Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Overton Diet: BMI = 29.4

I’ve usurped a term from political science to develop a concept I call The Overton Diet. Essentially, it is a set of dietary norms that are socially acceptable. In political science, it has long been recognized that pushing for ideas just outside the window of acceptability effects little to no change in public opinion. Espousing ideas that are extreme, far beyond socially acceptable, on the other hand, can greatly shift the public view of what is acceptable.

Our view of what is acceptable to eat is largely based on our exposure to very extreme dietary options. The cereals above run a close second to eating a bowl of candy for breakfast in the bad dietary choices race. Why are such cereals even still available when we know obesity is an epidemic? In short, keeping these cereals in the breakfast aisle normalizes less unhealthy choices like Honey Nut Cheerios.

When my grandmothers began shopping for groceries, a healthy breakfast was porridge. They had their choice of Sunny Boy, Red River, Quaker Oats, cracked barely, corn cereal, and cream of wheat. None of them had added sugar, and most were composed of whole grains. Ready-to-eat (rte) cereals were already on the shelves back then, but they would have thought it scandalous to be seen buying such things for their family. Even in the 50’s, some sugary cereals were being marketed to children – in an effort to normalize more adult rte-cereals like corn flakes.

My cereal aisle still has Quaker Oats, but to get either Sunny Boy Cereal or Red River Cereal I must order on the internet. I found a nice multi, whole grain cereal locally but I had to go to a ‘health food’ store to do so. For simply wanting some variety without added sugar for breakfast I have to go to a health food store – that’s how far our dietary perspective has been shifted since my grandmothers began buying groceries. At least I found some other good sources of whole grains without added sugars while I was there.

The granola bar section no longer exists at my grocery store. They don’t even bother calling it the ‘breakfast bar’ section anymore. It’s simply called the ‘tender bar’ section. Beside chocolate covered nougat and brownies, the nutri-grain bars look like a healthy option.

Don’t let your view of what is healthy be swayed by the most extreme foods on the shelf. Don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking that just because you didn’t buy the brownies your other choices must be healthy. The dietary standards that are generally acceptable these days are terrible.

We are faced with more nutritionally egregious choices all the time and it has skewed our perspective to the point that a healthy diet now seems like a radical idea. When is the last time your grocery haul looked like the following picture?

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