By Armi Legge
Grilled Filet Mignon with Herb Butter & Texas Toast
Your favorite foods are poisoning you.
Even foods that you thought were safe are actually destroying your health, making you fat, and shortening your life.
That’s what you’ve been taught to believe.
If there’s one mistaken idea that’s become more embedded in the fitness and health industry than any other, it’s that certain foods are bad for you.
This myth is so entrenched that it’s promoted by everyone from gym rats to doctors to public health authorities.
Most diet books are based on the idea that “bad” foods will keep you from losing weight or slow your progress.
There’s no doubt that what you eat can have a massive impact on your health, performance, and body composition. However, there’s no evidence you can’t achieve all of these things while still enjoying any food you like.
Clean Eating Doesn’t Exist
These are the words people use to describe foods they believe you should eat. On the other hand, these are the words for foods you should not eat:
“Double-plus un-good.” (1984, 1)
The biggest problem with the idea of “clean eating” is that “clean” has no objective definition. Everyone believes different foods are “unclean.”
Vegetarians: Animal meat.
Vegans: All animal products.
Bodybuilders: Milk, fruit, and white bread.
Paleo: Grains, legumes, dairy, refined oils, added salt, sugar, alcohol, and some vegetables.
USDA/United States Government: Saturated fat, cholesterol, red meat, eggs, trans-fats.
Low-carb: Sugar and other carbs.
Hippies: Artificial sweeteners, processed foods, cooked foods, packaged foods, BPA.
It’s safe to say that for every food, there’s someone saying it’s dangerous.
There’s no way to define clean eating, which means there’s no way to measure or quantify what effect this concept might have on your health. There’s also no way to objectively compare a “clean diet” to other diets.
Throughout this article, I’ll use examples from all of these categories and let you decide which group I’m referring to.
The one thing these ideas have in common is that there are “bad” foods that should be avoided or limited, and “good” foods that you can eat. This broad definition can be further classified into two forms.
The Two Kinds of Clean Eating
- There are good and bad foods, and you should never eat any of the bad foods.
- There are good and bad foods, and you should only eat a small number of the bad foods to limit the damage.
In this article, you’ll learn why both of these ideas are irrational, unscientific, and unhealthy.
We’ll start by looking at the three potential ways a food could decrease your health, lifespan, or body composition. Then we’ll see if any foods actually meet these criteria for being “unhealthy.”
Why There are No Good or Bad Foods
There are three ways a food could negatively affect your health, longevity, or body composition.
1/. Contributing to a caloric excess which leads to negative health problems from being overweight.(2)
2/. Causing nutrient deficiencies by diluting the nutrient density of your diet.(3)
3/. Directly interfering with your body’s functions, causing specific diseases, increasing fat gain, or accelerating aging.
Let’s see if any foods meet these criteria.
Excess Calories Can be Bad for You — From Any Food
There is no evidence that any food will cause more fat gain than the excess calories it provides. There is also no evidence that eating a certain food will help you lose fat.
Fat loss is ultimately about calories in versus calories out.
Any food that has calories can technically be bad for you — if consumed in excess.
This includes chicken breasts, sweet potatoes, whole grains, and even vegetables. The reason many people consider these “clean foods” is because they tend to be harder to overeat than things like cookies or ice cream.
For this reason, some people refer to things like sweets, baked goods, soda, and other junk food as “fattening.”
This is an inaccurate and myopic viewpoint. It assumes that you will over-eat these foods — regardless of the rest of your diet.
If your diet has enough satiating power to keep you satisfied and happy, then there’s nothing wrong with also consuming some less-filling indulgences. This idea also assumes that people can’t moderate their food intake,which they can.
For some people, eating enough to gain or maintain their weight can be a struggle.(4-6) In these cases, higher calorie/more palatable foods can be extremely useful for meeting their calorie needs — not to mention being more enjoyable. Yet you don’t find people saying ice cream and cookies are life-saving for an anorexic, or muscle building for someone who’s trying to get bigger.
People look at these foods in isolation and assume they’re unhealthy regardless of the context.
Remember these two points:
- The potential to over-consume a food does not mean that you will.
- Some people need to eat more — and higher calorie, more palatable, and less filling foods can be an advantage — even a necessity.
However, you’re also concerned with your long-term health. You want to make sure you’re giving your body everything it needs to perform optimally, and you don’t want to deprive your body of essential nutrients.
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