Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a blog post in honour of National Roasted Marshmallow Day (yes, that does exist). The post starts off by discussing the traditional graham cracker, marshmallow and chocolate treat, which has been a campfire standard for many of us. It finishes off by suggesting to substitute fruit for the chocolate and angel food cake for the graham crackers, in order to provide a lower calorie treat. If it wasn’t for being a day in honour of roasted marshmallows, I’m sure they also would have suggested to substitute that as well. I know their intentions were good but really, they're s’mores. Do we really need to modify everything to be a low calorie shell of itself?
My issue here is not the actual substitution of chocolate or graham crackers because I’m sure their suggestions would be delicious. And I understand that government organizations are concerned with combating obesity but is it really the s’mores that we eat a few weekends a year that are causing it? Why bother taking the fun out of something that is enjoyed so infrequently for the majority of the population?
Educating the general public about making healthy food choices each day is important. As a registered dietitian, I’ve made a career out of it. Focusing on eating a variety of fresh, wholesome foods each day will fuel your body and mind to be energetic and strong. Eating well, along with physical activity, gives your body what you need to enjoy your life to its fullest. However, sometimes we need to step back from the dietary nitpicking and look at the big picture. It’s not the occasional chocolate and marshmallow treat that is causing our waistbands to grow. Our whole food system and lifestyle need to be examined.
One could always argue that it is the little things, like the squares of chocolate, that need to be focused on. After all, a few calories here and there can add up. And yes, they can. However, there is a time a place nutrition education. Being constantly bombarded with messages about obesity cause people to develop an unfounded fear of the fat and sugar in our foods. One should not fear or feel guilt for treating oneself to the occasional dessert. Moderation is the key. I know you’ve heard it before but it’s true. Food is meant to be enjoyed. Even chocolate, even s’mores. It’s really what we do most of the time that makes a difference to our health.
Nutrition education should include how to incorporate those “unhealthy” foods into your diet, instead of completely banishing them. Time and time again we’ve seen diets that forbid certain foods and the long-term success of these diets are poor. Learning which foods to eat most often and which foods to eat less often is a better strategy. Foods should neither be good nor bad. The continual fussing over a few bits of less than healthy foods promotes a disordered relationship with our food, eating and appetite.
Even though I know the USDA’s heart was in the right place in this blog post, there are many more important nutrition issues like accessibility and affordability of nutritious foods that need to be addressed by the organization. Messages like this one by the USDA are unnecessary.
Please, let s’mores be s’mores and move on.