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The Fallacy of Forbidden Foods

Pat Baird, MA, RDN, FAND

There’s a certain allure to all things forbidden.  What may have started with something as innocent as an apple continues today.  The current bashing of any single food or beverage source is case in point.

What most people don’t realize is that opinions or hypotheticals don’t count here.  Nutrition is a science.  That means there must evidence-based research to support a claim.

One claim is that soda or sugar causes obesity. There is no conclusive evidence that either of these actually causes excess weight gain- and studies continue to show inconsistencies in the correlation between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity.  In response to such allegations, many states in the U.S. are trying to use taxes to legislate our society to be healthy, instead of educating the public on how to achieve balance.

In reality, consumption of beverage calories has decreased by more than 24% since 1998, yet obesity rates continue to climb. A study published by the Cato Institute stated that a tax on soda would not significantly impact body mass index (BMI) or change consumption.  Another study by the Rand Corporation, and funded by the federal government and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, reviewed soda taxes in 40 states and concluded that small taxes, of a few cents per serving, do little to reduce soft drink consumption or prevent childhood obesity.

As a nutritionist, I know that very low-calorie diets lead to rapid weight gain as calorie levels are increased and that eliminating certain foods and beverages often leads to binging. Science demonstrates that excess calories and lack of physical activity leads to weight gain. So what good will come of a tax on any single food of beverage? A better approach to health and weight management comes from a balance of foods that people enjoy, in sensible portion sizes, along with moderate activity.

Time-after-time science comes in on the side of moderation.  Rather than demonizing one food or ingredient, let’s stop demonizing it – or making it forbidden. Though there may be an initial appeal to such tactics, it doesn’t work.  Instead, let’s give consumers sensible information grounded in science and practicality.

Pat Baird is a registered dietitian nutritionist, a fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; and President of the CT Academy of Nutrition.  She is an award-winning author of five books, a noted media spokesperson, and adjunct professor at UConn Stamford. Pat worked in healthcare at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.   

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