Think back to when you were a kid. Remember some of the foods you really did not wanna eat for dinner, but had to choke down anyway? You obviously wondered why of course you had to eat such things, but it was healthy. If it was healthy, then why on earth did it taste so freaking bad?
Well, if it tastes bad, it must be good for you! There is some Truth in Television here, as many people portray health food as being healthy, but tasting extremely terrible. In fact, there is some health food that is considered tasty, but many of the health foods that have the irony of health food are heavily fortified with vitamins to make them even healthier. This also makes them taste rather... unpalatable as some of those nutrients can taste extremely bad because they are in higher amounts than normal and there is no covering up the flavor. (Such as B vitamins.) Ironically, it's the highly-processed, vitamin-fortified "health foods" that tend to cost the most, taste the worst, and have the most potential to actually injure you. Plain plant- or animal-based food is mouthwatering in comparison. There's actually the question of preparation; since some vegetables that are very good for you taste absolutely terrible to some people if you prepare them in a certain way. (Carrots for example are known for absorbing flavor when they are cooked with something)
Sometimes, it may not taste bad, but bland. Truth in Television; as some very healthy foods are quite bland (depending on what you do with them, anyway; investing in a good spice rack and cookbook can work miracles.)
In fiction, this trope is played with because the characters will retch from health food or react with disgust when they try it. Or the health food will wind up not being as good as they are told.
Kids often enact the irony of health food due to the fact that many kids are picky eaters naturally. (Having so many taste buds doesn't help either, so that vegetable you eat only because it's healthy will taste even worse to them.) Not only is it new and unfamiliar, but the smell also won't help for picky eaters thanks to it making up so much of taste.
A further irony of health food is that you can actually get sick from some kinds if you eat too much. Yes, it is possible. It's called an overdose. Some overdoses are more fatal than others, thankfully. (You won't die from overdosing on a Vitamin C superdrink, but if you take too much Vitamin A, then you CAN die of poisoning.)
But, of course, the trope plays out making fun of how unhealthy foods seem to taste much better than most healthy foods, and some people may be addicted to other unhealthy foods.
The trope's name comes from a line by BrainySmurf, said in the episode "Jokey's Funny Bone" while he was trying to shovel health food down an unwilling Smurf's throat.
Compare If It Tastes Good It Must Be Bad For You. See also Misery Builds Character.
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Buckley's Cough Syrup uses this trope as a marketing campaign. "It tastes awful, but it works"
A commercial for Chef Boyardee products from the early 90's featured a young Boyardee being served slop in a primitive cafeteria, then being kicked out when he asked the cafeteria lady why everything that was good for him had to taste so bad.
Invoked in a series of Scope commercials from the 1970's. They would open with Flashback scenes of a child complaining that his/her mouthwash tasted bad, and the mother answering, "If it tasted good, it wouldn't work." Cut to present day and that child as an adult, still using the same bad-tasting mouthwash, when friends clue them in that Scope tastes good but works.
Inverted in Toriko, if it's nutritious there's a good chance that it'll taste so amazing that you'll want to try even more weird things.
Chimera tear-cola anyone? Or cloud veggies?
Quack doctor Dr. Hiruluk lampshades this trope about medicine in One Piece. He is served a soup made of a supposedly healing mushroom by his student Chopper, and then Chopper asks him how it tastes. Hiruluk replies that it tastes terribly, and Chopper gets appalled, but then he points out that medicine only works if it tastes bad. Chopper's self-confidence as an aspiring doctor is restored. However, in the end, it's horribly subverted as the mushroom actually was an extremely poisonous one, which was probably the real reason it tasted bad, but that's a whole other story.
Abbott: You should really go on a diet. You know what a diet is, don't you?
Costello: Sure, that's where you can eat all you want of everything you don't like.
Averted in the Harry Potter/YuYu Hakusho fanfic The Best Defense. Harry is rushed to the hospital wing after swallowing a mouthful of foul-tasting, poisonous moss that had been used to gag him. Shortly afterward, Hiei gives him a "quick lesson in survival [...] If it doesn't taste edible, it probably isn't."
