Good Food? Bad Food?

By Wenjun Liu, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

When we talk about food, we sometimes use absolutes. But, are there “good” or “bad” foods?  Spinach is good for you. Milk is bad for you. Quinoa is good for you. Gluten is bad for you. Could it possibly be this simple or are we missing something when we talk about food? According to a study conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 75% of American women claim that they experience unhealthy thoughts, feelings, or behaviors related to food. Food can be a source of pleasure, joy and can help bring people together. It can also be turned into a place of shame and guilt.

Dividing food into good and bad is a massive simplification. It is like putting a green or red checkmark mark on the food. When we place a value on food and discuss if the food is good or bad, right or wrong, it is a set up for food anxiety. In fact, our health is not made up of one meal or one bite. We want you to be healthy not only physically but also mentally, and enjoy every single bite of the variety of food you eat.

Takeaway#1: Ditch the Guilt

Food should not be a guilty pleasure, instead, it is an essential pleasure! If you do not always stick to your planned foods, it is fine and it is not the end of the world. Acknowledge that you really enjoy the delicious food you eat and be equally motivated to enjoy the healthy choices as often as you enjoy something less nutrient dense.

Takeaway #2: Balance is the KEY

All kinds of foods should be enjoyed in moderation. One thing to remember is that foods are mostly made up of proteins, fats, and/or carbohydrates. These macronutrients are basic needs for our bodies. Vitamins and minerals are equally important as they are needed for bodies to function properly. Restricting major food groups just because you think they are “bad” not only leads to nutrient deficiencies but may also make you hungry and increases the desire to binge eat.

Takeaway #3: It is just Carbohydrates

Social media nowadays makes you want to believe that some food choices are better than others. The fact is that our digestive systems break everything down into molecules that look the same and carry out the same functions. For example, the notion of “good” and “bad” carbohydrates is purely based on how the body absorbs them. Their scientific names would be “complex” and “simple” carbohydrates. It is true some carbohydrates get digested more rapidly, prompting a rapid increase in blood sugar and insulin secretion. Such a response in our bodies can result in a sudden drop in blood sugar leading to hunger and cravings, which is what people are afraid of. But most people eat combinations of foods. And so the effects of different kinds of carbohydrates on blood sugar are not as extreme as they are sometimes portrayed.

Takeaway #4:  Sensible self-centered eating habits

Be mindful when eating; you can chew slowly to enjoy the textures and flavors of your food. Try to avoid watching TV or working on things on your laptop while you are eating, because these could slow down your brains’ responses to fullness.

Please remember how lucky you are to have access to different types of food, where others in the world may not. Honoring your food in this way may just stop you from thinking about “good” or “bad” and enjoy the pleasures of a healthy eating pattern.  How do you enjoy balance in the foods you eat?  Let us know!

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