Guilt is a strong emotion that plays a role in our everyday lives. It’s an emotional function that shows us the difference between our life and the life we want to live. It can lead to action, but too often I see guilt as a negative.
For example my clients tend to be ahead of the curve. They are thinking about their own diet and its effect on their health. They are eating a plant-based diet of predominantly whole grains, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables. And they are motivated to make any needed dietary changes, but yet some are plagued by guilt.
Guilt-Producing Food Choices That Aren’t As Bad as You Think
Snacking. Eating snacks throughout the day increases your metabolism and keeps you from overeating at meal time. Don’t hesitate to snack on healthy foods.
Eating any form of sweetener. Yes, on average Americans eat too many added sugars and this has deleterious health affects. But are you adding a small amount of agave or maple syrup to an otherwise plant-based whole-food meal? If so, don’t sweat it.
Eating late at night. For many people, eating at night means eating additional, unneeded calories, mindlessly snacking and just making poor nutrition choices in general. But those are different than if you have to eat late because you worked late or took extra time in preparing a great meal. Evaluate what you are eating at night and if you need it, eat and don’t feel guilty!
Eating fat. General nutrition recommendations are to eat low-fat or at least less fat. But the general population is not eating a predominantly plant-based diet. If you are, then the rules are different. Plant fats behave very differently from animal fats; they can be beneficial where animal fats are problematic. Read this fantastic interview with Dr. Walter Willett for an overview of this idea. [Note that trans-fats are technically plant-based, but I'm talking about naturally occurring plant fats. Trans-fat replicate animal fats in foods and in humans]
Eating any refined grain. Yes, we should all eat predominantly whole grains. But that pizza topped with veggies and tomato sauce? Dig in. And there’s some evidence [here's a random abstract] that compounds in whole grains interfere with nutrient absorption. This isn’t a go-ahead to get most of your calories from Chicosticks and Peanut Chews, but, as I’m saying over and over in this post, what are you eating most often? If it’s whole grains then don’t stress the occasional refined grain.
Eating processed foods. ‘Processed’ is one of those terms like ‘toxins’ or ‘cleanse’ that are so broad they have lost any real meaning- yet I hear them all of the time. So much of the food today has little resemblance to its origination and the negative health effects are well-documented. But at what point is something too processed? Fruitarians say that eating anything that kills the plant is detrimental. And I think that some textured vegetable protein products are so far from soybeans that they have lost most beneficial properties. But recently at a dinner someone tried telling me that tofu is too processed. Too processed? Check out these step-by-step instructions (with photos!) on how to make tofu at home and see that tofu maintains much of the integrity of the original bean.
Eating soy. Soy is nutritious, cheap, versatile and safe! See this exhaustive paper by superstar RD Jack Norris that cites over 130 studies.
Eating fake meats. Most of us grew up eating meat and we enjoyed the taste. Some vegetarians now abhor even the idea of meat and that’s fine; I’m not about to talk someone into eating fake meats. But for the rest of us: the occasional meat analog is quite satisfying. Should you rely on them for most meals? No, definitely not. Should you focus on whole foods like beans? Yes. Just don’t feel guilty about the times you want to dig into a nice vegan pizza topped with veggie sausage.
Some of you will read this and think about how you never do any of these and why would anyone? Congrats to you because you are definitely an exceptional person. I wouldn’t advise you to do otherwise. But for most of us the above are real-life examples of how we balance good nutrition and our desire for certain foods. My point is that the evidence in the nutrition field isn’t precise enough to say there are benefits to never doing the above. What you eat most often is what really matters. With the assumption that you are already eating a plant-based diet of predominantly whole grains, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables. The guilt that we feel and the stress of trying to be perfect are worse for us than doing any of the above!
Can you work on feeling less guilt? I hope so! Thanks for reading and I hope this is helpful. Have a great weekend and maybe I’ll see you Sunday night at our Day in the Life screening?