Dr. Melik:listing items Miles [Allen] had requested for breakfast ... wheat germ, organic honey, and... Tiger's Milk. Dr. Aragon: Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties. Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or... hot fudge? Dr. Aragon: Those were thought to be unhealthy... precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true. Dr. Melik: Incredible!
Referenced in The Last Continent, when Rincewind accidentally invents Vegemite: "Probably full of nourishing vitamins and minerals. Most things you couldn't believe the taste of generally were."
The novel Liver Cookies has the two protagonists decide, if everything that's unhealthy is tasty, and everything healthy is disgusting, why not put the two together and make food that tastes like junk food but has the nutritional value of healthy food? Their first invention is, of course, liver cookies. They call it Healthy Junk (HJ for short, figuring that everyone will think it's the founders initials).
In H.H. Munro (AKASaki)'s "Filboid Studge" the eponymous food is foul-tasting; a clever advertisement campaign uses exactly that fact to induce people to eat it, as a kind of moral duty.
Zenna Henderson's "The Taste of Aunt Sophronia" is about this. One of the Explorer probes returned to earth bearing a mysterious disease which killed men and children. Women lived, but spent the rest of their lives in horrific pain. They were put into stasis, to be awakened to test possible cures. Thiela reminisces about her aunt, the "Weed Woman", who made horrible herbal brews. Once the subject of a thesis by a medical student, Aunt Sophronia's recipes and explanations were microfilmed, and Thiela kept a copy. A general recipe for a potion that is "good for what ails you" and tastes like shit turns out to be the answer... at least for some.
At the last accounting, there were a total of 187 diseases or malfunctions for which Sophronium is the specific. These conditions vary widely and seem to have no relation to each other except in that they can all be cured by Sophronium. Perhaps Aunt Sophronia is pleased to know that the taste is still there. How can you tell it's medicine unless it tastes bad?
Live Action TV
One episode of The Adventures of Pete & Pete throws this one completely out the window. Pete the Younger overdoses on creamed corn (apparently based on the notion that it's weapons-grade nasty, so logically it must be tremendously bad for him) to get out of going to a school dance his parents are pressuring him to participate in. He has to have his stomach pumped to prevent a fatal case of creamed corn poisoning ("Creamed corn isn't the answer, son!" declares the doctor). He ends up going to the dance anyway, as the resulting "gut-kludge" emits a radioactive green glow, and he sets up a table near the restrooms charging dancegoers a fee to see it.
Bill Nye was once explaining medicinal properties of various plants. Taking a bite of lemon, as his face scrunched up he said "It's got to be good for you..."
The Cosby Show had some fun with this trope from time to time, including one moment where Clair got Cliff to try rice cakes:
Clair: Zero salt, zero sugar, zero cholesterol.
Cliff: Zero taste.
Only Fools And Horses had a moment in "Mother Natures Son" where Del-Boy (Who lives almost exclusively on fried food, takeaways and alcohol) reacts to his brother Rodneys revelation that he and his wife Cassandra like the health food from the organic store with "Oh, well that must be very appetising then. Knowing that everything on your plate was once underneath a big pile of horse shit!".
Played for laughs in the background of The X-Files; Scully is portrayed as being a health nut, and will eat things that completely baffle and disgust her partner, Mulder. Including stirring bee pollen into her yogurt, even though Mulder tells her she's a scientist and should know better.
On an episode of That 70s Show, Red must go on a diet after having a heart attack, and when Kitty serves the usual meat-and-potatoes fare to the rest of the family, she gives Red a plate of what looks like overcooked green vegetables. Red looks at it with disgust and says, "this isn't food, this is what food eats!"
Generally when a contestant on a cooking game show specializes in healthy food (or if there's a challenge to make healthy food), they'll acknowledge this trope exists, then proceed to demonstrate that healthy food doesn't have to taste bad. Top Chef had a memorable example with Andrea, who even though she did get eliminated about halfway through had successful dishes and was liked by most of the other people there because of her passion for making healthy food.
