Stop calling certain foods “bad.” Yes, there are certain foods that are less nutritious, but labeling foods as “bad” or “good” can be psychologically damaging — and oftentimes, it’s simply inaccurate.
Registered dietitian Lisa Eberly agrees. In fact, there’s no food group in particular that she’d shy away from (unless you count trans fats as a food group, but alas, they are not). “The idea of calling any food ‘bad’ vilifies it, making it sound like it’s evil and going to kill you,” she told POPSUGAR. “There are foods that are unhealthier than others or that have fewer nutrients or are more calorically dense (more calories per gram of food), but that just means they should be consumed less often.”
The exception to this rule is allergies or negative physical reactions. “If you have a specific reaction to certain foods, then sure, that is a ‘bad’ food for you, but otherwise there are just ‘unhealthy’ foods.”
There’s no one group of food Lisa shies away from — she lives a life of balance and recommends the same to her clients. “I am a big believer in moderation and living life to the fullest,” she said, “so I don’t completely restrict foods 100 percent of the time.”
She also warned that “vilifying an entire food group (like protein, carbs, fat) will lead to nutritional deficiencies and is never recommended by accredited nutrition professionals.” And not only will you physically suffer, but you can create a damaging mental cycle with food that can be difficult to break.
“As a dietitian, I have clients who talk to me daily about their relationships with food, which includes the effects of not only ‘vilifying’ foods, but reading about vilified foods,” she said. “People have been driven to starvation, depression, anxiety, debt, and eating disorders because of what media tells us about foods, and it’s clear why: every day there’s a new ‘evil’ food to cut out, and what are we left with? Kale and avocado toast? What happens when those become vilified because kale isn’t organic enough and the avocado toast isn’t locally sourced?”
Lisa urges you to stop being afraid of food groups. “People are spending too much time being scared of their food or being shamed for their food to enjoy eating it,” she said. “Everyone wants to blame a food for their problems, but this attack on a new food every week leads to obsession and guilt and countless other damaging psychological effects.”
Need more convincing that it’s OK to just eat? Let’s look at the most commonly targeted food groups: fat, sugar, and carbohydrates. Lisa had lots to say about each group, starting with fats. Spoiler: it’s not bad for you. Fat doesn’t make you fat.
The Skinny on Fat
“Fat comes in countless forms and chemical structures that all have varying impacts on your health,” she said. “For instance, a naturally occurring omega-3 fat molecule in a piece of wild salmon is a completely different thing than a fat molecule in a trans fat (trans fats are created in a lab or factory and were invented to replace whale blubber in street lamps so they’d burn longer. Read: they were not meant for human consumption).”
But what about saturated fat? That tends to get a bad rap, too. Lisa will still eat it . . . in moderation. And with specific guardrails. “Saturated fat from a grass-fed cow is very different than that from a non-grass-fed cow, because it contains beneficial fatty acids thanks to the fiber in the grass and the cow’s four-chambered stomach, such as butyric acid.” That was a lot of science, but stay with us — the summary is that grass-fed dairy products (like butter and milk) are more nutritious than the alternative.
“Unsaturated fats have similar differences,” she said, “And a cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil is a different beast than canola oil, thanks to EVOO’s anti-inflammatory properties.” So not all fats are created equal, meaning you can’t just say “fat is bad for you.” You have to think more critically and identify the source.
One consideration is weight loss — if you’re trying to lose weight, you can (and should) still eat fat, but less of it. “Overall, fat is more calorically dense than all other food groups, so if calories are your target, it’s still best to reduce fat. However, fat provides valuable long-term energy for the body and many fatty acids are necessary to consume because we can’t make them on our own (hence the term ‘essential’ fatty acids).”
Fats to keep eating: omega-3 fats, grass-fed saturated fat, and certain unsaturated fats
Fats to avoid: trans fats, saturated fat from non-grass-fed cows, and pro-inflammatory vegetable oils
The Truth About Sugar
“Sugar is found in highly processed foods like candy but is also naturally occurring in fruit,” Lisa said. “The sugar in fruit is still sugar, but when eaten with the fiber in the fruit, it is a healthier option.” Hence: you need to eat the whole fruit, not just juice. She was very adamant about this. “Juicing is not as healthy as eating the fruit itself — you’re just drinking the sugar without the fiber.”
So again, like fat, Lisa eats sugar and says that you can, too. “Sugar from processed food or added sugars really should be avoided and consumed only in moderation, but again, is not evil or ‘bad’ . . . it’s just not as nutritious.”
To Carb or Not to Carb?
Lisa has a very pro-carb stance and has science to back it up. “Carbs have been vilified a lot recently, which makes no sense, because carbs are awesome.”
But again, it’s about the right kind of carbs — you can’t paint this food group with a broad brush. “Simple white carbs that have been processed are essentially sugar, so moderation is key,” she said. “They’re not evil, but they also don’t provide much value in terms of fullness or nutrients.”
A more nutritive option? “Complex carbs like whole grains are so good for you and should be consumed daily, at every meal,” she said. “These complex carbs provide an immense amount of soluble fiber to manage weight, keep you full, and keep you regular. They provide a boatload of amazing nutrients, and avoiding them completely puts you at risk for developing nutrient deficiencies.”
Should You Eliminate Food Groups?
Unless you’re suffering from food allergies, probably not. “Elimination diets can be an amazing tool if you’re suffering from unexplained symptoms of food allergies or intolerances like stomachaches, headaches, or extreme fatigue,” she said. It’s imperative that “you are doing it with the guidance and support of a registered dietitian. . . . Elimination diets are most effective when being monitored by a professional, and they can be harmful when you’re doing it on your own.”
No allergies? No intolerances? “Ask yourself why you’re eliminating food. Experimentation? Sure, could be fun. To lose weight or find a food to blame for your weight? You may be disappointed.”
If the latter is resonating with you, Lisa has a challenge that both she and her clients love: “Pick one night this week to go to a delicious, amazing restaurant either by yourself or with friends, family, or SO who are on board, and order anything,” she said. “Order more than just one thing you want! Order dessert! An appetizer! Two entrees! And eat it, slowly, with intention, thinking about how delicious it is. Anytime a guilty, shaming, or negative thought pops into your head, put your fork down, take a sip of water, and breathe until you come back to the joy.”
Sounds amazing, right? Lisa knows that you will love it and ensures that “everything will be OK afterward!” She tried this herself (citing an evening in Los Angeles with many plates of pasta) “and I looked and felt the same the next day.”