I was scrolling through Twitter today and came across a post titled “50 Things Nutritionists Never Eat—So You Shouldn’t Either“. I then proceeded to go on a mini Twitter rant.
Let me preface this by saying that I am a Registered Dietitian in Canada. I completed an undergraduate degree and 40 weeks of internships in clinical, community and food service rotations. I have been working as a Dietitian ever since (almost six years). I am required by my professional order to keep up with current nutrition information.
I am really frustrated when I see articles about ‘foods dietitians won’t eat‘ because they are often filled with exaggerations and generalizations.
In four of the top Google results, here are some of the foods listed that we, as a group, supposedly don’t eat:
- Granola bars.
- Fried foods. As in, all fried foods.
- Boxed foods. As in, all boxed foods (like mac & cheese, etc).
- Fast foods. As in, all fast foods.
- Specialty coffee drinks (like going to Starbucks).
- Raw Oysters.
- Reduced-fat peanut butter. Oh, and another one said Regular peanut butter.
- Pretzels (this came up quite a few times… who is eating so many pretzels?)
- Diet sodas.
That list isn’t complete, but it is long enough to make my point.
Cheese: Why aren’t I allowed to eat cheese? They are right that we should be aware of how much cheese we consume as it is a high-calorie and high-fat food, but why would I cut it all out? I’m not allowed to enjoy any cheese? What about parmesan on my pasta or cheddar on my homemade tacos or brie at a nice cocktail? Don’t take away all my cheese!
Fried Foods, Boxed Foods and Fast Foods: So basically, I have to absolutely always make every meal from scratch or go to a nice restaurant. There is nothing practical about this in a real, normal life. People get busy. People need to cut food corners. This is life. Eating these foods every so often and in moderation is going to help my life more than harm it.
Diet sodas and ketchup: I guess if I cut out all fast food, then I’ll never have to make the choice between drinking a sugary coke or a diet coke (like – do I just need to order water for every single drink because that sounds boring). I’ll also never eat a fry again (unless I cut up my own potatoes… unless potatoes made another list) so the ketchup won’t be too sad in the end. Except my delicious (and healthy) homemade burger will be missing its usual moderate amount of processed tomatoes.
Granola bars and juice: These are the only things on the list that kind of make sense being on these lists. People often perceive granola bars and juices to be healthy snack options. Those companies really did well with their marketing because both granola bars and juices are jam-packed with sugar. However, granola bars and juices are a super practical portable snack that won’t get gross in your bag. Sometimes you just gotta buy the best versions of them to save yourself time, energy and money. Particularly if traveling.
Specialty coffee drinks, Nutella, Pretzels, Peanut Butter: None of these should be eaten excessively but why would I want to remove all of these items from my life? If I buy Nutella, I’m not going to pile it on and eat it every single day – but I am still going to eat it. I’m going to get a Starbucks drink every so often. These foods become ‘treats’ but I sure as hell do eat them.
The problem with these lists are that they are misinformed and intended to guilt and shame people. The concept behind some of the food is accurate – we shouldn’t be eating these foods all-day-every-day but it also doesn’t mean that we have to cut them out 100%.
A popular phrase amongst dietitians is “everything in moderation”. Yes, you can have icing. You probably shouldn’t have the whole tub of icing, but you can definitely enjoy a cupcake with icing at a celebration. While ‘moderation’ doesn’t have one particular definition or frequency, I like to consider the definition of a ‘treat’. A ‘treat’ is not a treat if you eat it every day or every week. A ‘treat’ happens occasionally. If you’re eating something high in sugar or high in fat, then it should be a treat.
Food is one of the main sources of pleasure in our lives. Think about the crunchiest green apple you’ve ever had or the meltiest homemade fudge. Think about that mixed salad that refreshes you or that corn dog you get once a year at the summer fair. Think about how we celebrate life events over food: birthday cakes, champagne toasts, reunions at a fancy restaurant and date adventures at new restaurants.
Food is intended to nourish us – we need to make sure that we’re usually eating well and getting our nutrients from a variety of healthy foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, protein and dairy. Food is also what brings people together. What we link memories to. What we base our traditions in. Why should anyone have all of that taken away – even a dietitian!
I think that some of these lists have good intentions – like the ones that inform consumers that maybe juice isn’t so great or maybe fat-free peanut butter actually has more sugar to make up for the taste. Generally, I think that these lists are intended to shame people into thinking they are eating incorrectly. Shame around food is never going to solve any issue.
The key isn’t to cut out all of these listed foods – the key is to typically eat healthily and exercise regularly and then go and enjoy your life.
Please note that if you have been told by a Doctor or Registered Dietitian to cut out certain foods related to a health condition – please listen to them! This rant was intended for those without any medical conditions that put restrictions on certain foods or food groups.
If you ever have a question about a certain food, you should find a Registered Dietitian (NOT a random online article) or a research-based article online and find proper information.