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I Eat High Fructose Corn Syrup

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I eat high fructose corn syrup. And Red #40. And artificial flavors. And MSG. And all the other food additives that you’ve heard bad things about. Yup. I eat them. Not all that often, and not in large amounts, but sometimes, I do eat them. And I don’t feel guilty about it either.

I love growing, cooking, and eating clean and healthy foods. I am passionate about showing people that healthy eating is not only delicious, but also accessible to everyone. Eating a healthy diet has changed my life and made me feel incredible, and I love sharing that with the world. But, please, don’t get me wrong, my diet is not perfect. And, I do not take for granted that I have a special set of circumstances that allow me to eat as healthfully as I do.

I am fortunate to have a large property where I can grow my own organic produce. And if I didn’t, I have the resources (knowledge, accessibility, finances, desire) that allow me to purchase products that are “clean” and “natural.” Not everyone has those same resources.

radishes garden

With that in mind, one of the most frustrating trends I’ve seen in the healthy food movement is the need to vilify certain foods and ingredients. In my opinion, focusing on one ingredient or one additive or one company is doing a huge disservice to the healthy eating movement. By making HFCS or artificial colors or whatever-hydrogenized-cloric-acid-glustomate the scapegoat, we’re alienating anyone who doesn’t eat a perfect diet all the time (which, let’s be honest, is all of us). Or, even worse, alienating someone who can’t eat a perfect diet all the time for any number of various reasons. At best, this kind of thinking is making people feel guilty about their food choices, and at worst, this mindset is elitist and classist.

So, just in case you haven’t had a chance to learn my Food Philosophy, let me lay it out for you here. I believe that a healthy diet can include kale and birthday cake (yes, even the kind of cake with artificially colored sprinkles inside). I believe there is room in a healthy diet for the occasional Mountain Dew, if that’s what makes you happy (and it so does make me happy). I believe my hundreds of dinners full of healthy, organic vegetables are not erased by a few meals of delivery pizza. And whenever I go to a movie? You better bet I’m getting a bright blue slushie. And I love every tongue-staining sip of it.

And, here’s the kicker, I still consider my diet healthy.

movies

I tried many times to overhaul my eating to be more healthy before I was successful. I thought that in order to be “healthy,” I had to be perfect. And since perfection isn’t possible, I’d inevitably fail (and feel terribly guilty and generally like a horrible person) whenever I’d give into temptation and eat a piece of candy or have some chips or drink a soda or hit the drive-thru. It took years of this all-or-nothing mentality for me to realize that, hey, something wasn’t working here.

It wasn’t until I allowed room in my diet for the “bad” foods I wasn’t supposed to have, that my healthy diet stuck. By giving myself permission to eat junk food in moderation, I was freed from the pressure of perfection. Instead of completely eliminating all the foods that were “bad” for me, I just changed the ratios. And guess what? It stuck. I can eat a healthy diet because sometimes I eat unhealthy food.

pizza

I believe that by vilifying certain foods and ingredients, we are making the already tricky transition to healthy eating even more difficult for a lot of people. We’re telling them that they should feel guilty and self-conscious about their food choices, and that is one of the least productive messages we can convey. Instead, let’s give them the tools to make better choices most of the time. Not only is it more realistic, but I’d go as far as saying it’s actually a mentally and emotionally healthier way of eating. By empowering people we elevate them. Shaming people for not eating the perfect diet does nothing but make the shamer feel superior. Which, if that’s how you need to get your kicks, I feel sorry for you.

I believe that choosing a healthier, but not perfect, product because that’s what you have access to is an awesome, life-changing decision. I believe in doing what you can with the resources you have. I believe choosing to eat your favorite, unhealthy junk food a few less times a month is a victory. I believe that every step you take toward eating healthier is something to be celebrated. I believe in the power of small, everyday healthy decisions.

kale salad

Take for example these two scenarios. Which do you think is more realistic?

