Avoid Demonising Foods
In the world of nutritional advice and science, there is an unfortunate and counterproductive tendency to demonise individual foods or food groups, and to dogmatically advocate one particular path.
Both of these are, in my eyes, unhealthy ways of relating to food. I have seen these tendencies at the root of many poor food relationships and closed minded view points during my career.
Although I have tried to write all of the principles of a healthy diet as a positive instruction, “do this” instead of a negative “don’t do this”. But I feel that I need to touch on this pitfall.
Demonising foods is counterproductive, unnecessary and ultimately unhealthy, if one takes a holistic view of the word health that encompasses mental health. One single food is not necessarily good or bad. In the context of the whole diet a food can be either net positive, negative or neutral to your health. Even foods that are typically labelled “bad” can be neutral, or occasionally even positive depending on the context. Demonising a specific food runs the risk of eliminating nuance and context from a highly nuanced and contextual arena. Evidently this is foolish.
Demonising specific foods is unnecessary because of the highly variable and broad spectrum of contexts in which a specific food can be consumed. Let’s take sugar, as an example. The overwhelming majority of nutritionists will agree that sugar is generally not nutritious, not necessary for health or performance and, when over consumed, really quite bad for us. But notice that I did not say that all nutritionists will agree that sugar is “bad”. In reality, there are many nutritionists that would be very uncomfortable with this blanket labelling. In truth, there are many contexts in which sugar will be neutral, and even a few in which it will be positive.
If you have a person who does no exercise has a low quality diet, with little to no fruit and veg, full of processed carbs, low in fibre and protein, low in nutrients and high in sugar you have a bad context of sugar consumption. The negative effects of sugar consumption in this individual will be exacerbated and part of a larger problem. The negative impacts on liver, blood sugar, pallet sensitivity, insulin sensitivity, cardiovascular risk, diabetes risk and hunger regulation, will be pronounced. This is not necessarily due to the sugar consumption in isolation, but rather the context of the sugar consumption. The presence of numerous preexisting risk factors (high total carbohydrate consumption, sedentary lifestyle, potential nutrient deficiencies etc.) that contribute to sugar exhibiting its harmful effects, added to the complete absence of protective factors, (exercise, fibre consumption, high nutrient intake etc) Causes a far worse net negative impact than it might in other circumstances.
Contrast that scenario with the following: a lean, muscled and highly active individual who eats a largely nutritious diet. One with plenty of veggies, quality animal proteins and generally low intake of alcohol, sugar and damaged fats. This person stops at their local coffee house and, gasp, orders a salted caramel brownie to accompany his drink (not based on anyone in particular). Shock, scandal, shame, he ate sugar! But in reality this is truly not a cause for concern, shame or guilt. In the overall context of the sugar consumption there will be little to no negative impact of that brownie on his health. Maybe, if he just worked out there could even be a positive impact, such as muscle glycogen replenishment. Point being that in the context of making up a very small percentage of total consumption, which in itself is not excessive but highly nutritious, in a body with good insulin sensitivity and low body fat, there is no reason to demonise the sugar just because it is sugar.
By demonising the food itself, instead of considering the context of its consumption, we run the risk of oversimplification, and triggering feelings of guilt and shame that are completely unnecessary.
In truth there are very few foods that one can outright consider evils. It is my feeling that we should become aware of the nuances that confound how individual foods impact our bodies. We should maintain room for indulgences in a sensible way, and in contexts that do not mean negative impacts on our health and wellbeing.
And yes. I am aware that this principle will mean that on occasion others are broken. But allow me to echo my original point; these are principles designed to act as a guiding philosophy for outstanding physical health in the modern world. These are not dogmatic rule to be adhered to religiously.