Subverted on Iron Chef US: Battle Broccoli, when the challenger was a vegetarian who swore up and down that healthy food could be tasty... but in practice, used so much butter her kitchen ran out of it during the contest.
A comic strip of The Born Loser has a kid say, "Is this food good for you?" and when his parents say, "Yes, why?" the kid responds, "Because this tastes very, very awful."
Calvin And Hobbes plays with this trope a lot. Calvin's mom prepares what looks to be a large mush of unidentifiable food that Calvin refuses to eat, but his mom insists are healthy. One strip even has Calvin refuse to eat a vegetarian meal because he's not a vegetarian. (He's a dessertarian.)
On the other hand, even as wild as Calvin's imagination runs, his mom very well could be a Lethal Chef. Most of the dinners she serves in the strip look like unidentifiable amorphous blobs, and even his dad comments on how terrible the food is on occasion. Given that Calvin has gotten genuinely ill from her food, her bad-tasting food might not be that good for him either.
Foxtrot is another candidate for Trope Namer, as this trope was played with all the time during the comic strip's run. One strip shows Peter Fox gagging and retching before passing out at the dinner table, while Andrea Fox declares it "The Irony of Health Food". Other comic strips show the family complaining about her cooking, sabotaging the cooking so they wouldn't have to eat it, or Andrea cooking up such delicacies like beet and cheese subs, curry loaf, and tofu turkey in ginger sauce. The cooking tastes so bad that one strip even shows Roger accidentally tasting a sealant for the driveway and saying it was much better than her cooking.
In point of actual fact, Andy can cook quite well, and could probably produce tasty and highly nutritious meals if she stuck to actual, edible food. The point where she decided that the family needed to eat all healthy, all the time and started experimenting with tofu, beets, and lima beans is where she gained her reputation of a poor chef (at least among her family).
One Garfield strip had Jon lamenting that there was no measurement for taste. Garfield told him it was the calorie.
Too many things to name portray very healthy foods such as broccoli as being scorned by children, even some adults severely dislike broccoli. Brussels sprouts, liver and spinach are other common targets.
George HW Bush actually forbade broccoli from the White House, and an episode of Histeria! had some fun with this.
It is also mostly the vegetables that have this treatment. Fruits meanwhile (culinary fruits, at least) never get the Irony of Health Food treatment. You almost never hear of someone whose parents can never get them to eat bananas, apples, or grapes. Probably because parents don't force fruits on their kids the way they do vegetables. It also helps that fruits are naturally sweet, too. Or sour like citrus fruits.
A certain birthday card shows an adult woman scraping her broccoli into the trashcan with a caption that goes something like, "One of the perks of getting old is that no one can make you eat your vegetables!"
In Real Life safety conscious doctors and pharmacists sometimes design medicine to taste bad so that children won't take too much of it.
This actually happened after a generation where they tried to design medicine to taste good specifically so kids would eat it. Unfortunately, this resulted in kids taking too much because they liked it as it tasted like candy. (Discussed in Tales of Vesperia, where it's shown that the Gel healing items were designed to taste good so kids would eat them, and Rita apparently has a taste for them.)
Averted in a Cracked article which explained that lots of "healthy" granola bars are about as good for you as a candy bar. Also on how Bran Muffins are not nutritional, muffins being mostly cake, and cake being mostly fat and sugar.
That possibly comes from the way popular understanding has muddied the understanding of what constitutes 'nutrition'- bran is 'non-nutritious' in that it's indigestible, but a certain amount of harmless, indigestible matter is an important part of a human's diet- that's what 'fiber' is. And those sugary granola bars are 'nutritious' in that they give us lots of short-chain carbohydrates that we need for energy. This is why humans tend to like very sweet foods - as far as our ancient instincts are concerned, taking on as many calories at once is a good thing, because tomorrow, who knows? The problem isn't that sugary foods are not nutritious, rather that it's very easy to eat too much.
Heck, there's a reason people on Survivor go apeshit when they win sugary foods in a reward...it gives them energy.
And that's exactly why so few people are interested in living as long as Jack LaLanne.
