Monday, November 30, 2009

Of course there is such a thing as a bad food.

Gah.

Sitting here in Ottawa airport's Porter lounge and a flight delay has me reading one of the stupidest newspaper nutrition articles I've ever read. It's from the Daily Telegraph but it was cross published in the Citizen's Food section and it's entitled, "Surprising Superfoods".

Read it and along with an acute brain melt you'll learn among other things:

  • Ice cream can give your mood a lift and is therefore a "superfood"
  • Bacon contains some monounsaturated fat and is therefore a "superfood"
  • Apples contain sugar and are therefore a "bad for you actually" food
  • Sushi can contain mercury and is therefore a "bad for you actually" food.
  • Tofu has had some research suggesting it may affect male fertility and is therefore a "bad for you actually" food

  • You'll also learn that the author, Harriet Alexander, knows absolutely nothing about nutrition and is comfortable publishing whatever drek she believes is fit to inspire reading, however inane. I suppose her line of reasoning is that because there are components to foods that may be "good", that means those foods must be "superfoods" and apparently because a food might contain something "bad" that makes it "bad for you actually". Brilliant reasoning and journalism that.

    It's true that in many cases we don't know what makes foods "good". The vast majority of research suggesting something is healthy or unhealthy for us refers back to whole foods, not respective nutrients. That said there are many foods we know are "good" for us. Fish, whole grains, legumes, nuts, healthy oils etc. would all fit into the good food category.

    The notion that, "there's no such thing as a bad food" is a notion popularized by the food industry and sadly adopted by many dietitians and physicians the world over. Of course there is such a thing as a bad food. French fries are a bad food. Sausages are a bad food. Ice cream is a bad food. Hot dogs are a bad food. Lollipops are a bad food. Bacon double cheeseburgers are a bad food. Whipped cream is a bad food. Chocolate bars are a bad food. Deep fried chicken wings are a bad food. Nachos are a bad food. There are thousands upon thousands of bad foods.

    For a definition let's say we call a "bad" food one where the risks of its consumption outweigh the benefits. Yes, there are nutrients in French fries however the calories and trans-fat from the oil as well as the almost the same as spooning pure white table sugar into your mouth glycemic response to potatoes certainly outweigh the benefits of a potato's nutrients' inclusion. And yes, the definition is non-scientific and certainly lends itself to a large grey zone but that doesn't change the fact that absolutely, without a doubt, there are such things as bad foods.

    Does that mean you should never eat a bad food? Of course not. Food is one of the most basic human pleasures. You should simply eat the smallest amount of bad food that you need in order to enjoy your life. But to adopt the Big Food sponsored notion that there's no such thing as a bad food is to admit that you simply don't want to bother taking the time to critically appraise the words coming out of your mouth and that you swallowed one of the most brilliant and pervasive Big Food apologist stances of all time.

    Harriet, if you're reading this, perhaps you should hold your breath because after all, research has shown that oxygen in large quantities is in fact toxic and by your cutting-edge logic that would mean that breathing is perhaps, "bad for you actually".

    (Oh, and about tofu Harriet, did the population of China give you any pause when you were writing about tofu's supposed effects on fertility or are you truly as clueless as your article makes you out to seem?)

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    7 comments:

    1. Anonymous11:19 am

      Deep breaths Yoni...

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    2. Great post! I think this is something everyone needs to hear.

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    3. Anonymous3:07 pm

      I saw this article and immediately knew you would be blogging about it! Excellent points and I love your blog!

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    4. The soy thing really bugs me. There's some researcher whose showing up all over the media saying that soy is destroying our girls because of the hormone/estrogen/whatever stuff in soy. She's a classic example of the new scientific model: vertically integrated scientist.

      She forms the hypotheses, designs the research protocol, does the research, interprets it, publicizes it, does advocacy based on it in the media, and so on. This is an inherently flawed and biased scientific model. She is committed to the results coming out a certain way, and would be publicly embarrassed if there was any counterevidence, so she's hardly an neutral researcher.

      This vertical integration is becoming more common in science, and it's a real problem. Researchers should not be in the media and should never be publicly associated with any particular interpretation of their research. Put it in the paper, make the raw data available, and leave it to others to draw further conclusions.

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    5. Anonymous1:17 pm

      Labelling foods as "bad" puts them in the forbidden category and in typical human fashion, we want what we can't or shouldn't have. I like this quote from Ellyn Satter "Foods that are no longer forbidden became ordinary foods that you can eat in ordinary ways."

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    6. Anonymous10:40 pm

      I DON'T KNOW, BUT I REALLY HATE CALLING FOODS "BAD" ESPECIALLY WITH MY KIDS. I TRY TO TELL THEM THAT CERTAIN FOODS ARE NOT NUTRITIOUS, AND THEREFORE "FUN FOODS" OR TREAT FOODS.
      I THINK IF YOU TEACH YOUR KIDS OR INDEED YOUR PATIENTS OR EVEN YOURSELF THAT CERTAIN FOODS ARE BAD, YOU GET THAT FORBIDDEN NOTION THAT LEADS TO FEELINGS OF DEPRIVATION LEADING CERTAIN PEOPLE TENDING TO CRAVE AND ABUSE THE FORBIDDEN FOOD BY BINGING. I LIKE YOUR LOTS OF YOUR POSTS AND VISIT OFTEN, BUT SOMETIMES YOU ARE SO DANG NEGATIVE AND COME OF SOUNDING VERY EXTREMIST AND INFLEXIBLE.

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    7. Anonymous5:26 am

      And one more thing, COOL WHIP (and Nutri whip, and Dream Whip) , i will concede, is a bad food, but real whipped cream??? Chocolate? I mean I wouldn't waste my calories on an Aero, but a good quality piece of dark chocolate? BAD? Come on!!!!!
      (please excuse spelling of previous comment, it was late:) )

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