(A) Every single family in this country will transition to eating a 100% clean, organic diet. They’ll allocate twice as much money in their budget each month to purchasing special cleaner versions of food. They’ll drive the extra 20 minutes to the speciality health food store (that is, if they have a car, if not, hopefully a bus will get them there, and hopefully they have the extra cash for bus fare). They’ll spend an extra hour a day preparing healthy food, since they aren’t using processed foods anymore.

(b) Slowly, many families in this country will transition to eating healthier foods than they previously did. They’ll one-by-one make better choices, and try to do the best they can for their families within the real-life restrictions they have. They’ll still work within their tight grocery budget, but maybe try to buy a few more “natural” foods each time they hit up the store (the one that is right around the block, not on the other side of town). They’ll try to devote an hour or two on the weekend to prepare a few healthier foods for the week. Each family will start to feel empowered to make healthy work for them.

lunch

Of course, these scenarios are hyperbole, but as nice as it would be if we could snap our fingers and make the first scenario reality, it’s much more reasonable that the second one will happen. Let’s put our collective effort into making that happen. Let’s focus on reality instead of perfection. If you have the resources and desire to make your diet hyper-clean and organic, and it makes you happy, that is wonderful. I’m so happy for you! But please don’t assume that is a possible reality for everyone you meet.

I want to apologize if I ever let anyone believe that I eat a perfectly clean diet. I do not, and have no plans to. I try to eat healthy foods that make my body feel good most of the time—and that’s my entire food philosophy. I am so grateful to have the resources to eat as healthfully as I do, and I absolutely understand that not everyone has those same resources—and I hope that many of my recipes are adaptable to many different kinds of situations. My goal here is to empower my readers to feel like they can make healthy eating fit within their reality—please let me know how I can do that for you!

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.

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41 Responses
  1. Thank you so so much for posting this! I’ve been chatting with friends, and when I hear that they are going uber clean and cutting out all the “chemicals”, it has a tendency to make me feel bad about my own choices. But when I come to, I realize I’m in charge of my own life. And honestly, having to stay way from milk/dairy (lactose intolerance), it already makes some food choices hard. If I had to put other items on that list, grocery shopping and enjoying life would become more difficult. Generally, I do try to stay away from HFCS, but if it ends up being in a delicious treat, in moderation, then I could honestly care less. One day out of 365 isn’t going to put me into a downward spiral.

  2. Ashley

    This post times a million!! I’ve always loved your blog, Cass, it’s one of the refreshingly real places on the internets. This post? Icing on the (HFCS containing) cake 😉 Thanks for being so awesome!

  3. Kat

    Exactly. I don’t like vilifying foods or people for eating them. Moderation in all things. Eating is social and fun. It is a way to gather people and enjoy each other’s company. How sad that certain foods/people become bad with the latest diet. Or that those ridiculous foods, like gummy spiders, can’t be enjoyed with a laugh here and again.
    Well said. Eat a healthful diet. Have some fun. Let’s all relax and try to enjoy life, right?! 🙂
    Thank you!

  4. I always love your honesty! I totally agree with your philosophy….balance is key. I eat healthy the majority of the time but at least once a week I love to eat whatever I want without any guilt. Life wouldn’t be the same without a delivery pizza night once in a while 🙂

  5. What a great post! “Healthy” is such a relative term and everyone needs to define it in terms of their own circumstances and lifestyle. My teenage son asked me the other day if eating a can of soup was “healthy”. It was really hard for me to answer that because I could easily answer both yes or no depending on what it was being compared to. Bottom line…everyone needs to figure out what their own definition of healthy is and make decisions to reflect that and stop comparing themselves to another’s definition and vice-versa.

  6. Maija

    I love this! This perspective is so incredibly important for so many people to see. I work in rural public health outreach and am always trying to convince those I conduct outreach activities with (who are very low-income, and typically have low education levels) that eating healthy doesn’t mean eating chia-quinoa-flax seed- spirulina muffins every morning. Most of my populations get their groceries at the dollar stores or at best, Winn Dixie or the Piggly Wiggly where cheap calories are king. Thank you so much for sharing your point of view on this!!

  7. Well said (although I am currently on a sugar detox after watching Fed Up – have you seen it yet? It’s on Netflix now – but I want to get to a place where I can have a little bit of chocolate when I feel like it, and not NEED ALL THE CHOCOLATE ALL THE TIME)!

