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Four Food and Nutrition Words I’d Like to See Less

Janet Helm, MS, RD

There are certain words used to describe foods that make me cringe. I wish we could officially retire them. I don’t mean health claims on food labels; that’s an entirely different story.  I’m talking about words that are frequently used in articles about nutrition or on TV food segments. Sometimes they’re used in the titles of recipes or featured on restaurant menus.

I know people mean well when they use these words. I can see how easy it is to go there. But I think these words send the wrong message. Here are four wince-worthy food words that I want to see less often in 2012:

  • Guilt-Free: This description is often used to describe a recipe or menu item that has been trimmed of fat or lightened up in some way. That’s great, but why introduce guilt into the discussion? If a certain food or recipe is guilt-free (as it should be), that means the counterpart must be deserving of guilt. A similar food with a little more fat, sugar, or calories shouldn’t make you feel guilty for eating it. All foods should be guilt-free. Let’s come up with a different adjective to describe a better-for-you food or recipe without conjuring up guilt.
  • Sinful. You might see this term used to describe a luscious chocolate dessert or an ultra-rich ice cream. You can understand what this word is trying to convey, but why interject morality into our food choices? If you’re in the habit of judging food, you also tend to judge yourself by what you ate. If you think something is sinfully bad, then you’re apt to feel bad if you eat it. That means it’s hard for you to fully enjoy certain foods because you feel guilty when you eat them. This not only robs you of the pleasure, but it’s this guilt that often leads to overeating. My hope is that we keep morality out of the picture and stick to moderation.
  • Decadent. Related to sinful, decadent is another common term that’s used to describe foods that you think you shouldn’t eat. The official definition of decadent is “being self-indulgent or morally corrupt.” Again, there’s my problem. I think it all comes down to the misguided notion that certain foods are forbidden. Here’s where I really believe in the principles of mindful eating. The more you try to avoid certain foods, the more power they gain over you. When you know you can enjoy those “forbidden foods” when you want, the urgency to eat them in large amounts will eventually diminish.
  • Fattening. OK, here’s a word that’s getting lots of wear. It’s used so frequently to describe all sorts of foods. But there’s no single food that deserves that moniker on its own. It’s what you do day-in and day-out that really matters. You can have fattening habits. Eating too much is fattening. Not being active is fattening. But a single food does not equate to “fattening,” just because it may be high in fat, for instance. It’s what you do the rest of the day that counts.

Are there food words that bug you? Sound off in the comments below.

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