Why I’m Tired Of “Foods You Should Never Eat!” Lists

Why I'm Tired of "Foods You Should Never Eat" Lists by Real Mom NutritionI am so over seeing this headline: “Foods You Should Never Eat!”

There’s a good reason I see it so much. It’s effective. It’s just sensational enough to draw you in, just scary enough to make you flip to the page or click through to the article with a single worry: Oh no, could I be eating one of those foods????

Yes, you probably are. Because here’s just a small sampling of what a Google search of the phrase “foods you should never eat” turns up:

  • Corn
  • Bread
  • Vegetable oil
  • Gluten
  • Bacon
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Non-organic produce
  • Cereal
  • Ice cream
  • Alcohol
  • “Anything cooked in a microwave”

These lists were so long, the range of foods so broad, it boggles the mind. Though you don’t even have to actually ingest these foods to suffer disastrous health consequences if an article titled “Foods You Should Never Attempt To Eat” is to be believed. And apparently there’s also a subset of particularly hazardous foods that are reserved for a “Foods to Never Ever Eat” category.

And the nutrition misinformation? Enough to make my toes curl.

According to these lists, white rice should be avoided because “your body doesn’t know how to process it” (yes it does; it’s called digestion). White pasta “contains little to no nutrients” (aside from carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals, all of which are nutrients), and you shouldn’t drink a soda “if you don’t want diabetes” (the leap this statement makes is about a mile long).

Why I'm Tired of "Foods You Should Never Eat" Lists by Real Mom NutritionTo abide by these lists, you must forever pass up mint chocolate chip in favor of blending “berries, almond milk, and stevia” because, sadly, ice cream tops the list of “Summer Foods You Should Never Eat”. You must tote around your own shaker of black lava salt to restaurants because the iodine in table salt is deadly. And forget about eating mayo or drinking tap water ever again. You’re done.

My beef with these lists: That word “never”. Really? NEVER? Yes, there are alternatives to some of these foods that offer more health benefits. Yes, I support buying organic when available and feasible financially. Yes, I advise people to drink water over soda, choose whole grain bread over white, and brown rice over white. But at the end of the day, it’s about what you eat most of the time. It’s about your overall eating habits, not a single food or a single meal.

But the problem with these lists is that instead of informing people, they simply spread fear. A soda will not give you diabetes. White bread is not toxic. Fear of food is not healthy. (Read: Fear & Loathing on Facebook)

So the next time you see a “Foods You Should Never Eat!” list, please take it with a grain of salt.

Just not table salt. That stuff will kill you!

Photos by my fabulous intern Hannah Bills.

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Comments

  1. Cammie says

    I simply love your approachable and realistic approach to food, nutrition and feeding a family. Keep it up, I look forward to your posts among all the fear and propaganda out there!

  2. says

    Love the tongue-in-cheek ending 🙂 As an RD, I feel the same way; the amount of guilt showered on people daily takes all the joy out of eating. My biggest pet peeve is the claim that the sugar in fruit is too high and we shouldn’t be eating it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • says

      Thanks Beth! That’s a pet peeve of mine too, like when I hear “Oh bananas and oranges are too high in sugar you shouldn’t eat those!” Argh! 🙂

  3. says

    Super post! It made me laugh and also kinda sad at the same time- when did something as basic as eating become so complicated. With these kinds of restrictions & rules, it’s no wonder that the idea of ‘healthy eating’ still gets a bad rep! Like you, I prefer to look at my diet from a macro sense and if you ask me, that works just fine!

    • says

      I agree–someone pointed out that they don’t like “foods you should eat” lists either, that we’re obsessed with food. I would add that there’s also an obsession with eating “perfectly”, which i don’t think exists! Thanks for your comment.

  4. says

    YES!!!!!

    Thank you for this post–someone had to say it. These lists only spread fear and contribute to poor nutrition choices, IMHO. It’s time to see them go!

  5. allison says

    Because Iodine was only put in food to keep you from getting goiters – any now everyone wants one of those, right?

    • says

      Allison–exactly. Food fortification–like iodine in salt and folic acid in grain products–serves a public health purpose. Sometimes people are quick to deem things “toxic” and “unnatural” without considering why it was put there. Thanks for your comment!

  6. Hanna says

    YES! Thank you for this post! While there are recent scientific developments that suggest that the safe amounts of some toxins are way lower than our current regulations allow, the solution isn’t to make people too scared to eat. I do believe that we need better science (both mechanistic explanations and human studies) and better regulations (based on the precautionary principle). That said, making up science that sounds believable and science-y but has no evidence base, then using it to scare people out of ever having a (guiltless) bite of ice cream….does NOT help people either to have a healthy relationship to food or to engender the regulatory and industry changes we need to create a healthier food system.

    I was too curious and had to click on “9 foods you should never attempt to eat.” Table salt?! Sheesh. (BTW, I wrote about salt this week too– http://www.cafe.com/livelihood/it-turns-out-salt-might-not-be-so-bad-for-you-after-all?u=fb7881a1-4483-427b-aa47-ff2539a574ad)

    • says

      Thanks Hanna! There is definitely a lot of “science-y” talk in these lists that’s used to scare people but it’s important to take a look at the actual science, as you say. Nice article on salt! I wrote a similar one recently too and with the same conclusion–that people shouldn’t be afraid of using salt to season healthy foods like veggies but should reduce sodium from the processed foods that we should be eating less of anyway (for many reasons in addition to salt too!). Thanks so much for your comment.

  7. says

    Hi Sally – as usual, I’m 100% in agreement with your words. I have been thinking these same thoughts recently, as I noticed the sheer number of articles like this coming forward. You inspired me to write a sort-of follow up post. It’s going live this afternoon, with a couple of trackbacks to you. Will tag you on Facebook as well. ~Julia

  8. Stephanie Eagan says

    You hit upon my #1 frustration with these lists… They offer little substantive science or reasoning, and the alternatives they give are hard to find, expensive, and often not palatable. Great post! Makes me know I can trust the information you give. 🙂

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