The “Good Food Vs. Bad Food” Approach

Friday’s PSA brought to you by Eric Helms and an excerpt from the The Muscle and Strength Nutrition Pyramid book regarding the good vs bad foods debate:
(Thanks to fellow coach & friend Craig Yarnall for reminding me of this gem)

“The “Good Food Vs. Bad Food” Approach: Now this is something that is very prevalent throughout the entire fitness community as a whole. Many people advocate it and have done so for years. These believers in the “good food vs. bad food” mindset include some very smart people, people with great physiques, and a lot of people that have had quite a lot of success with their own goals.

However, despite the fact that you can achieve success with this approach I don’t see it as a long-term solution and I think that it can lead to developing unhealthy relationships with food. We shouldn’t have to maintain borderline eating disorders just to keep a lean physique. As opposed to trying to avoid the consumption of “bad foods”, I think a better mindset to adopt is approaching nutrition with the goal of being inclusive instead of exclusive. What this means is that we want to adopt an approach of including “healthy” foods that have a high micronutrient density and other desirable qualities (like a high fiber content), versus excluding foods that might not have these qualities. (We will learn all about micronutrients later on in Level 3 of The Pyramid; for now, just know that these are the vitamins and minerals that your body requires.)

There are very few, if any, foods that are actively unhealthy for you. Truly there are no foods that if eaten once, regardless of quantity, immediately and measurably harm your body. The only plausible negative connotation associated with say a Twinkie, a Pop Tart, and other foods commonly labeled as “bad” is that they are relatively devoid of micronutrients, fiber, and protein. Some people refer to these foods as “empty calories”, which is probably a slightly fairer description than simply labeling them as “bad”. This term means that while these foods contribute to your calorie (Level 1 of The Pyramid) and macronutrient counts (Level 2 of The Pyramid), they won’t do much to satisfy your micronutrient requirements (Level 3 of The Pyramid). While this description is relatively accurate, it doesn’t mean these foods should be villainized and completely avoided. The main thing to be aware of is that “empty calorie” foods can only cause issues if they completely dominate your diet. It’s not that we need to remove them entirely; it’s that we need to make sure that we have included the “healthy foods” first to ensure our bodies are nourished and taken care of. After that, feel free to have the “bad foods” (which really aren’t bad at all) in moderation as this will improve your flexibility and therefore your consistency.

By allowing yourself to diet while consuming a wider range of foods that might include “treats” in moderation, you will feel more normal, have more flexibility, less restriction, and ultimately more long-term adherence and success. This is the reason that the seemingly normal approach of eating “good vs. bad food” or “clean vs. dirty food” can potentially cause problems. While it is true that high-level bodybuilders have and will continue to be very successful eating only from a short list of foods that are deemed by the bodybuilding Gods to be “clean”, it doesn’t mean that this is the only approach that can deliver success (it also doesn’t mean that they can adhere to this approach after their diet has concluded).

Remember that you don’t get extra credit for eating only healthy foods. Once you’ve met your basic requirements you don’t get gold stars for consuming additional micronutrients. There’s no food critic in your throat who tells you “this is good, this is bad, this is good, etc.,” there’s just your body getting its nutrient needs, and once it gets more than enough, it doesn’t continue to benefit from more. It’s not a question of whether a bowl of oatmeal is better than a candy bar. Rather than assessing which food is good or bad, you need to assess if your entire diet is good or bad. Believe it or not, a rigid “clean vs. dirty” diet can actually result in a poorer nutrient profile than an approach that includes a broader spectrum of foods.

One of the most critical components to a healthy lifestyle and diet is nutritional variety. For example Okinawans (the people who inhabit the island of Okinawa, Japan) are some of the longest living people on the planet. They also happen to have one of the highest food varieties of any culture in the world.

In contrast, there are some bodybuilders who want to be this healthy, but simply aren’t because of the rigidity of their diets. Claiming to be all about health, but only eating from a list of 10 foods is an ironic proposition. If you have to cut out gluten, dairy, red meat, “processed” foods, fruits, legumes, starches and whole eggs, you end up with an incredibly limited diet that is unlikely to satisfy your micronutrient needs.

I’ve seen it time and time again (and experienced it myself) where following a very rigid diet results in the self-fulfilling prophesy of eventually being unable to digest foods not on the “clean list” without incredible discomfort due to the loss of the enzymes and gut bacteria that are essential to the digestion of a wide variety of foods.”

⬆️⬆️⬆️ Might wanna read that last paragraph again all you Paleo, whole 30 & “clean” eaters. Better stay that way forever or RIP your gut ⬆️⬆️⬆️

Links to YouTube pyramid series:
Part 1: Level 1 – Introducing the pyramid and Calories.

Part 2: Level 2 – Macros and Fiber.

Part 3: Level 3 – Micros, Vitamins, Minerals and Water. 

Part 4: Level 4 – Nutrient timing and Frequency.

Part 5: Level 5 – Supplementation.

Part 6: Level 6 – Behavior and Lifestyle.

Join us in the group to discuss (ladies only please)


Comments are closed.

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: