Take morality out of the food equation; eating a cupcake makes you neither “good” nor “bad.” That, and more nutrition buzzwords Carrie Dennett would like to see go away.

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On Nutrition

I’ve previously written about clean eating and detoxing and cleansing (as if you and your food are dirty), but here are six more nutrition buzzwords that I wish would just … die. Why? Because they get in the way of having a healthy relationship with food.

Guilty pleasures. Why should you feel guilty for eating? Did you steal the food? Feeling guilty for eating a particular food not only gets in the way of fully enjoying that food, but it may make you want to eat more. Why? Because feeling guilty doesn’t feel good, so if you tend to turn to food to make you feel better, than guilt-eating can become a vicious cycle. What about foods that market themselves as “guilt-free”? I see major problems. One, they may well be taste-free. Two, you’re more likely to eat more, even if you don’t necessarily want more. Why is eating a pint of fake ice cream preferable over savoring a scoop of the good stuff? Related to guilty pleasures are…

Cheat days. The idea is that on a cheat day you’re “allowed” to eat in a way that on any other day would make you feel guilty. This may apply to specific foods or amounts of foods. Cheat days imply that it’s wrong to derive pleasure from food, and that only by depriving yourself for most of the week do you earn the foods that bring you joy. False! Plus, this sort of compensatory food mindset does not help you find nutritional balance — it locks you into an unhealthy, unbalanced relationship with food.

Skinny. There are no magic beans (or any other foods) that will make you “skinny,” even if they put that word in their name. Food is food. Plus, not everyone is genetically wired to be “skinny,” regardless of what and how they eat. As with “guilty free” foods, “skinny” foods often pale in comparison to “regular” foods.

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Pure. This is a kissing cousin of “clean.” Both are somewhat alarming because of their associations with orthorexia, an unhealthy obsession with eating healthfully, and with dogmatic food beliefs. It’s also a mystery to me why “pure” has anything to do with nutrition and health. Some of the most nutritious foods around — vegetables — grow in dirt or on top of dirt, and getting your hands dirty in your own vegetable garden encourages diversity in your gut microbiota.

Good and bad. Yes, objectively speaking some foods are higher in nutrients than others, but “good” and “bad” are highly subjective terms that smack of morality. Why else are people far more likely to say, “I was so bad yesterday … I ate a cupcake” rather than “I ate a bad food”? Food is morally neutral. You aren’t bad because you ate a cupcake … you simply ate a cupcake. Instead of judging your food choices, decide how you would like your food to make you feel, physically — satisfied, energetic, alert, free of bloat or indigestion — and choose foods that help you feel that way.

Natural. According to a 2016 Consumer Reports survey, 73 percent of shoppers seek out products with the “natural” label. Many are trying to avoid foods with synthetic, highly processed or genetically modified ingredients. The truth is that there are no clear rules for what “natural” means. The Food and Drug Administration issued a call for public comments at the end of 2015, but has pretty much been radio silent on the issue since then. Until it sets some parameters, the word “natural” on a food label is meaningless.