We all know that we should eat more fruits and vegetables, and we also know that we should consume less refined sugars and fast food. However, it seems that most of the time, the fitness industry only focuses on those two extremes. What about the wishy-washy foods that can be classified as either “good” or “bad” in different eyes?
I am pretty sure that you can think of many examples in regards to these in-betweeners: granola, coffee, peanut butter, coconut oil, bread, nutrition bars, dark chocolate, dried fruit, smoothies, sushi, and even protein powders for the matter. Ask someone about whether spinach is healthy and whether Oreos are unhealthy, he or she can respond to those easily. But when it comes to something like granola bars, the person might have a harder time picking yes or no, or may state that these foods can be either one depending on the circumstances.
Everything about these foods are incredibly controversial when it comes to health and weight loss, and there’s a major reason why. Context is the central focus when it comes to categorizing these foods. Did you make the smoothie yourself? What protein powder brand do you use? How many handfuls of granola do you consume every day? How much sugar is in your dark chocolate?
To be fair, a lot of these factors impact nutrient density and metabolism in these foods. For example, sourcing materials can affect the quality of micro-nutrients in the foods. Some people believe that using organically grown resources are healthier than conventional ones. Whey from grass-fed cows versus whey from factory farmed cows is another hot topic. Not to mention the ethics of the chocolate industry that fuels itself on child labor. Store-brought versus homemade is another big issue. Think of granola, nut milks, nut butters, smoothies, or nutrition bars. Look at a label on one of these products are you are 80-100% likely to find at least one ingredient that you don’t keep in your own house. However, if you were to make these generally-packaged foods at home, you are in full control of what goes into them.
Dark chocolate, peanut butter, protein powder, granola, and bread are some of my daily necessities, whereas I can easily live without dried fruit and coffee. Does that automatically make my diet unhealthy? Most certainly not–I just enjoy these foods until I feel satisfied, which are generally in reasonable amounts (though I could probably afford to eat a little less granola–but hey, pish-posh). I would very much rather maintain a healthy relationship with a diet with a few “refined” foods such as cereal and protein powder instead of dreading a diet that refrains me from these in-between foods that I personally find very enjoyable and that I can obtain some high-quality nutrients from.
That being said, I have been making an effort to create more of these foods at home, specifically granola, bread, and smoothies (which I already do–I only drink store-bought smoothies around 5% of my time). To me, it is incredible for me to create something that I can be proud of, and even better if I can save money! Expenditures for groceries can be INSANELY high–seriously, have you seen how pricey protein granola and nutrition bars are?! But do be wary that making homemade goods may require investing in kitchen appliances that you may or may not regret. I’m talking about you, ice cream maker.
Keep in mind that you should also evaluate your behavior around these in-between foods. Do you lack a sense of control or composure around certain foods? Do you feel stress, anxiety, or a compulsion to over-eat (even binge on) anything specific? Do you rely on them too much as a source of calories instead of something less refined? If you have answered yes to at least one of these questions, then consider keeping them out of your house entirely, only enjoying them away from home to reduce over-eating frequency.
In general regards, it’s pretty silly to argue about these in-between foods that will always be up in the air. Everyone is so different in their metabolic processes, mental state of beings, physical compositions, and, most importantly, emotional experiences with dieting. Take everything you learn about these in-between foods with a grain of salt. Try making these foods yourself to see if you can achieve the same sensory qualities with healthier ingredients. Most importantly, be mindful around them. Listen to overall hunger cues. Find every reason to permit yourself to eat whatever you want, but just not to a point where you’d feel sick of it in one day, and do not eat something just for the sake of it. Ultimately, you cannot maintain a healthy diet if you don’t have a positive relationship with its main component. Eat to live and also eat to love your life.