“Good” vs “Too Good”


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You’ve heard the phrase “too good to be true”. In this case, it’s more like “too good to be real food”. What are “too good” foods and why should we avoid them? The PN experimental team, aided by very small lab assistants, investigates.

People always tell me that they can’t control themselves around “food X.”

“Food X” is almost always processed and human-made. We know that the majority of foods found in nature don’t have extremely addictive properties.

But it’s hard to figure out if “food X” is addictive on its own, or if people choose “food X” based on societal norms, culture, advertising, previous food restrictions, parents, friends, yo-yo dieting, fitness mags, etc.

I’ll bet all of those factors play a role.

At PN, when we’re curious, we do experiments and gather evidence. We’re scientific like that.

So I did an experiment: a taste test to observe natural food preferences.

Methods

Subjects:

  • N=2
  • My nephews
  • 3 & 5 years old
  • Fairly untainted in the nutrition world (as far as I can tell)
  • They watch minimal TV advertising, they haven’t been to a fast food restaurant, and their parents stock the house with healthy eats.
  • Further, they have no pre-conceived notions about “diet” foods, no history of dieting, no strange food rules, no restrictive parents and don’t read the latest diet books.

I used a taste test: I picked seven food categories and had them choose between a minimally processed and highly processed version of the food.

Let’s find out what happened.

Data gathering

Intro & Test #1: Whole corn vs. corn chips (with salt and oil)

Preference? Corn chips (with salt and oil)

Test #2: Raw buckwheat granola (no added sugar) vs. Sugared Oat Squares

Preference? Sugared oat squares

Test #3: Whole strawberries vs. dried strawberry snacks

Preference? Tie

Test #4: Sprouted grain bread (low sodium) vs. white bread

Preference? White bread

Test #5: Baked potato vs. potato chip (with salt and oil)

(Stay with us on this one. Parents, you’ll be able to relate to the dialogue in this one)

Preference? Potato Chip (with salt and oil)

Test #6: Air popped popcorn (no salt) vs. oil popped popcorn (with salt)

Preference? Oil popped popcorn (with salt)

Test #7: Natural peanut butter (no salt, oils, sugars) vs. natural peanut butter (with salt, sugar, palm oil)

Preference? Tie

Findings

Test Preference
(Whole foods vs processed equivalent)
Test #1 Processed
Test #2 Processed
Test #3 Tie
Test #4 Processed
Test #5 Processed
Test # Processed
Test #7 Tie

Discussion

Can you relate to some of their reactions?

I can. I usually classify food into two main categories.

Good & Too Good.

I like food that tastes good. But I DON’T like food that tastes too good.

Food that tastes too good kind of freaks me out.

I remember early in high school when I would frequent fast food joints. That stuff tasted too good. I didn’t want to stop eating it. I would physically be full, but for some reason I would want to keep eating it. I can see you nodding in agreement.

Sometimes, too good foods don’t even really, truly, taste that great. They may be too sweet, too fatty, too salty, or have a strange chemical aftertaste. But yet, somehow, they’re incredibly compelling. They make you want to devour them way past the point of having a stomachache.

They may be in colours and formats that would normally make us recoil. Blue food in your fridge? Food with the consistency of congealed mucus? Food in dry flake format? Euw! Blue Gatorade? Gummi Bears? Doritos? Yum!

Somehow, with too good food, our natural “this is poison” defenses don’t kick in. It’s like a skilled con artist in food form. Before we know it, we’re $10,000 poorer and have a lot of Nigerian swampland to show for it.

Now I eat foods on a daily basis that are good and I enjoy them. But the foods I regularly eat definitely aren’t too good. Yes — a difference exists.

Foods that are too good don’t have a place in my weekly food rotation. Why? I don’t want them there. They scare me. My appetite regulating systems go knucklehead and nothing constructive happens.

The good news is that we aren’t brain dead. We can be smart when eating some of the foods that fall under the too good category. However, I’ll warn you, it may require your willpower and cognitive eating skills to kick in. Uh oh. Good luck with that. How many “dieters” that rely on willpower have long-term success?

Based on my various observations over the years, I’ve generated a list of foods that are good and foods that are too good. Here goes:

Good

Too good

natural-pecan-butter
Raw, unsalted, nut butter (simple, satisfying and tasty)

jif-peanut-butter
Salted, sugar added nut butter (too much stimulation for my taste buds)

Good

Too good

Brown rice, veggie stir-fry made at home (after one plate, I'm good)
Brown rice, veggie stir-fry made at home

Rice and veggies stir-fry from the local Chinese take-out (after one plate, I'm ready for 5 more - can I hear it for salt, oil and MSG)
Local take-out rice and veggies stir-fry

Good

Too good

Raw, unsalted nuts/seeds (a few handfuls and I'm content)
Raw, unsalted nuts/seeds (a few handfuls and I’m content)

Roasted, salted, and sweetened/flavored nuts (do you sell the Costco wholesale container?)
Roasted, salted, and sweetened/flavored nuts (do you sell these in bulk?)

Good

Too good

Plain, homemade popcorn (a couple bowls and I feel great)
Plain, homemade popcorn (a couple bowls and I feel great)

Oil added, salt added, sugar added popcorn (I sent the girl in the photo below back for 3 more bags)
Oil added, salt added, sugar added popcorn (hard to stop at 4 bags…)

Good

Too good

Baked potato/sweet potato (tasty and satisfying)
Baked potato/sweet potato (tasty and satisfying)

French fries, potato chips (bloated, yet still want to eat them)
French fries, potato chips (bloated, yet still want to eat them)

Good

Too good

Sprouted grain bread (a slice of this stuff with hummus or nut butter and I'm good)
Sprouted grain bread (a slice of this stuff with hummus or nut butter and I’m good)

Regular flour breads (too light, too fluffy, too unsatisfying)
Regular flour breads (too light, too fluffy, too unsatisfying)

Good

Too good

Fruit (if I eat two pieces of whole fruit in a row – I'm ready to call it a day)
Fruit (if I eat two pieces of whole fruit in a row – I’m ready to call it a day)

Dried fruits (that was only a 5 pound bag? Gosh....)
Dried fruits (that was only a 5 pound bag? Gosh….)

Good

Too good

Oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, corn, wild rice, most any plain, steamed whole grain (one bowl and I'm good)
Oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, corn, wild rice, most any plain, steamed whole grain (one bowl and I’m good)

Standard cold breakfast cereals with added sugars and salt (When I was about 12 years old, I spent way too many afternoons eating massive bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch)
Standard cold breakfast cereals with added sugars and salt (When I was about 12 years old, I spent way too many afternoons eating massive bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch).

Good

Too good

Homemade raw cookies with dates, walnuts, and coconut (dense - I am satisfied after one or two)
Homemade raw cookies with dates, walnuts, and coconut (dense – I am satisfied after one or two)

Standard flour based cookies with margarine, oil, sweeteners, and processed grains (the combo of oil, flour and sweetener is taste overload)
Standard flour based cookies with margarine, oil, sweeteners, and processed grains (taste overload)

Good

Too good

Beans (one of nature's perfect foods)
Beans (one of nature’s perfect foods)

Beans with lard in a huge flour tortilla with salt and cheese from your local restaurant (Taco Bell gives beans a bad rap)
Beans with lard in a huge flour tortilla with salt and cheese

This makes sense, doesn’t it?

I mean, when you look at the list, the common theme is that the too good foods have been altered. They are human-made products (or a whole food with added man-made ingredients). Too good foods aren’t true to what you would find in nature.

Conclusion: What makes a food “too good”?

Consider what might make a food too good:

  • It’s multisensory (salty, sweet, crispy, fatty, all together) and “layered” (fat on sugar on fat on heaven knows what)
  • It’s physically easy to consume (forms a nice melty bolus that slides down the gullet; not much chewing)
  • It strongly and immediately stimulates reward pathways in a druglike fashion. I’m talking dopamine and serotonin here.
  • It’s  “craveable” and provides an immediate, superficial reward that does not fundamentally satisfy or nourish. This means the experience is always existentially and nutritionally deficient, which leads to an endless pursuit of satisfaction that cannot actually be achieved via the consumption of that food. In other words, you keep eating, and don’t really ever feel any better.
  • It’s deliberately engineered by teams of food scientists to cater to human vulnerability.

Think about your rituals and emotional attachments to brands as well. I have a friend who WILL NOT deviate from Hellman’s Mayonnaise, Nabisco Cheez-Its and Oreos. It’s like being part of a cult. When you add in rituals and emotions to the fat, sugar and salt – we have a fatness disaster.

Food companies want to alter foods so that we, the consumers, eat too much of them. When we eat too much, we buy more, and we keep coming back for more. That means more profit for them and more disease and body fat for us.

Remember, all of us are a bit different. Some people may classify a particular food too good, while someone else may consider it good.

Have you found any foods that are good and too good? What makes them different?

For more on food processing and how it influences our eating habits, see: The End Of Overeating.

Eat, move, and live… better.©

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