Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Flawed Logic

Gluten-free. Sugar-free. Trans fat-free. We are all familiar with these phrases and even if you don't understand the science, there's a general acknowledgment that gluten, sugar, and trans fat are unhealthy (amongst other things). People like knowing what is GOOD for them vs. what is BAD for them. In general, people like STRUCTURE and categorizing things into black or white, good or evil, healthy or unhealthy, hot or not. However, having this "either/or" mentality can be dangerous. 

The omission of an unhealthy element does not automatically make a food healthy. 

Just because a food advertises itself as gluten-free does not make it good for you. It just means it is gluten-free. Check out the ingredients for Gluten-Free Brownie Mix from Betty Crocker: Rice flour, semi-sweet chocolate chips (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla), brown sugar, sugar, potato starch, potato flour, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, monocalcium phosphate), salt.

If someone has a gluten allergy, could they eat this? Sure. Does it make it healthy for them? I doubt it. This is why I cringe when people tell me they want to eat gluten-free and head to the "gluten-free" aisle in Whole Foods to pick up gluten-free cookies, and gluten-free cake, and gluten-free bagels. Are you kidding me? If gas stations marketed their gasoline as "gluten-free" would you drink it? Some of the chemicals in gluten-free food can be just as sketchy (ok, maybe not as crazy as gasoline, but you get my point)

The means do not always justify the ends.

People focus TOO MUCH on the end goal of being gluten-free/sugar-free/no trans fat and NOT ENOUGH on the means of getting there. Focusing on eating REAL, naturally occurring food is a better means to get to the same end. A steak, sweet potato, and avocado can be a great dinner that meets the same goals as gluten-free pasta, plus the former meal will leave you feeling full for longer and provide nutrients not found in the pasta. Would you rather eat food that has stood the test of time or food that has stood the test of an assembly line?

All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. 

Remember this phrase from geometry? The nerd in me uses this analogy to further my point. If you replace "squares" with "real food" and "rectangles" with "gluten-free" or "trans fat-free," you get my point. All real food is gluten-free, but not all gluten-free food is real. This is where the rubber hits the road. How do you actually know what to eat and what not to eat? There are no black and white answers for everyone, but there are guidelines from me and a shopping list from Robb Wolf. I'm not going to advise a 400lb. man and a 90lb. girl to eat the same exact way, but the one thing they will have in common is food QUALITY.

At the other end of this flawed logic, there is another issue of food advertising itself using bad science. Food that is "cholesterol-free" or "fat-free" clearly is a marketing ploy and nothing more. There are no legitimate scientific studies to back up claims that fat and cholesterol are totally BAD for you. None. If you find one, please send it over. I've tried drilling this into your psyche, but if you still need to read up on it, start with Mark Sisson's take on saturated fat. Or look up "Ancel Keys" and find out exactly who he is and what he did. (Hint: He started the whole notion that "fat is bad" with VERY biased data)

At the end of the day, use your noggin. THINK about what your goals are and the best means to get there. Google, read, and absorb information from good sources. (aka the links on the right side of this blog) ASK questions and TALK about your food evolution with others. And at the very least, don't drink the gasoline. 

Are there other examples of flawed logic when it comes to nutrition? 
What are your thoughts on marketing tactics?
Other thoughts/comments/questions welcome


  1. Great insight Chris, I think many people associate Gluten-Free as health and completely agree that is Quality of what you're eating not the marketing gimmic of the hour that matters. I just read another post by Paleo Blogger Nell Stephenson about how Gluten-Free is becoming the same things as Low-Fat...another excuse to eat something that's not good for you to begin with! You can check out that post here http://stephenson.typepad.com/train_with_nellie/2011/05/is-gluten-free-going-the-way-of-low-fat.html

  2. great post, P.

    although, i do think people benefit from getting to a healthier way of eating in baby steps. when you are first moving away from a typical diet (whatever that means to that person), it's natural to assume that you can't live without "x" so you look for substitutes. vegans do it with "fake meats" (which are frankly mostly disgusting) and gluten free people do it with wheat product replacements. can't live without pasta? or can you? turns out, you can, but it involves some pretty serious reorganizing of the way we think about food and how we prepare it.

    part of the reason, i think, is because we are so far away from knowing how to really cook for ourselves anymore. everything comes from a box, meals are formulas instead of creations. (starch + protein + vegetable = dinner) when we think about how we live as a society, it's clear how we landed where we are. no one has time. sitting down with a meal is no longer valued in the way it used to be.

    what ultimately helped me to move away from creative "substituting" was getting clear on what i wanted to eat and why, and getting less afraid of my kitchen. i had to cook more. i had to stop trying to think in formulas and more about finding recipes that met my needs and then going from there.

    i'm still learning, and i'm hardly perfect at it. constant business travel makes eating well a crapshoot. airports are the worst, but hotels are not much better. and the biggest flaw with the way i like to eat now is portability of foodstuffs. it's why paleo always fails for me, i think.

    still, baby steps are better than NO steps. sounds like a cop out but when i look back at where i was 2, 3, even 5 years ago, it's totally different. and all are better than a decade ago when everything i ate was packaged or ordered from drive through.


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