The rise of healthy eating and wellness in the past few years has brought with it many new trends, among them the concept of ‘healthy treats’. Instagram is full of raw/vegan/paleo/sugar-free/gluten-free/flour-free/wheat-free baked goods to satisfy your sweet tooth. Who wouldn’t want a ‘guilt-free’ way to enjoy brownies, cake, muffins, and everything in-between?
I’ll admit, I was completely taken with this idea of making healthy alternatives to junk food. Scroll down 3 years on my Instagram feed and you’ll find a plethora of sweet potato brownies, flourless cookies, and paleo treats. I’d often make batches of these healthy treats a couple of times a week, and end up eating the lot in a day or two. It”s fine because they’re healthy though, right?
A raw, vegan, paleo, sugar-free brownie is still a fucking brownie.
So how ‘healthy’ are these alternatives anyway? Many of the ‘clean’ treats that litter Pinterest, are made with ingredients like coconut oil, nuts, agave syrup, honey, seeds, dates, coconut flour etc. Sounds healthy, right? These ingredients are incredibly calorie dense, meaning these little treats can set you back hundreds of calories. They often have similar or even more calories than the regular versions. Excess calories will contribute to weight gain, whether they’re from a clean, raw, paleo, vegan energy ball or a Krispy Kreme. The claim of ‘no-refined’ sugar is totally bogus too. Honey, agave, or maple syrup are just more expensive versions of regular table sugar, offering minimal extra micronutrients. The only real difference is that you can pretend it’s healthy and ‘guilt-free’.
You might notice that I’ve put ‘guilt-free’ in inverted commas. I think the whole concept of ‘guilt-free’ foods is total BS. Why should you feel guilty about eating food? Unless you stole it, you have no need to feel guilty. If you eat a doughnut, what good is feeling bad about it going to do? It serves zero purpose. If you want a treat, just fucking have it. Enjoy and savour every bite of it, then move on with your life. Surely you have better things to be worrying about?
The whole concept of ‘healthy treats’ also reinforces the dichotomising of food. Food is either clean or dirty, healthy or unhealthy, with no in-between. That’s also BS. No food is inherently good or bad, it’s completely subjective. Meat is considered an healthy dietary staple for many, but is abhorrent for a vegan. Lentils and beans are great sources of fibre and micronutrients for many, but a nightmare for someone with IBS. Dairy is a great source of protein and calcium in many diets, but causes other people digestive issues. Like all things in life, it depends. Labelling a treat as ‘healthy or ‘clean’ lets us feel good about eating it, as we are ‘allowed’ to enjoy it. It can also make us feel like shit when we eat something ‘unhealthy’ or ‘dirty’, reinforcing the idea of food guilt. In reality, it’s all just food. Some foods we should eat more often, some less often, but all can be part of a healthy diet – just in varying quantities.
These alternative treats also feed into the restrictive dieting mentality. Instagram gurus have brainwashed so many seeking a healthier diet into thinking that it is necessary to cut out whole food groups to be healthy. Grain, dairy, gluten, sugar, meat, legumes – it’s all got to go. Fuck that, gluten is delicious. There is also no benefit to cutting out food groups if you don’t have an allergy or intolerance! If you find that your body feels better when you limit your intake of certain foods, then by all means do it. If you’re doing it because you read on a blog somewhere that cutting out pretty much everything will solve all your problems, maybe think again.
On a practical note, another reason I no longer make these treats is that they’re really bloody expensive! Buying the nut butter, coconut oil, medjool dates etc. really adds up. A batch of these alternatives can cost at least €5-10. The twix you were actually craving will set you back €1, and you have the added benefit of not accidentally eating 12 of them. Save your money for legit healthy food, like good quality fruit and veg.
The final nail in the coffin? They just don’t taste as good as the real thing. I’ve had raw treats which have been pretty good, some almost as good as the real deal. But nothing beats proper Nutella, doughnuts or brownies. Just accept it! For so long I pretended my versions were just as tasty, but once you have the real thing you realise how wrong you were! Moreover, it’s far easier to be satisfied after just one real treat. You can satisfy your craving and move on, instead of eating the entire batch because it’s not quite as good. If you’re going to have your cake and eat it, you may as well enjoy it!
On a side note, I totally get that some people can’t have regular treats due to allergies, intolerances etc. and that’s cool. This article is aimed at people who, like my former self, are making healthy treats so they can stick to their restrictive diets, when really these treats are doing nothing to bring you closer to your goals! Think twice before spending a tonne of time and money making something which just ain’t gonna taste as good as the real thing.
I realise I’ve probably pissed off a few people with this post, let me know your take on it in the comments below or on my Instagram (@frenchtoastandfitness).
I’m off to go make some flourless, dairy-free brownies. JKJKJKJK.