Will the Real “Best Diet” Please Stand Up

Last fall I sat with my middle daughter Rosie as she hosted a bake sale at our neighborhood farmers’ market. At one point, a darling girl of about three toddled up to eye the cookies, quick breads, and granola that Rosie and I had baked for the occasion. Hovering over her was the girl’s mother who scrutinized every item on the table, knitting her brows together and asking, “is there gluten in this?” in a tone that suggested my daughter was hawking donuts dusted in arsenic.

It was completely reasonable for this woman to inquire about ingredients, particularly if she has a gluten intolerance or Celiac disease. The problem was the air of judgement, as if only a crazy person would eat a slice of bread. It’s a “holier than thou” vibe that seems common these days as celebrities, fitness gurus, and the media trumpet various diets with almost religious zeal. Most virtuous, it appears, is to sustain oneself on some combination of gluten-free, dairy-free, grain-free, sugar-free, and/or meat-free eating. This frenzy of fixation on certain ingredients is often accompanied by across-the-board categorization of foods as “good” or “bad.” Last week the comedian Jimmy Kimmel did a very funny bit on his late night show about eating gluten, which he said, “in LA it’s comparable to Satanism.”

Refreshing Glass Of Cola

Let’s have a little perspective here about what “bad” really looks like. Babies who are bottle fed Coca Cola because their parents haven’t been educated otherwise, that’s bad. Children who routinely go to school without breakfast in their bellies because the pantry at home is empty, that’s bad. But a slice of homemade, whole grain cranberry bread sold at a bake sale to raise money for charity? Not bad.

Fearmongering around particular foods and rigid mindsets about what we should all be eating does a disservice to the public. Microfocusing on whether quinoa is better than barley is not going to solve our country’s dietary ills. It’s a distraction from the bigger picture of what healthful eating really is, which in part, is a personal matter. My best friend may be gluten-intolerant, my mom may prefer to lay off sugar, I may have a tricky time digesting milk, and my boot camp buddy might avoid animal protein, but that doesn’t preclude every one of us from eating very very well.

Honey Vanilla Almond Milk / momskitchenhandbook.com

Eating real food without heavy reliance on the packaged goods aisle, ideally savored in the company of people you care about? That matters a whole lot more than whether the milk you are drinking came from a goat or an almond.

 

Comments

05.19.2014 at 11:15 AM #

Kate

I totally agree. I used to work in a health food store and I would cringe when customers would spout their opinions about what foods were evil. Vegetarians and vegans would fuss often that we provided local meats and dairy. Others would fuss that we didn’t stock the latest wonder food. I would put on my best, “Hmmm, that’s an interesting point you make” face with a head tilt and slight nod and keep my own counsel.

05.19.2014 at 11:15 AM #

Katie Morford

My first job was working in a health food store as well…I think we had the same customers 🙂

05.19.2014 at 11:23 AM #

Pamela

Great post Katie!

05.19.2014 at 11:23 AM #

Katie Morford

Thanks mom 🙂

05.19.2014 at 11:33 AM #

Pam H

So true and thanks for saying it so well. And the occasional treat – even with regular sugar and regular flour and butter – is also okay, at least in our house.

05.19.2014 at 11:33 AM #

Katie Morford

Ditto, Pam.

05.19.2014 at 3:45 PM #

Jamey

Well said. I just wish more
People would realize this. Ideally everyone who pays attention to what they are eating cares, so individuals need to stop judging and make choices that work for them.

05.19.2014 at 3:45 PM #

Katie Morford

Agreed!

05.19.2014 at 5:49 PM #

JoAnn Cupp

Katie, I have never heard or read anything as well expressed on this subject! And, you are a nutritionist on top of it. Common sense tells me that food is better than pills and that home grown is better than mass produced. Thank you for the work that you do and the information you share with us! JoAnn

05.19.2014 at 5:49 PM #

Katie Morford

Wow, that’s quite a compliment, JoAnn. Common sense goes a long way.

05.20.2014 at 4:09 AM #

Liz - Meal Makeover Mom

Katie, you hit the nail on the head with your post. I agree 100%. The best diets out there are those that sustain us as individuals and the planet as a whole. You should submit this editorial to the SF Chronicle!

05.20.2014 at 4:09 AM #

Katie Morford

Most appreciated coming from the Meal Makeover Moms!

05.20.2014 at 5:23 AM #

Anne

Love this post! You nailed it, Katie!

05.20.2014 at 5:23 AM #

Katie Morford

Thanks Anne.

05.20.2014 at 8:28 AM #

Heather Wall

Once again, Katie, you have helped your followers to “break down” what is most important; simple, basic, ingredients is best! Our daily media hype is out of control, and can “cloud” even the most practical thinker into thinking they are missing out. THANK YOU!

05.20.2014 at 8:28 AM #

Katie Morford

You are one of the most practical thinkers I know…so thank you.

05.20.2014 at 2:08 PM #

Hilary

Katie,
your post reminds me of Michael Pollan’s credo from “In Defense of Food” which is “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I absolutely agree with you that balance, moderation, and farmer’s markets are always good and never bad. Thanks for a great post.

05.20.2014 at 2:08 PM #

Katie Morford

Hi Hilary… That Michael Pollan quote is a favorite of mine. Thanks for joining a lively conversation.

