On Facebook, I came across an article several times with the noteworthy title “Read this before buying Nutella ever again“. The article warns of the dangers of ingredients of Nutella.
Nutella would play an important role in the development of a variety of conditions, including abnormal neurological development and certain types of obesity. Good sources that support these statements are missing from the article. Perhaps because there is no solid research that demonstrates causality between food and the aforementioned disorders.
How much do I need to eat?
And even then, what if there would actually be a causal association between (ingredients in) Nutella and the aforementioned conditions: how much Nutella should you really eat before you’d developing such a condition? Probably more than you’ll ever be able to. Can we even designate one ingredient as the cause of obesity? I don’t think so. You understand: the title of the article primarily causes (unnecessary) fear.
The effect of such an article, however, is that there will be people who no longer dare to eat Nutella or feed it to their children, in fear of the aforementioned disorders. The article about Nutella is of course just a way for me to address a phenomenon, but unfortunately I see this scaremongering more and more often. During the same hour for example, an article that agitated about the McDonalds breakfast come rolling through my timeline. A breakfast I actually love, by the way; I once took this en route to vacation. I think most people understand that a daily McDonalds breakfast does not fit into a healthy diet.
Back to the Nutella article: the headline of the article as it passes on your Facebook timeline is already scary enough to convince you without you even heaving read the article. You might even share the article on your own timeline. Then you have coffee with your neighbor and ask her if she already knew that Nutella causes obesity and abnormal brain development.
She already didn’t dare to eat meat anymore, because someone in a food group on Facebook said that people who eat meat have shorter lives and have develop cancer more often.
The neighbor throws away her Nutella. She already didn’t dare to eat meat anymore, because someone in a food group on Facebook said that people who eat meat have shorter lives and have develop cancer more often (newsflash: there is no reliable research that supports this assertion).
Eventually, the neighbor dares to eat almost nothing; about almost everything she normally put into her mouth of which she really thought was reasonably healthy, there is a health guru to enumerate on the negative effects of it.
The other is so allergic to an apple that he or she chokes after one bite. In that case the apple is suddenly not so healthy.
What is ‘healthy’?
And indeed, sometimes it is the truth that certain foods are not that healthy. But “healthy” is a very ambiguous term. What is healthy for one person, may not be healthy for the other. The one benefits from an apple because of it fibers and vitamines, while the other is so allergic to an apple that he or she chokes after one bite. In that case the apple is suddenly not so healthy.
A very black and white example, but labeling a product with ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ is just as black and white. Many products both have good and less good or even bad properties. Too much of a ‘healthy’ food product can be harmful, even though the product is called “natural”. Healthy products can, if you eat enough of it, lead to obesity and thus lead to obesity-related diseases. For example: eating many “healthy” bananas is suddenly not as healthy if they make you gain weight leading to obesity, as I wrote in my article “do banana’s make you gain weight?“. You see: it all depends on how you exactly define “healthy”.
Research on health effects
Furthermore, it is extremely difficult to investigate the effect of a food or ingredient on health. To do so, you should need long-term experimental studies of large, heterogeneous groups. It’s not that this impossible.
You’d have to experiment with real people in order to test the effect of nutrition on the body though. Those are, firstly, poorly capable of self-reporting. In addition, it is almost impossible to keep all the other factors beyond the nutritional intake (the stimulus) constant within the experimental groups.
Test results obtained by testing on rats can not be extrapolated to humans.
Use a rat, you might think. Could be, but test results obtained by testing on rats can not be extrapolated to humans. These results provide an indication that the effect observed in rats can possibly also be observed in humans. They can never draw conclusions.
Finally, health of course doesn’t solely consists of physical health; mental health also plays a very important role in the concept of ‘health’. You might wonder what place mental health occupies in this story. I already shared Joey’s story on how this fits in earlier this week.
By eating as healthy as possible, her mental health decreased.
In her article “Obsessive behavior and fear to gain weight” she said that because she tries to live healthy, she developed obsessive behavior and anxiety; by eating as healthy as possible, her mental health decreased. However, mental health is just as important as physical health; these two measures are closely connected.
I am pro healthy eating. Healthy eating means to me eating food that feeds me, instead of filling me. Food that is rich in nutrients, fresh and if possible unprocessed. Like this Notella for example. Eating healthily also means to me that I have a healthy, relaxt relationship with food.
My base is nutritious while I have my hedonistic moments.
My base is nutritious (and of course tasteful;)) while I have my hedonistic moments. With genuine Nutella for example. Or a McDonalds breakfast. Because I dare to. For although I realize that certain ingredients may affect my health, I understand that I need to eat large quantities of these foods to experience their negative effects (whether or not temporary).
I do hope that you won’t develop a fear for food. That you won’t let claims cause you to not dare to eat.
With this article I try to give you a reality check. I don’t aim to undermine articles like the Nutella-one, or tackle scientifically proven health hazards of food. I do hope that you won’t let stuff that people write out on the web make you develop a fear for food. That you won’t let claims cause you to not dare to eat. That you can enjoy food and stay spontaneous in your food choices. Not get rigid in your will to live healthy. Because no: that ain’t healthy at at all.
Finally, I hope that by means of this article I can help taking your fear away that occasionally eating unhealthy food immediately causes all kinds of health problems or 10 years shorter living. Such momentum really it will not run.
Do you recognize yourself (a little) in this article? Or aren’t you frightened easily by such claims and news about foods? And what does ‘eating healthily’ actually mean to you?
(c) Featured image: Allison Hare/Flickr CC