LIVESTRONG’s list of “16 Foods Dietitians Won’t Touch” is a bit misleading. Sure the foods that made the cut aren’t healthy choices, but that does not mean that you can’t ever enjoy them if your health is a priority. Yes, the headline is a bit exaggerated to help grab your attention, but I think it’s important to know that the foods they are demonizing are only a problem if they are making it into your shopping cart week in and week out. It’s only when these foods are consumed as a part of what you consider to be your normal healthy diet that they become a cause for concern.
I do agree that I pretty much never eat Pop-Tarts or sugary cereal, or fiber bars, or frozen and boxed meals. Most of the reason behind this is because these foods aren’t treat foods to me. They are substitutes for nutrient dense foods.
Pop-Tarts and sugary cereals are replacements for your daily oatmeal, whole grain toast, eggs, fruit and yogurt. And I totally agree that fiber bars (and most protein bars) are basically candy bars wearing a healthful disguise. As such, they should be perceived as a treat rather than a healthy snack. As for boxed and frozen meals, these food-like substances are a perfect example of how nutritional quality suffers in favour of convenience.
As a nutrition student and aspiring dietitian, I do occasionally grab a candy bar or pick up some fast food; not because these options are necessarily any more healthy than the offenders I previously called out, but because these are true treat foods to me! Based on all that I’ve learned going into the fourth year of my program, and as someone who is passionate about healthy living as a means for thriving in all aspects of life, I can tell you that these behaviours probably won’t ever change, because they don’t need to!
I cook and eat at home 90% of the time, so that 10% where I’m eating out is a treat. No problem! A candy bar every now and then is great, because Skor bars are delicious and totally satisfying to that sweet tooth that rears its ugly head every now and then. The bottom line: treat foods must serve their intended purpose, not replace healthy foods.
There’s no reason why you can’t enjoy a Pop-Tart or bowl of Froot Loops every now and then if that’s what you like. Just don’t confuse these foods for everyday breakfast foods (as they are marketed) and you’ll be A-OK.
Here are my top three tips for indulging in the “16 Foods Dietitians Won’t Touch“:
#1 Go big or go home
Sometimes picking treat foods (like chocolate bars) that have pretty much no nutritional merit is a better route to go. This way you’re not fooling yourself into thinking you’re doing your body any good (think: it has fiber, or it has protein, so it can’t be that bad for me). Have a chocolate bar, or a full-fat, full-sugar brownie, or your non-skinny Starbucks frappuccino. When we try to ‘health-ify’ treat foods, we blur the lines between deciding whether it counts as a treat, or if we could squeeze it into the ‘healthy food’ category. Indulge, and move on.
#2 Check your base
Building on a strong foundation is the key to treating yourself in moderation. The 80/20 rule works nicely here. If at least 80% of your diet is made up of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, legumes, dairy, and whole grains that are minimally processed and mostly prepared at home, you don’t need to worry about trying to ‘health-ify’ the other 20%. It’s when these treat foods sneak into the 80% that you’re going to start to have a problem.
I don’t know about you, but I really believe there is some truth behind the old adage about starting off on the right foot; starting your day off on the right foot, that is. I find the best strategy for me is to save my treats for as late in the day as possible, usually after dinner. This way I know I’ve already packed in a ton of nutrient dense food earlier in the day, meaning my nutritional base is solid! What you choose to start the day off with really does set the stage for your food choices throughout the rest of the day. It’s much easier to give yourself permission to go for that mid-afternoon pick-me-up at Starbucks, then agree to that slice of pie for dessert after starting your day with a cookie for breakfast than is would be after starting your day with poached eggs, whole grain toast, and an apple. So make that first choice count!
I’ll let you in on a secret: picking healthy foods first and saving treats for afterwards will also make it easier to stop yourself from over-doing it, since you’ll already be satisfied by all that lean protein, loads of fibrous veggies, and some healthy fat! So next time you roll out of bed, wander into the kitchen, and are tempted by that slice of cake or those chocolate chip cookies sitting out on the counter from last night’s baking frenzy, think twice about starting your day off with a treat.
What indulgences fit into your ‘treat food’ category? Let me know in the comments below!