Is This Good For Me?


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?”

Me: “What?”

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 “

Me: “Well…..”

Dan: “Maybe I’ll have it without the cheese”

Me: “OK?”

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*

Day 2.

Phone rings.

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?!



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23 Responses

  1. Jodie Balmer
    October 11, 2013 at 6:31 am

    Fab blog! Pizza is my naughty food but it tastes so good that I can’t cut it out and I never put on any weight after eating any, in fact, if anything I work even harder in the gym the next morning.

    • helen
      October 11, 2013 at 1:39 pm

      I could never give up pizza either Jodie! Even if it means more time in the gym!! :)

  2. Carole
    October 11, 2013 at 9:03 am

    Talking sense, love it!! But ‘maize pequeno frito crujiente’ -is it good for me?? No, I’ve no idea what it is either but it tastes awesome!!! Favourite occasional food changes on a daily basis but tends to be chocolate based/covered/filled :) xx

    • helen
      October 11, 2013 at 1:39 pm

      Ha ha! As long as it tastes good Carole! ;)

  3. Kirsty
    October 11, 2013 at 9:17 am

    Great stuff Helen! Life is not only too short, but it’s also for living! There’s got to be a balance between feeding the soul and the stomach!
    My favourite occasional treat…? Crisps and chocolate.

    • helen
      October 11, 2013 at 1:38 pm

      Thanks Kirsty! I actually treated myself to both those things last night! First time in AGES! :)

  4. Lora
    October 11, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    Love this blog Helen, really enjoy reading them and your website is fantastic. People get too hung up on whether they should allow themselves to eat something or not. Its a battle of wills to deny yourself of a treat which only makes you want it more!! My favourite treats are ‘pies’ not the usual, bit i love pastry!! Realised i’d gone too far when i had eaten a pie every day from friday to wed, since then its been soups and salads to balance it out :) haha xx

    • helen
      October 12, 2013 at 12:36 am

      Haha!! A proper Northern girl loves her pies Lora! Thank you for your kind comments, they mean a lot. xo

  5. Lauren
    October 14, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Loved this, Helen! It’s the worst when someone asks me this when I’m out to dinner with a group of people, just because they’re now I’m an RD. I always say it’s about finding what foods work best for your body. Onions are a fantastic food, but they make me so bloated that I don’t eat them often. It’s all very individual!

    • helen
      October 16, 2013 at 12:43 am

      I know this feeling Lauren! Thank you for your support :) It’s really appreciated!

  6. Maureen Morgan
    October 16, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    So I can eat chocolate!!!!!! Love it — and your blog Helen x

  7. Noelle at Noelle's Notebook
    October 17, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    YES! I love this post… and can totally relate. I am by no means an expert, but I am known in my office as the person who eats “way too healthy,” and you should hear some of the things people say/ask me. Ridiculous. I love the way you sum it up. People need to understand that it’s about balance…. and my “occasional” food? I’d have to say either cheeseburgers or nachos… must be the cheese. haha!

    • helen
      October 20, 2013 at 1:43 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it Noelle! Thanks for reading :)

  8. Caitlin
    October 18, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    i used to place foods in good for me or bad for me categories and it led to WAY too much obsession, control, and black/white thinking. i mean, cheese would not have been invented if it didn’t have SOME benefit, right? this is a great post. i can’t stand it when people who know i “eat healthy” ask me if things are good or bad for them. firstly, there’s no black and white. secondly, i can’t really answer that question even if there WAS black and white because maybe for me pizza is fine, but what if the person asking me is really overweight and would benefit from not eating pizza that night? what if the person asking me had been eating pizza every day that week already and would benefit from doing some green? what if that person hadn’t eaten pizza in a year and just wanted a treat? sooo many what if’s, and that’s why it’s not a good question to ask.

  9. Megan (The Lyons' Share)
    November 04, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    I found this post a bit late, but I love the thoughts and wanted to thank you! I could never give up ice cream – it’s an occasional food, but those occasions are awesome!

    • helen
      November 04, 2013 at 11:31 pm

      No worries Megan! Glad you enjoyed it! :)

  10. Jess
    August 07, 2014 at 2:18 am

    Love this Helen :) Wine is my favourite treat, although recently it’s become a bit more than occasional, ah well it’s Summer! xxx

  11. Paul Fairbairn
    May 30, 2015 at 8:59 am

    Fantastic article really enjoyed reading it. Demonisation of foods, or worse nutrients in foods, is all too common these days. We eat whole foods not individual nutrients, and obsessive “clean” eating can take all the fun out of food as an experience.

  12. Casuarina Forsyth
    August 12, 2015 at 2:02 am

    What a fantastic post, I couldn’t agree more! Almond croissants are a pleasure food for me, and I definitely stop and savor them when I eat them :)

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