Since I was a kid, my dad would inform me of the recent dietary trend, from entire dietary restrictions to minor single food alterations. He would read about it in Men’s Journal and then tell me, “Oh, avocados are very good for you,” or “bread is very bad for you,” with no explanation further than that. It could have been attributed to the most recent journal article on the subject, some undergraduate run correlation study, or it could have just been the musings of a physician who overstepped their authority. I used to think that the reason these adjectives, good and bad, bugged me so much when applied to nutrition because they oversimplified things, but recently I realized that it’s because it massively overcomplicates nutrition.
The reality with nutrition is that it can be mostly simplified to three simple rules: 1. eat more fruits and vegetables, 3. avoid consuming too much of any one food and 3. avoid consuming too many calories. While these targets are easier said than done, they are certainly simpler than keeping up with this weeks superfood. Not only do superfoods not exist, the research changes on them seemingly weekly.
While nutrition is in fact a decently well understood subject, the demands that we place on our foods is entirely unrealistic. We want a food that is satiating, nutritious, delicious, low-calorie, and versatile but hardly any, if any, foods can satisfy all those categories. We crave this single food to satisfy our every need, but the closest thing to that target that I can find is the heavily fortified, Honey Bunches of Oats, or an Ensure shake. We want to categorize foods into a go/no go system because it would truly make it easier for us. Dieting is hard; it is the one seeming addiction that you cannot wholly abandon when you are trying to regulate it. Alcoholism and cigarette smoking on the other hand, not to demote their challenges, are marked by the necessity to completely stop their use.
To take it to an extreme, food and specifically metabolism, is truly what is going to kill nearly every one of us. While we need it every day to survive, free radicals, plaques, and other byproducts of metabolism are inevitably what kill those of us who are lucky to live long enough. In that light, food is a menacing sadistic murderer, not matter how “good for you” the newest popular magazine said it was.
I say this not to worry you, but rather to illustrate that it is immensely hard to categorize anything as complex as health and nutrition into terms like good and bad. I propose that leaving the categorization of food alone is easier. The hallmark of a healthy diet is balance and moderation. Do not obsess over any one food, eat many fruits and vegetables, try not to eat too much. You can eat ice cream; you can eat fried foods; you can eat candy. Gluten, soy, dairy, sugar, salt are all fine. Just try not to eat too much of anything. This task is hard enough, why complicate it with a laundry list of “bad” foods? This isn’t revolutionary in the least bit. Nearly every dietitian will tell you this is the key. They would, of course, go into much more detail to define what constitutes balance and moderation, so I will say my post does not come close to replacing them. But next time a headline about the newest super food or whether eggs are good or bad for you this week, please, just don’t read it. Trust yourself to know that eating twelve eggs every morning probably isn’t great for you, but one or two is probably fine.