05.20.2014 at 2:30 PM #

Kristine

I’m sorry, but how do you just KNOW that mother was being “judgmental” about the gluten? Not that she was tired, or struggling to maintain her child, or worried that if her child touched something with gluten then they’d have to run to find a bathroom to wash her hands for fear of a possible exposure to something that irritates her? Besides, when you are selling food that doesn’t have an ingredient list, what’s wrong with someone asking about the ingredients?

Here’s what gets my goat – people who get to sit and decide that while it’s okay for “some people” with a “medical need” to refrain from eating certain foods, other people who do it for “other” reasons are just annoying.

You don’t know that mom’s story. Give her – and all of us – the benefit of the doubt, please.

05.20.2014 at 2:30 PM #

Katie Morford

Hi Kristine,

Thanks for your comment. You’re right. Perhaps this mom was simply tired or overwhelmed, although my impression was that she was unhappy that I was selling baked goods with gluten. As I said in the post, it’s perfectly reasonable for this woman, or anyone, to ask what’s in their food. As a dietitian, I myself like to know what I’m eating. I also agree, and it’s what I say in the post, that there are many ways to choose to eat that can all be healthful. It doesn’t much matter why you choose to be sugar free or vegan, or to drink milk or eat wheat bread. I don’t think anyone should be judged for choosing to eat gluten any more than they should be judged for not wanting to eat it.

05.20.2014 at 6:00 PM #

Heather Christo

This is a hard one for me. I am now living in a house where myself, and my two young daughters are allergic to gluten, dairy and eggs. Plus my 6 year old is allergic to cane sugar and about a million other things. So it is very difficult to do anything except make our own food.
But after many years of chronic illness, all of the sacrifices have been worth being in better health.

The truth is that the most difficult part of this life transition to deal with is the judgement from the reverse side. We are now the “freaks” who can’t eat the slice of bread. Or most things. And it’s really hard- especially for my children who often feel ostracized and as though they don’t belong.

A year ago I was busy rolling my eyes at people with all of these “annoying food allergies” but I guess Karma is a B! And I truly believe the truth is that they will become more and more and more prevalent every year. My hope is that we can all eat the food that makes us feel best without judging others for what works for them and keeps their family healthy 🙂

05.20.2014 at 6:00 PM #

Katie Morford

Hi Heather, Your perspective here is a valuable one. Thank you for sharing your story with the rest of us. Hopefully it will help build compassion towards those who have to work around the challenges of food allergies and intolerances.

05.20.2014 at 7:52 PM #

Alison

Katie I love your blog and your recipes look great however, having food sensitivities myself I feel compelled to write a reply to your above post.

I think the elephant in the living room we’re all missing here is how our food system has changed so dramatically in the past 10-15 years. Who ever heard of a gluten allergy or celiac disease in the 1970’s? And dairy (even organic) is mostly being factory farmed and instills a terrible life for its producing cows and their babies. Sadly, almost every sector of our food system has become big business at expense of our health and the health of the planet.. I find extremely disturbing.

Ps- On a happier note, I loved the Jimmy Kimmel post!

05.20.2014 at 7:52 PM #

Katie Morford

Thanks for sharing Alison. I don’t disagree with you about our burgeoning and damaging industrial food system. I’m hopeful that movement is afoot to change matters, starting with the recently released movie Fed Up. In the meantime, I appreciate your perspective.

05.20.2014 at 8:35 PM #

Meg

Thank you, thank you for writing this!!!!!!

06.01.2014 at 8:24 PM #

[email protected]

Hi Katie – this is my first time visiting your site. Brilliantly written article, so great to see a mom so passionate about healthy eating and changing preconceptions. Keep doing what you do. You’ve earned a lifelong visitor 🙂

06.01.2014 at 8:24 PM #

Katie Morford

Hi Kate

Awww…so appreciate your kind words. I am among many moms who care deeply about raising healthy kids. Glad to have you join the coversation.

06.10.2014 at 5:35 AM #

anna @ annamayeveryday

Moderation is the thing, a few treats won’t hurt you as long as you are getting the good stuff too!

06.10.2014 at 5:35 AM #

Katie Morford

Yes indeed, Anna. There needs to be room in there for bake sales 🙂

07.29.2015 at 10:16 PM #

Tomoko

I totally agree! This reminds me of my experience I had a few years ago. I went to a local mommy and me play date. my daughter who was 3 was playing with a girl about 5 years old. When it was time to snack, which was prepared by the host (veggie plates, fruits plate, chips & hummus), my daughter invited the girl to go and get some snack. The girl looked at her and said, “are they organic? I cannot eat it if it is not organic.” Later on, I got to talk to her mother and she told me that she prohibits her daughter to eat anything non-organic. When my daughter told the girl that we also eat organic food (as much as we can), the girl got very excited as if she had found a soulmate, screaming to her mother, “mom! They eat organic, too!!!” It was funny but sad at the same time. I wondered the emotional impact of this belief on the girl.

07.29.2015 at 10:16 PM #

Katie Morford

Thanks for sharing that story. It tips the balance from a healthy approach to seeking good-for-you-foods to instilling fear around foods in kids.

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