Why the overuse of labelling foods as ‘toxic’ needs to stop

Food is described in many weird and wonderful ways, but it is the recent trend of labeling foods as ‘toxic’ that has caught my attention. Food lists have recently swept across social media and online print articles. These include foods to avoid, foods you should never eat and ‘poisonous’ or ‘toxic’ foods.

A quick online search will tell you that sugar is amongst the many foods that have fallen into the ‘toxic’ category. By definition, the word toxic is used to describe something that is poisonous. So lets have a quick look at sugar. When consumed in excessive amounts, it can contribute to an increased risk of adverse health outcomes such as obesity and tooth decay. It is recommended that the consumption of foods and drinks containing added sugar is limited. But does this mean that we should be calling sugar a ‘toxin’? I certainly do not think so. 

Labelling foods as ‘toxic’ is somewhat akin to labeling foods as ‘bad’, in that it can cause feelings of guilt or overly restrictive eating behaviours. This can lead to or worsen an existing unhealthy relationship with food. 

The trend of referring to substances such as sugar as ‘toxic’ also discredits the use of this word in an appropriate setting. It certainly does have an important role to play in the description of food. Pathogenic microorganisms on food can become toxic, leading to foodborne illness that may have fatal outcomes. Food safety is important for everyone, particularly vulnerable groups including young children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems. Food safety and toxic foods should be taken seriously.

So be wary next time you are reading an article that labels foods as ‘toxic’ unnecessarily.  Be mindful of the impact that this may have on your mental health and your relationship with food. Consider using a more suitable labelling method for grouping foods, such as healthy foods that should be eaten regularly and less healthy foods that should be consume less often.


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