Written by: Marjolaine Cadieux
Fruits are “good” and desserts are “bad,” right? So, to provide your kids with a healthy diet, you should choose “good” foods (fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods…) and avoid “bad” foods (candies, desserts, chips…).
What if I told you what you’ve been taught is false?
Keep reading to understand why!
The idea of “good” and “bad” foods isn’t novel. Diets helped popularize this concept. Some foods, according to diets, should be consumed (and are therefore good) while others should be avoided (and are therefore considered to be bad).
But the rules and principles of diets vary: according to some, sugar and everything that contains it is bad, whereas others put the blame on fat. Consequently, there are as many “bad” foods as people. As a parent, your own life experiences dictate the subjective value you assign to certain foods.
If you look more closely at what people take into consideration when classifying foods as “good” or “bad,” you’ll realize that it’s mostly nutrient content (e.g., fat, sugar, salt, fibres, vitamins, minerals…).
But this way of seeing food is too simplistic and doesn’t take into account many other factors that are part of eating, such as pleasure, taste, budget, values, food preferences, availability, family life, etc. In addition, the criteria used to classify foods are often too black and white.
Is it true that fibre consumption can improve gut health and could help reduce your risks—as well as your children’s risks—of developing type 2 diabetes?
Is it a good reason to develop anxiety toward this nutrient, feel bad that you’re not eating or serving it, obsess about the fibre content of foods?
In nutrition, the emphasis has often been put on a specific nutrient, which might have contributed to people perceiving foods as “good” and “bad.” That being said, the information shared is often not nuanced enough.
A diet overly rich in sugar, fat or animal products can certainly impact your family’s health, but this doesn’t justify classifying these foods as bad. The problem doesn’t lie in the food itself, but the excessive consumption of it.
Similarly, although vitamins and minerals are essential for the body to function properly, you won’t cure your illnesses—or your child’s—by eating a fruit every day, for example.
Although it may seem harmless to classify foods, this type of behaviour has a persistent negative impact on yourself—and especially on your children. When you consider a food to be “bad,” you tend to avoid it.
So, instead of eating that food freely, listening to your body and cravings, you forbid yourself from eating it. Over time, you experience more and more frustration which leads to, when given access to that food, eating it quickly, without savouring it and in large quantities, because you tell yourself it’s “now or never.” Then, you feel bad and guilty about having eaten that food, so you give it up again.
It’s no different for children. They quickly learn that some foods are “special” or “forbidden,” and when they have the chance to eat some they often go overboard. This kind of behaviour is problematic because children develop a very unhealthy relationship with food at an early age. If they keep eating that way, they might later in life cope with eating disorders, distress, or an unhealthy relationship with their body and food.
The only solution to classification is to heal your own relationship with food and to be a healthy example for your kids. To overcome this type of behaviour, the most important thing is to see foods as what they are: foods. They’re not morally good or bad. Feeding such thoughts leads to a lot of guilt and compulsive eating, and prevents you from having a healthy relationship with food.
You should therefore aim for food neutrality, which doesn’t exclude the fact that some foods are fattier, sweeter, or saltier than others, but encourages you not to base your dietary decisions on these parameters only.
Some solutions include correcting yourself when you qualify a food, being mindful of the words you use to describe food, as well as educating your children (and yourself!) on foods and their roles in one’s diet (pleasure, energy, etc.).