can imagine the rigor with which Dan threw himself into a fitness plan when he decided to get into shape. This led to the inevitable conversations about diet….And that’s when the confusion (and the phone calls) started.
They all went something like this:
Me: (answering phone): “Hey Dan!”
Dan: “Hey. Are baked potatoes good for me?”
Dan: “I’m in the lunch queue! Should I eat a baked potato or not?!”
Me: “Errrrrr if you want….?!”
Dan: “But are they GOOD for me? – Jane says they are but Dave in production say’s they are really bad for me and will make me fat “
Dan: “Maybe I’ll have it without the cheese”
Dan: “Because I know cheese is bad for you”
Me: “Well, it’s not BAD for you…”
Dan: “So cheese is good for me?”
Me: “No, I mean, yes , I mean…it’s not really as simple as…..”
Dan: “Got to go! We’ll speak about this later! Byeeeeeee”
Me: “Ok” *Sigh*
Me: “Hey Dan!”
Dan: “Hey! Got to be quick, I’m at work. Should I eat bread?….”
And so it continued.
So, have you ever had the ‘good for me, bad for me’ conversation?
Over time, messages about food and nutrition in the public domain have resulted in people categorising foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It’s a vast oversimplification which can be pretty confusing. Take for example, the question ‘is whole grain bread good for me?’ Someone who follows a ‘vegetarian diet is likely to give a different answer to someone who follows a ‘Paleo’ diet. It’s very subjective. The answer you get often depends on who you ask, their dietary preferences and their experiences with food (not the needs of the individual asking the question).
This sort of thing can leave people frozen in the supermarket aisles (or in the case of my brother-in law, work lunch queues) wondering whether their current choices are right or wrong and how purchasing them might attach some sort of social stigma to their health.
How did we come to this? It’s not good for anyone.
Let’s talk this through.
Public nutrition messages (from reputable sources) are important. But they are designed to reach the masses. There will always be an exception to the rule and someone it doesn’t apply to. For example, athletes whose exercising habits mean they may have higher carbohydrate requirements than an average person.
It doesn’t matter what dietary label you put on yourself (meat eating, vegetarian, vegan or ‘diet du jour’), a diet is not healthy, unless it promotes health in the individual. An ideal eating plan FOR YOU is one which provides a healthy balance of carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, minerals and fibre in the context of your age, weight, health status and exercising habits. It shouldn’t be too expensive and it certainly shouldn’t cause you any social anxiety!
The matter is further confused by certain diet’s and their followers, demonizing, not just single foods, but whole food groups (the latest victim of which has been ‘carbs’). Cutting out food groups unnecessarily can lead to nutritional deficits and in the worst cases health problems and so should not be done lightly. I could write a whole post on this subject but Lindsay over at Healthy Haus Frau has summed the dangers of food fear mongering up fabulously. You can read her post here.
Picking single foods or food groups and categorizing them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ particularly to whole populations doesn’t work.
So how do we deal with this?
If you’re faced with a dietary dilemma, remember that we don’t eat in terms of single foods. It’s not just about what you eat at this meal or what you ate at your last meal. It’s about the whole picture.
Instead of asking yourself; is this food good/bad for me?
Ask; How does this fit into my overall diet? Not just today, but this week/month? How does this contribute to my health?
Obviously, if it’s your second or third fizzy drink that day, you aren’t very active and you have eaten way more than you should this week, it’s probably not doing you any good. If you’re physically active, it fits within your energy needs and you’re having a coke as a one off treat after a busy day at work….it’s a different story.
Having things which you enjoy but consider ‘bad’ (unless you have an allergy or a health condition which prevents you from having it) every once in a while is not going to kill you. As boring as it sounds, moderation and balance, in the context of health and disease are key.
So, relax. Eat well. Stay active and allow yourself the occasional treat.
What’s your favorite ‘occasional’ food?!