5 Food & Nutrition Words I Want to See Less

Guilt-free - Joewhk

Guilt-Free: I know it’s probably well-meaning, but I cringe each time I see “guilt-free” on a food label, in the title of a recipe or on a restaurant menu.  Sure it may be reduced fat, sugar-free or whatever, and that’s fine. But no food should evoke guilt.  The same product with a little more fat or sugar shouldn’t make you feel guilty for eating it.  All foods should be guilt-free.  So let’s stop using this adjective, thank you very much.

skinnygirl margarita

Skinny:  Why is skinny the new ideal?  I know the term is in the title of many popular diet books (I wrote about that recently), and Skinnygirl is Bethenny Frankel’s entire platform — which scored her an amazing deal with Skinnygirl Margaritas.  But I think it sends the wrong message.  Maybe skinny helps sell a lot of books, and a lot of booze, but I still don’t like it.

Natural: It’s the big buzz word on package labels, and there was even a recent food fight with the FDA to determine if high fructose corn syrup really qualifies as natural.  We’re arguing over technicalities and the word has lost all meaning. I  think if a food wasn’t actually plucked from a tree or grown from the ground, then it shouldn’t claim to be natural. A vegetable is natural, an extruded veggie straw made from dehydrated vegetable powder isn’t — no matter what the label says.

veggie straws

Detox: I’m so tired of this word. Enough said.


Cleanse: It seems as though cleanse is the cousin of detox.  Why has this word captured the public’s imagination?  It rose to mainstream status with the Master Cleanse and became big in the world of dietary supplements, such as Jillian Michaels’ detox and cleanse diet pills (that I wrote about not so long ago).  But why has a respected culinary magazine like Bon Appetit jumped on the cleanse bandwagon?  I hated to see the magazine create The Food Lover’s Cleanse.  Sure, they tried to put the focus on real foods and justified going down this path with the message “forget juice fasts and calorie counting…”  I liked that, but why embrace the mythology of cleansing?  Why elevate the terminology?  Why legitimize the concept?  Just don’t think we need to jump on the bandwagon to grab attention.


Any way, those are the five food/nutrition-related words I hope to see less often.  What about you?

Photo credits:  Flickr users joewhk, chipdwood, geann candare, cheeryobs.

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  • I honestly wish I didn’t see the word “calorie” everywhere I go. There’s so much more to nutrition than the straight-up units of energy, but that’s all everyone talks about. That and “weight.” Everyone’s so focused on Americans being fat that they don’t really care if they’re healthy. Weight can be an indicator of health, but getting skinnier on magic diets does not mean you will be healthier.

  • For me, headlines like “The Five Foods That Will Change Your Life” or “Lose Weight Forever”.

  • I’m totally with you on the “natural” thing, it’s misleading and if you have to say natural it probably is so from it. I am ok with “guilt-free” because I think people have food guilt and discouraging it or minimizing it is a good thing (though a box of guilt-free chocolates) isn’t. I think skinny/cleanse/detox are gimmicky and overused but they don’t drive me crazy. I feel these words are used more for adult items, the misleading tags on kids food is another story.

  • I definitely agree with all of the above!!!!!

  • Janet Zimmerman

    I love this post! I found myself saying amen quite a few times 🙂 And I agree with Tamara- I wish things were less focused on “calories”/”weight” and more about nutrient dense foods and health. Great post!

  • Jenny L

    I don’t like the word ‘treat’ used in connection with food. It sets up too many ideas of goodies and baddies, and suggests that other food types are the chore you have to get through before you’re ‘allowed’ a treat.

  • This post is right on, Janet. Food should not make you feel guilty; it should be enjoyed. As far as natural goes, if consumers learned to read ingredient labels (and that is our job as RDs), they could determine for themselves if a product is natural or not. Skinny–can’t stand the term; health should be the goal and every person/org that uses skinny makes it harder to get the health message across. Detox and cleanse–these terms have been overused and explained/promoted in so many different ways and programs that they have lost their meaning even while still being a fad.

  • ABSOLOUTELY! “All-Natural” is my least favorite phrase because it has no defined meaning, yet it sounds great to the lay population of consumers!

  • Yes, “NO” to skinny, natural, cleanse, and detox! But I agree with Lauren about “guilt-free” and am guilty of using it myself :-). I just want to emphasize to my clients that food should never make you feel guilty. I would also be very happy if I never heard the question from any adolescent ( or anyone!)”Do I look fat?” ever again.

  • Fantastic!! Every single one of these gets me every time. I cringe when I see those veggie straws.

  • Great post Janet! It’s not just confined to your side of the world either – here in Australia, it’s just as bad!

  • Brandon

    Skinny is the “new” ideal? I thought thats been the ideal ever since Barbie came around…

  • Thank you so much for this post! These get to me too, especially “guilt-free” and “skinny.” Even the word “healthy” makes me roll my eyes sometimes, depending on the context.

  • I’m tired of “gluten-free.” It was on the last sack of potatoes I bought.


  • I agree on all accounts… and honestly, I’ve had to zap myself on “natural”. Dang, that word sells or else they wouldn’t use it! I’d say in general, health claims! I had a client last night who argued that Balance bars were a way better choice than Twix, even though he craves a Twix. He also wouldn’t drink my HonesT I offered him “only water, that stuff has too much sugar”. I guess he wasn’t thirsty enough then! In 16 ounces it was 24 grams of fruit juice and green tea (hello antioxidants)! ahhh… oh well!

  • Janet Helm

    Thanks everyone for the comments.
    Lauren and Spicy RD – I agree that people tend to have food guilt and minimizing it is a good thing. I just don’t think it helps to use “guilt-free” to describe low-fat brownies, sugar-free chocolates or lower-calorie whatever. If something is guilt-free then it means some foods are full of guilt. In my opinion, no foods are worthy of guilt. There’s got to be a better description of a better-for-you product without bringing up the concept of guilt. We do need to minimize that frame of thinking, and calling certain foods guilt-free is just elevating this mentality. I know it’s an easy word to fall back on…and it’s meant to be encouraging and permissive. I just happen to think it sends the wrong message.

  • These are just some marketing strategies and food labeling to catch customer’s attention. Well, it’s up to you to patronize the products. Maybe they have also benefits. Why don’t you try them 🙂

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  • They don’t really bother me, but the act of lying when a product is actually more harmful than bad, then that’s pretty evil. There’s a majority of people who are too busy to know better or to read what’s best for their health, while they’re in between jobs and mortages, which is why it would be quite handy if food corporations aren’t so sneaky.

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  • Francine

    I’d be happy if I didn’t see Jillian Michaels on everything, she’s become the new Rachel Ray in marketing herself on whatever sells. I’m sure she’s helped many people lose weight, but it ultimately appears that she is about helping herself financially….

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