You’re a Dietitian and you’re eating that processed c**p?!?

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A few months ago I wrote about how a commonly used logical fallacy might be tricking you into going on a diet. Today, I’m going to explore how another logical fallacy might be tripping you up when it comes to your eating.

The problem with eating processed c**p

There is nothing inherently wrong with eating processed foods. A logical fallacy known as “appeal to nature” is just making you think there is something wrong with eating processed foods.

Appeal to nature” is one of 24 commonly used logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is a flaw in reasoning, where an illusion or trick is used to make you think a certain way without considering all the evidence. I’ve written before about how fad diet pushers use logical fallacies all the time to convince you to buy their latest book or sign up to an expensive program. Appealing to all things natural is yet another way that these snake oil peddlers can convince you to buy their product.

Using an ‘appeal to nature’ trick means that things that are natural or close to nature are ‘good’ or better than things that are seen as more artificial. Here, processed foods are made out to be ‘bad’ for you because they are seen as less natural compared to ‘wholefoods’.

The natural argument

The assumption that natural is automatically and inherently better has been gaining traction over the last few years as people have become more and more interested in looking after their health.  Not to say that having more of an interest in looking after one’s health is a bad thing per se – the issue is when the “appeal to nature” logical fallacy is used to convince others of the ‘badness’ of perfectly reasonable food choices based solely on the fact that the food has undergone some sort of processing.  For example, it’s how we (yes, nutrition and dietetics students I’m looking at you!) describe additives as ‘harmful’ and preservatives as ‘nasty.’ It’s how we describe fast food as ‘chemical-laden’ ‘unnatural’, and yes, like a stranger said to me, it’s pairing ‘processed’ with clearly negative and derogatory words like ‘c**p’. It’s how we strive for unprocessed perfection in our diets – right down to removing ‘refined’ sugars from our diets.

Processing vs. processing…?

The idea of eating more unprocessed foods for good health is not a new concept. Australian Healthy Eating Guidelines have been urging us to eat in such a manner for some time now. For example, bread makes up one of the five core food groups. We all know that there are just so many varieties of bread available these days! Picking a wholegrain variety over a white loaf is an example of choosing the less processed option. Wholegrain bread has gone through less processing that white varieties, so has more fibre and can help keep you fuller for longer.

As I’m sure you’re aware, however, both of these bread types have undergone processing! As Joel, a Melbourne Accredited Practicing Dietitian from Hearty Nutrition so excellently points out, the overwhelmingly vast majority of foods have undergone processing in some way. Even every dieters’ dream food – the skinless, lean chicken breast has gone through some sort of processing before you pick it up at the supermarket – and then you yourself and going to put it through more processing before you eat it! Because this is the thing – we have all of these different processing methods for a good reason. Processing food can make it safe to eat, can help preserve it and can even make it easier for our bodies to digest.

So that raw caramel slice you’re noshing on? That’s gone through some processing. So too has milk, cheese, bread, canned legumes, chocolate, and lots of every day foods. Just because a food has gone through some level of processing before you eat it doesn’t make it bad for you. In fact, it might even be helpful to you. I myself use canned legumes, tinned tomatoes and frozen vegetables because, well, life. I don’t have the time or the inclination to soak my own dried legumes and am, quite frankly, a dunce in garden so I couldn’t grow my own tomatoes even if I wanted to.

These ‘processed’ foods help me to eat a varied diet, which is important for good health.  And yes, this student dietitian’s diet does include things like white bread and chocolate, and that’s okay! We all have our own ideas about what healthy eating looks like and the neat thing about that is it is unique to us all.  Everyone’s idea of healthy eating is going to look different and that’s okay! So maybe, dear stranger, you and I are going to have to disagree on what passes as processed c**p because as Fiona from Body Positive Australia says, #myplatemybusiness.

This post first appeared on The Nutrition Press and is kindly republished with permission.

photo credit: jamieanne

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