Good and Bad Foods: Why Morally Categorizing Food Is Not a Good Idea | nourish with science
If something abounds at this time, it is the list of foods to lose five kilos, to improve cholesterol, to lose belly, to erase the excesses of Christmas or, directly, to starve and call it “detox”. We list foods that we do eat, to which we stoically submit to modify our body or improve our health. At this point I think it is not necessary to say that they do not work, they are pretentious lists and with little scientific evidence, but it is still difficult for us to be aware that health is not only food. In fact, the WHO defines health as “a person’s complete state of physical and social well-being”, and not just the absence of disease.
Nutrition is a relatively new science and the training that most dietitians and dietician-nutritionists have received is based on weight loss, restrictions and a model pesocentric. We leave the module or course with little clinical nutrition, which is almost exclusively aimed at weight loss, with no associated or very basic pathology, and few resources to adapt to the needs of patients. I myself have changed a lot since I graduated, it has nothing to do with how I started working and how I work now. In my case, I realized that what was offered was archaic and outdated, that only focused on losing weight. The patient had a passive role based on obedience to my instructions, without really being the protagonist of his health.
This way of working only creates an unequal relationship between patient and nutritionist, in which I, in my role as a health worker, know more about his hunger, his tastes or his habits than he himself. And, on the other hand, the patient puts all the responsibility and trust in me, and sometimes he even goes to the consultation with fear or with the idea that he will tell them off in order to get his act together. You act as a retaining wall, instead of a guiding lighthouse.
Morally categorizing food is a common practice that gives us guidelines on what is recommended to eat and what is not. It is a way of positioning ourselves at the extremes, of going from white to black, without even tiptoeing through the greys. Traditionally, and unfortunately it is still current, it has been a way of informing health personnel, and non-health personnel (that intrusion is now brutal on social networks), and of generating control over patients or users: if you choose these foods you do well and you are on the road to health, but if you choose these others you will get sick, you do not take care of yourself and you do not have willpower.
In this dichotomy it is very easy to “teach” nutrition to patients or to disseminate it. It is either “yes” or “no”, there are no half measures, there are no personal circumstances, nor different stages of development, age, sex, or diseases. I give you a list of allowed foods, another for free consumption and that’s what you eat, and if you can’t continue it’s because you don’t try too hard or because you don’t take responsibility for yourself.
This way of “informing” implies the promise that if you work hard enough you can get the body you want, with a healthy diet and sports you can be Beyoncé. And look, no, those promises of an ideal body only lead to failure, to frustration.
And to all this, are there good foods and bad foods? I think we all know that there are foods that are more nutritious than others, that are richer in nutrients, and for this reason regular consumption is recommended, while there are others of less nutritional quality and, therefore, their consumption is sporadic. Also, if we classify foods like this, when we consume one of the “bad” ones we are going to feel weak or guilty, when in a healthy and flexible diet there is room for everything, depending on quantities, frequencies and the rest of the diet.
No food, however healthy it may be, will substantially improve our health, since health is a set of factors that not only have to do with food. For the same reason, a not so nutritious food is not going to make our health worse. Everything is much more complex, it requires flexibility and balance.
It is very curious that there are foods that are considered better never to eat, but healthy foods are also full of myths and eating rules. For example: the banana is very fattening, better only take half; eggs produce cholesterol; pasta, rice and carbohydrates in general should not be eaten at night; fruit after six in the evening is not recommended; water should not be drunk at meals, only before or after them; olives are very fattening, milk is essential for the bones and at the same time it is not recommended after lactation, since we are the only omnivores who drink it after this period… and I could go on like this with thousands of examples, all myths, that they are repeated and in the end they seem an axiom.
Therefore, rather than focusing on foods that do and foods that do not, we should assess our diet as a whole, in addition to the quality of sleep, physical activity and stress level, and stop living in black and white, that life and nutrition are in technicolor.
NUTRITION WITH SCIENCE It is a section on nutrition based on scientific evidence and the knowledge contrasted by specialists. Eating is much more than a pleasure and a necessity: diet and eating habits are right now the public health factor that can most help us prevent numerous diseases, from many types of cancer to diabetes. A team of dieticians-nutritionists will help us to better understand the importance of food and to demolish, thanks to science, the myths that lead us to eat badly.
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