    I was just talking to a friend about how hard it’s going to be when our babies start eating…less than stellar food. It’s so important to not pass that “bad food” mindset on to her, while still making sure the vast majority of her food is nutritious, of course.

    1. Cassie

      I never said HFCS is a good source of anything. I’m not trying to persuade anyone to eat more HFCS, I’m simply arguing that by making diet-related issues so black and white, we’re doing more harm than good. This post isn’t about nutrition, it’s about behavior.

      1. Don chappelear

        Actually I have quit eating high fructose corn syrup completely, while continuing to eat anything that doesn’t contain it. I have lost 49 pounds in 2 months. Its poison.

    2. Maija

      This is a really important distinction to make. I work with type 2 diabetics daily and try and teach them healthier ways to eat and incorporate movement into their daily routine. But so so so many people that I work with literally only shop at the dollar store. I don’t think it’s ideal for them to eat canned fruits and vegetables that might have more sodium and HCFS than I’d like them to eat, but eating canned fruits and vegetables is still healthier than eating potato chips, white bread, and ice cream. If I can encourage someone to make small changes in their habits then I consider it a victory and a step in the right direction. At my job, we focus all of our programs around the concepts of health promotion and the behavior change spectrum, both of which resonate perfectly with what Cassie has written here.

      1. Cassie

        You do amazing work! And I see it first hand in my rural community. The dollar store is literally the only “grocery store” within 20 minutes of my town. You can’t get flax seed or organic beets there, but you can get canned green beans and unsweetened applesauce. And if someone chooses those healthier options instead of, like you said, white bread and ice cream, they are doing an amazing job at getting healthier! Let’s celebrate them, not make them feel inferior for not having access to the cleanest of the clean foods.

      2. Zoe

        This is precisely my issue with the term “food deserts.” It’s insulting to call someone’ s home and community a desert. It may be accurate in the pure sense of having fresh foods or not, but it’s alienating all the same. I would NOT be receptive to some person calling my home a desert. I majored in Sustainability and global environmental change in college and was surrounded by people who seemed to be so wrapped up in the joy of their lifestyles and goals for change that they couldn’t hear how they sounded to people around them. And ultimately, it is very destructive to lose the ability to hear yourself.

  8. Lisa B

    I always appreciate how honest you are. We’re all human and an all natural/clean ‘diet’ I think is unrealistic. I believe your philosophy too (although it doesn’t matter than I do).

  9. Brooke

    Yes! I read a blog post this weekend about a mom who took special cake and snacks for her kids to another child’s birthday party so they would only have real food. While I believe everyone is entitled to raise their kids the way they see best without judgement, this would just not be a reality for us or something I could keep up with.

    It’s nice to hear a “moderation” perspective…Thanks for being honest and real!

  10. Kristen

    If I could figure out how to put up a whole row of cheering emojis, that’s what would be right here. THIS is so spot on and I wish our culture’s current obsession with laying everything out as clear cut black and white choices (ESPECIALLY with food) would end. It completely alienates people and does not help to make meaningful changes. People should add in healthier food to their diet because it makes them feel better and can taste delicious, not because it’s “The correct way to eat.”TM

    This is why I love your blog Cassie. Thanks for continuing to be awesome and mix organic gardening food posts with reeses pieces.

  11. This post is so freeing. It makes me happy. 🙂 Thank you for being so honest and real and awesome. I think showing people how to eat really well, but still indulge once in a while is a wonderful thing to do!

  12. Nothing wrong with a big blue slushie every now and then 😉

    I have to avoid the HFCS myself, but there are plenty of ice creams and treats I can have during the times I feel like having something other than produce and proteins :-p

  13. Michael Clare

    OMG I could cry this post is so amazing! I love EVERYTHING you said. When people talk about “balance” this is it.

Meet Cassie
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Hello. My name is Cassie, and I’m a healthy home cooking expert.

I'm a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and I've been developing healthy recipes professionally for over 15 years. Food is my love language, and my kitchen tips and nourishing recipes are my love letter to you!

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