A Rad Brie that eats walnuts like it's a Pac-ManPhoto: OlegRi (Shutterstock)

We as a society are obsessed with the question of whether a particular meal is “good” or “bad” for us. But with the exception of things like poisonous mushrooms (which I wouldn’t classify as “food”), no food is bad for you.

The last time I saw a headline promising judgment on a particular food was it about cheesebut you know the guy. Coffee Is Or Isn’t Bad For You; Dairy Is Or Isn’t Bad For You; Eggs, butter, soy, fruit juice, whatever. However, if you are asking if a particular food is bad for you, you are already asking the wrong question.

Food cannot be healthy or unhealthy on its own. It is the bigger picture of how you eat that affects your health. The basics of a healthy diet are pretty easy to look up, and you probably already know them. Eat nutrient-dense foods, less processed products if possible, keep a reasonable number of calories, and limit sugar and saturated fat (ideally to less than 10% of the calories each).

What are you really wondering Do you like cheese and want to enjoy it without feeling guilty? You can only eat the cheese. Are you afraid of eating too much cheese? Well, add up the crap calories.

I wonder if we like to hear that food is “good” or “bad” so that we can immediately react emotionally to the purchase or the food. You might choose to watch a horror movie instead of a comedy just to stir emotions. Similarly, you might like to eat chocolate while thinking, “This is good for me, so it’s okay to enjoy.” Maybe it’s nowhere near as fun drinking a piece of chocolate while thinking, “Uh, just a different meal.”

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What science says

Every time a study of a particular food is published, its scope is limited and its methods indirect. Sometimes the researchers fed the feed, or more often an isolated chemical component of it, to animals (or sometimes even to humans) and measured a certain result of their biology. In other cases, large groups of people will be asked to fill out the form Food frequency questionnairesand conclusions are drawn from these people’s health outcomes, such as: B. their weight or their longevity or their rate of heart disease.

But in no case are we actually testing anything specific about the food. In the questionnaires, the investigators ask a question that goes something like this: What health consequences do people who eat a lot of cheese have in common?

There are many variables hidden in this question. For example, do people who eat a lot of pizza, either because they are too busy to cook or too poor to have a fancier takeaway, dominate the cheese-eating population? These studies are not drug trials where you can randomize people and put them into cheese or non-cheese groups. We all have varied diets, and the best a study can do is make generalizations about different people who eat different diets.

And when we look at the results, they often vary from study to study. One study could find that people who eat a lot of a certain food live a little longer than those who don’t. Another may find that they are slightly more likely to be overweight. Is it really fair to say that the first study showed that this food is “good for us” and the other is “bad”? I do not believe that. “Good” and “bad” are summary judgments of what food means for our health. It cannot be “good” and “bad” at the same time, even if both studies were done well and their conclusions are more or less accurate.

In the end, we can only really judge whether we are eating well overall, and there are many ways that we can do it. No single food has magical properties that override the rest of your diet. So let’s stop judging food as if it could be “good” or “bad” on its own.