Have No Food Fear,
It’s A New Year
A Dietitian Who Is Fed Up
With Food Fear-Mongering
by Jenna Romanelli

It’s a tough life out there for processed foods. Imagine being a piece of non-organic broccoli or a slice of whole wheat bread and being labeled as toxic,  poisonous, dangerous, evil, and even deadly. Yes, you read that correctly; eating a slice of bread can KILL YOU, or at the very least destroy your brain. These are the messages we receive from the health and fitness world – dietitians/nutritionists, doctors, trainers, coaches, bloggers, influencers, and media.

You would think the desire for individuals to know what is in their food and how it is processed is a step in the right direction. In theory, this sounds like a positive movement leading to better food choices, improved health, and reduced disease risk. But we all know the saying “too much of a good thing…” and, in this case, too much of a good thing has created a culture of food fear-mongering. Chastising processing and ingredients of food to push individual agendas, market and promote falsification of health, or food fear-mongering, is a big issue not to be taken lightly.

I am going to share with you why I believe that food fear-mongering actually makes people less healthy and negatively affects the body and mind. The consequences can result in yo-yo dieting, disordered eating patterns, and lack of enjoyment from food (which is the best part!). But I would be remiss if I did not clarify a few things. As a Registered Dietitian, I implement nutrition interventions based on evidenced-based research. I am more than aware and well versed on the connection between diet, weight management, and disease. Consuming whole foods, fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and fiber while limiting foods high in trans-fat and added sugars can contribute to better health outcomes. Are some foods better than others? Absolutely.  Is nutrition a perfect science? Far from it. There is no quick fix, such as removing gluten aka “poison” these so-called “experts” try to convince us of. This is not to say that I recommend excess sugar, processed foods, or pizza for every meal. But, consuming these so-called “toxic” foods in moderation every so often will not negatively impact your overall health, and it most certainly will not single handedly kill you. So, let’s explore some of these common food fear-mongering claims.

Say No To GMO

Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMO’s, are plants and animals that have had their DNA altered using genetic engineering. There are pros and cons of GMO’s and this topic continues to be controversial. Basically, GMO’s have not been proven safe, but they have also not been proven harmful. So, when you see that little non-GMO butterfly logo on foods, you should not assume that foods without the symbol are unsafe to eat. For example, tomatoes, oranges, and milk are naturally GMO-free; absence of the butterfly on certain food items does not mean they contain GMO’s. My best advice when it comes to GMO’s – stop listening to social media influencers or that Facebook post your cousin shared and remember that one food does not make or break your nutrition and health.

No Grain, No Pain

Over the last decade there has been a lot of hype surrounding the gluten-free movement. According to David Perlmutter, author of Grain Brain, “Gluten sensitivity is one of the greatest and most under-recognized health threats to humanity.”  Claims like these have consumers avoiding gluten for absolutely no reason. While those with diagnosed Celiac Disease should consume a gluten-free diet, the 99% of the population without the diagnosis can and should consume gluten.

Not only are gluten-free products more than 200% more expensive than their counterparts, but there is also no evidence to support gluten-free diets for the general population, with some evidence suggesting eliminating gluten from your diet may negatively impact your health. When we remove all gluten from our diet, it is likely our consumption of fiber drastically decreases. Consumption of grains, especially whole grains, are staple in a healthy diet.

Organic Obsession

A product with a USDA Organic label has been farmed and processed according to federal guidelines – soil quality, animal treatment, pest control and additives. Although this is a step in the right direction regarding farming practices, this “organic obsession” and fear mongering of conventual produce can be detrimental. For example, the infamous “Dirty Dozen” includes 12 non-organic produce items with highest pesticide residue. They fail to mention the pesticide class and safe dose for consumption that, when accounted for, poses no risk at all in regards to pesticide residues. You can see here how this list creates fear around conventional produce, convincing consumers organic or not at all. These false claims combined with accessibility or budget constraints leads to less fruit and vegetable intake overall. The focus should be to buy and consume as many fruits and veggies as possible. Period.

The bottom line is this: organic farming may benefit the environment, but it is NOT necessary to purchase organic foods, especially if you are on a budget. Instead, choose conventional produce and LOTS of it! Do not let the fear of conventional fruits and veggies deter you from eating them. Do yourself, your health, and your wallet a favor and ditch the fear in the new year!