Are there such things as “bad” foods?

Written by Dan Shute

A lot of us get caught up in categorising foods and often ostracising them if we think they’re “bad” for us, whilst others have the tendency to overeat certain foods thinking that they are “good for us”. 

But what determines if a food is bad? Is there even such a thing? 

Reframing the Question

Rather than thinking of foods as “good” or “bad,” we should reframe the question to: “Is this particular food suited to my goals at this time?”

Are you aiming to eat for health or are you aiming to eat for body composition?

This does two things. Firstly, it acknowledges and reinforces your goal. Secondly, it then puts that food/meal in the context of your goal. 

A classic example of this is peanut butter. Yes it’s natural and has some vitamins, minerals and protein. But it also comes with more calories than your standard block of chocolate (when equating for portion sizes). 

Does a product like peanut butter fit your goals? 

What I Consider When Choosing Foods

There’s a few things I’ll look at when discussing food choices with people. The first is allergies or reactions to certain foods. If you react (and I mean a diagnosed intolerance here – IBS, Coeliac, lactose intolerance), then you’re far better off without that food. It will be “bad” for you irrespective of your dietary goals. 

The second is whether you can moderate your intake of a particular food/food group. A sensible portion of chocolate each day (while sticking to your calories) may help with your overall dietary adherence and long-term success. 

However, if you tend to binge on a food, rather than eating it in moderation, then you may decide to leave it out of your diet altogether. Something like alcohol can be a tough one here. If you can socially limit yourself to a couple of drinks a week, no problem. If you can’t, you may be better abstaining (at least until your goals change). 

The third is the overall goal. Fat loss gives you far less calories to play with, and of course you’ll have to be more selective with where your calories come from. Generally, higher quality foods that are nutrient dense and low in calories will be your best bet to hit the perfect middle ground of health and body composition. 

If you’re in a calorie surplus, you might find eating SOME richer, high-calorie foods like peanut butter and chocolate actually help you hit your calorie target without feeling super bloated. High-fibre foods are a great example here. When controlling calories, high-fibre foods keep you feeling full and “regular,” making adherence easier. However, try eating 4000 calories a day of high fibre foods – you usually don’t feel so good…

Are There Any Foods That Are Universally “Bad”? 

Outside of things that are toxic (or that you are allergic to), I’m inclined to say no. Even alcohol (which is toxic) has a place in a diet if it allows you to enjoy social engagements and doesn’t jeopardise your goals. 

[In fairness, I think you’d be able to drum up a solid argument for trans fats being labelled as universally “bad” and something you’re better off avoiding. There’s plenty of evidence mounting to suggest they are detrimental to health – with the exception of vaccenic acid.] 

The Wrap Up

Barring a medical issue, very few foods will be universally “bad” for you. Consider the CONTEXT of your food choices in terms of what you’re trying to achieve. 

Are your goals more aligned with eating for health or for body composition? Whilst there is going to be an interplay between the two at some point, there are plenty of people who eat a very low nutrient based diet who have 6 packs, and there are also people who eat a nutrient dense diet who do not. 

The ideal scenario is that you would eat a high quality diet in the right quantities for your body composition goals, prioritising foods that support optimum metabolic activity and will support your long term goals. 

Check out some of our latest transformations we have gotten with our clients. 

The ideal scenario is that you would eat a high quality diet in the right quantities for your body composition goals.

Brandon Hasick

Brandon Hasick

Director and Head Coach
Body By Brando


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