Are there “good” or “bad” foods?

A controversial topic among nutrition professionals is whether, for public health purposes, some foods should be labeled “good” or “bad,” or “better” or “worse” for you. Foods that might be labeled bad are soda, pizza, donuts, etc. People who argue that no foods are good or bad say that any food, in moderation, can be part of a healthy diet.

That may very well be true, but that doesn’t mean we should encourage people to consume more soft drinks and fried potatoes when they won’t do so in moderation. Highly refined food products that are high in fat, salt, and sugar by their very nature discourage moderation. I’m no saint in this regard–those of you who frequent my blog know that I binge on indulgent food from time to time; however, I see these occasions as exceptions to my healthy diet, not part of it.

I might add that the people who say that any food can be part of a healthy diet are working for the industry either directly or indirectly. Industry representatives are known for saying that as long as you balance calories you can eat anything. (Read this post of mine to remind you why that’s false.) Those who indirectly represent the industry are certain government officials and agencies and associations of health professionals (such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) whose activities are effectively and often explicitly sponsored by major food companies. Of course Coca-Cola is going to say there are no good or bad foods, and if the organization of nutritionists wants to continue to be sponsored by Coca-Cola, they are going to say that too.

Here’s my view on this–public health professionals should absolutely encourage consumption of certain foods (whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables) and discourage consumption of others (soft drinks, fast food pizza, most highly processed snack foods/desserts). The jury is obviously still out on certain foods, but I’d put money on soda being bad for you. I’m not saying you never drink a soda without completely risking your health (although I personally feel that there are other sweets that are a lot more satisfying that are made of real food), but there is no reason to shove soda ads down children’s throats when statistics show that kids today already drink way more soda than is acceptably risky.

Eating a bad food doesn’t make you bad; I’m not trying to encourage social stigma against people who eat unhealthy foods, I’m just trying to shatter this illusion that the food industry is trying to create. We as a country, and increasingly, as a planet, have a problem: we’re eating too much of the wrong foods and too little of the right ones. The people responsible for telling us how to eat should not have their hands tied about this!


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