Why labeling certain foods as "toxic" is unfair and unhealthy, especially for kids.

By Sally Kuzemchak
September 29, 2015
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I am tired of the word "toxic" when it comes to food. I am tired of reading about how sugar is toxic. And also gluten. And definitely all non-organic produce and anything in a package. While we're at it, can we also stop describing certain foods and ingredients as poisonous, dangerous, and deadly?

These are scary words, especially for kids to hear. They're also not accurate or fair words to use when it comes to food, and they only serve to spread confusion and fear (oh, and to grab attention on the internet, which is why they're used so much!).

Yes, some foods and ingredients, especially in consistently large amounts, can be unhealthy. A big load of sugar can certainly be detrimental to someone with diabetes. For some people, lots of sodium can boost blood pressure. A diet high in added sugar may be harmful to the liver. All of these things can be, over time, dangerous to health.

Yet these days, all nuance is gone from the conversation. Food is either good, clean, and pure or it's dirty, toxic, and poisonous. And in my experience, that kind of language leads people (especially parents) to feel like giving up. If you don't have the budget and time for an all-organic, local, whole, non-GMO, totally unprocessed diet, why bother? If the foods you're eating (and feeding your kids) are poisonous and slowly killing you all, what's the use in even trying to eat healthy?

But keep this in mind: When food is called toxic or poisonous, it's a good indication that nutrition misinformation lies ahead. I've read everything from "your body can't digest white flour" (yes, it can) to "soda gives you diabetes" (no, it doesn't). You only have to take a semester of biology to know that things are a lot more complicated than those statements imply.

The bottom line is that your overall diet is what's important. Years of research have identified certain diet patterns that are linked to better health. If you are striving to eat lots of fruits and vegetables and include things like whole grains, nuts, and healthy oils, then a soda isn't going to send you down the road to diabetes.

So when you see words like "toxic" and "poisonous" in relation to food, take it with a big grain of salt. And definitely keep scary words like these out of conversations you have with your kids about food. It's okay to communicate messages of health, but children shouldn't live in fear that their classmate's lunch is poisonous or that the cupcakes at the birthday party are dangerous. Because that kind of thinking is downright unhealthy—even (dare I say?) toxic.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light on Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.