Four Food and Nutrition Words That Make Me Cringe

There are certain words used to describe foods that make me cringe. I wish we could officially retire them.

I don’t mean health claims on food labels; that’s an entirely different story (and I’ve covered that quite a bit in the past).  Now I’m talking about words that are frequently used in articles about nutrition or on TV food segments. Sometimes they’re used in the titles of recipes or featured on restaurant menus.  Or maybe you just hear your friends use these words to describe specific foods.

I know people mean well when they use these words. I can see how easy it is to go there. But I think these words send the wrong message. I wrote about four wince-worthy food words that I want to see less often in my latest blog post for WebMD’s Real Life Nutrition.  Hope you’ll check it out and let us know what food words bug you.

Here’s my list:


    This description is often used to describe a recipe or menu item that has been trimmed of fat or lightened up in some way. That’s great, but why introduce guilt into the discussion? If a certain food or recipe is guilt-free (as it should be), that implies the counterpart must be deserving of guilt. A similar food with a little more fat, sugar, or calories shouldn’t make you feel guilty for eating it. All foods should be guilt-free. Let’s come up with a different adjective to describe a better-for-you food or recipe without conjuring up guilt. Find another way to describe lighter desserts or healthier snacks.



You might see this term used to describe a luscious chocolate dessert or an ultra-rich ice cream. You can understand what this word is trying to convey, but why interject morality into our food choices? If you’re in the habit of judging food, you also tend to judge yourself by what you ate. If you think something is sinfully bad, then you’re apt to feel bad if you eat it. That means it’s hard for you to fully enjoy certain foods because you feel guilty when you eat them. This not only robs you of the pleasure, but it’s this guilt that often leads to overeating. I don’t think foods should be considered or “good” or “bad” and you shouldn’t feel bad about eating anything. My hope is that we keep morality out of the picture and stick to moderation.


5773762522_261d963786_bRelated to sinful, decadent is another common term that’s used to describe foods that you think you shouldn’t eat. The official definition of decadent is “being self-indulgent or morally corrupt.” Again, there’s my problem. I think it all comes down to the misguided notion that certain foods are forbidden. Here’s where I really believe in the principles of mindful eating. The more you try to avoid certain foods, the more power they gain over you. When you know you can enjoy those “forbidden foods” when you want, the urgency to eat them in large amounts will eventually diminish.  Can’t we find other ways to describe a luscious dessert that’s more about taste and pleasure instead of indulgence and guilt.


    OK, here’s a word that’s getting lots of wear. It’s used so frequently to describe all sorts of foods. But there’s no single food that deserves that moniker on its own. It’s what you do day-in and day-out that really matters. You can have fattening habits. Eating too much is fattening. Not being active is fattening. But a single food does not equate to “fattening,” just because it may be high in fat, for instance. Sure, there are foods that are dense in calories and don’t have much to offer nutritionally.  But it’s one food.  It’s what you do the rest of the day that counts.

Is there anything that you would add to this list?

Images courtesy of cathy scola (brownies) and dawn huczek (banana) on flickr

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  • Well said. These food labels get on my nerves for real.

  • A.G.

    How about:
    Yum-worthy [or anything else-worthy]
    To die for

    I would like to have these eliminated from the food blogger dictionary!

  • I saw “gluten-free!” on a sack of potatoes recently. Sheesh!

  • Amen! I am particularly in favor of abolishing the “guilt-free” and “fattening” — these barely make sense.

  • I love this!

    I particularly don’t like the term “guilt-free”. Eating shouldn’t make you guilty (and calling something guilt-free seems to bring on guilt!).

  • Pingback: Misleading Words on Food Labels()

  • I completely agree with you about words that make certain foods “forbidden.” It’s all about your overall habits and lifestyle!

  • Good list! I would have to add one more though…DETOX! I can’t stand that word 🙂

  • Anna

    Nice site.

    So pleased to have found it. I googled “nutrition blogs,” because I wanted to have some new sites to read. (One of the ones I liked has changed a lot. Apparently the writer got pregnant, so writes about food and nausea in the same post!)

    Good lists. Thanks again.

  • Great article Janet. I have a whole list, in an article called “Love Chocolate? Ban Words Like Indulge and Treat”:

    By the way, when does your new book come out?

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