All FOODS fit... but is everything in a supermarket really food?

As a dietitian, most people step into my office and expect me to provide them with a list of good and bad foods. I am constantly receiving texts from friends with a picture of something and a “is this healthy?” line attached to it.

My response usually annoys them because it is never yes or no (unless you’re sending me a picture of a vegetable—and if you are wondering if zucchini is healthy, we have bigger issues to discuss). Usually I ask them to send me the ingredients list and tell them the less things they see there typically indicates it’s a decent option (think about it—the healthiest foods are those that don’t even require an ingredient list). The truth is “healthy” can mean a variety of things. Healthy for weight loss? Healthy for diabetes management? Healthy for your growing toddler? It really depends.

Why do I respond like this?

Because I am a true believer in all foods fit.

By this, I mean that a healthy diet can include just about any food. Now don’t go crazy here, clearly it’s about the amount and balance of the foods we are eating. But yes, by saying this, I am saying that you can be a healthy individual and also occasionally eat a cookie made with real butter and sugar (gasp). Crazy, right?

Actually, I don’t think it’s crazy at all. It’s all a mental game. By telling yourself that foods are forbidden, you set yourself up for craving them more. As cliche as it is, we all want what we can’t have. So instead of telling yourself cookies are off limits, reframe your state of mind. Once cookies are always “allowed” if that is what you want, you will not feel the need to overeat them or binge on them. You can eat a cookie, enjoy it, and get on with your day.

Now that being said, I feel like I need to clarify a little more. I believe that all FOODS fit, but the sad reality is,

we can’t call everything in a supermarket a food.

Let’s go back to the cookie idea. Take an Twinkie for example. Here is the list of ingredients you will find: Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour [Flour, Reduced Iron, B Vitamins (Niacin, Thiamine Mononitrate (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Folic Acid)], Corn Syrup, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Water, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable and/or Animal Shortening (Soybean, Cottonseed and/or Canola Oil, Beef Fat), Whole Eggs, Dextrose. Contains 2% or Less of: Modified Corn Starch, Glucose, Leavenings (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Baking Soda, Monocalcium Phosphate), Sweet Dairy Whey, Soy Protein Isolate, Calcium and Sodium Caseinate, Salt, Mono and Diglycerides, Polysorbate 60, Soy Lecithin, Soy Flour, Cornstarch, Cellulose Gum, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Sorbic Acid (to Retain Freshness), Yellow 5, Red 40

Do you get where I am going with this? Yellow 5 and Red 40???? Do those sound like foods to you? Not to mention high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils topping the list. This is no longer a food to me. I would refer to it more as an edible (?), man-made substance.

Now let’s look at a typical chocolate chip cookie recipe. Ingredients are as follows: butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, vanilla extract, egg, flour, salt and chocolate chips. Now that is a food! Especially if you make your own with organic butter and pasture-raised eggs, this is a dessert I can get behind.

Keep in mind, limiting things like added sugar is a good idea for everyone. By no means am I indicating that you can eat cookies all day and be healthy, but rather that eating a cookie does not make you unhealthy. The truth is, if we really listen to what our bodies crave, it is usually nutrient dense foods (i.e. fruits and veggies) rather than processed alternatives. The way we feel after a meal is a good indicator of whether we honored what our bodies want. Think about it: how do you feel (physically and mentally) after a piece of grilled salmon with some broccoli vs. a bag of mini Oreos?

Before you run off and think “Marissa said I can never eat Twinkies, but I can eat as many real cookies as I want” I want to clarify that was not the point of this. The point of this is to emphasize two things:

  1. That all FOODS can be part of our diets.

  2. Not everything in the supermarket is necessarily still “food”

I eat a diet filled with mostly vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats and a few good quality desserts a week. To be honest, I am not sure if a Twinkie is something I have had in the last 15 years, but if I ever really got a craving for one, I would probably have it and move on.

Balance, people.