His second rule is also rather silly, as you'd wind up spitting out absolutely delicious healthy things like apples (fiber), salmon (omega 3s), and goji berries (more antioxidants than you can shake a stick at).
The first rule is silly enough. Pretty much every available foodstuff is the result of decades or centuries of humanity trying to create varieties very, very different from what's found in nature. What're we supposed to eat, lichen?
Chinese medicine embodies this trope when it comes to herbal medicine you have to boil at home (or boiled and sealed into packets if you can't brew it at home). While the dried plant material that makes up the bulk of it can drive those with allergies insane, the resulting mixture will have your nose and tongue wishing to commit suicide (especially the tongue). There's a reason why a lot of Chinese pharmacies - or stores hosting a Traditional Chinese Medicine area - will drop in a few sweets in the bag at the register.Although it is less effective than other medicine,some have less side effect than other medicine.
Even worse, certain plants create toxic chemicals if improperly consumed or prepared. For example, eating the stems and leaves together, or improperly-processed tapioca.
Of course, this is averted with a great many poisons which are both very bitter and very deadly; this is part of why we're hardwired to despise bitter-tasting things.
Cyanide, for instance. Smells like bitter almonds. Almonds? Pretty good for ya, lots of non-saturated fat, Vitamin E (carbohydrates) and is gluten-free. Most cyanides will pretty much kill you dead, though. Not to be confused with arsenic.
Bitter almonds do not contain cyanides per se, they, just like almost all kernels of prune family fruits, contain compounds called glycosides, which are metabolized to release cyanide. And defining feature of most glycosides is their overwhelmingly bitter taste. What's interesting, however, is that these glycosides, especially the most widespread of them, amygdalinnote From Greek "amygdale", almond, are (in minute amounts) essential parts of almond aroma and taste.
Interestingly enough, the only cells able to metabolize the cyanide out of the apricot seeds are carcenomas-cancer cells.
Also inverted with antifreeze, which tastes sweet, works quickly, and is extremely deadly, which is why people are advised to keep it locked away from children and pets.
Of course, if the persistent little creatures do get their hands on the stuff, the cure is booze. No seriously. The dangerous ingredient in anti-freeze is ethylene glycol, which crystallizes in the bloodstream and shreds your kidneys to pieces. Ethanol, the alcohol in booze, is digested preferentially, which means that having it in your system prevents the ethylene glycol from crystallizing, and it's harmlessly passed through the system (one man in Australia who had drunk antifreeze was given an I.V. drip of pure vodka.) Large amounts of very potent booze isn't the most appealing thing in the world to most people, but in this very specific circumstance, it can save your life.
Ethylene glycol, being a two-base cousin of the common ethanol, is one of those numerous toxic alcohols (including methanol) whose antidote ethanol is. It works by having a better affinity to human cells, and thus is preferentially absorbed by the human body, protecting it. Still, this treatment is not always applicable, and to reduce the number of poisonings now there is the move to replace ethylene glycol by the similarly sweet and syrupy, but non-toxic propylene glycol, a two-base glycerol (and propanol) relative. It is somewhat more expensive, though, which holds adoption in some parts.
Anti-freeze's sweet taste has actually resulted in it being the weapon of choice in more than one murder case since the victim will consume food or drink laced with the stuff without noticing anything amiss. Most if not all antifreeze manufacturers now include a bittering agent to prevent this.
Graham Kerr developed the "Mini Max" method to counteract this: During his Heel-Face Turn after his wife had a heart attack from the type of food he cooked on The Galloping Gourmet, he turned to writing diet books for people with diabetes and heart problems. He realized pretty quickly that the food tasted like crap, and switched to adapting his old recipes to healthier cooking techniques, adding spices and low-calorie ingredients to replace fat and sugar instead of simply cutting them out. While common today, that was a completely novel idea in the late 80s.
James Herriot remarks in one of his books that the popularity of Asafoetida in folk remedies is probably because such a stinking substance must have magical properties.
In a variation of this trope, many energy drinks have an intentionally sour or bitter flavor to make them seem like they have more energy.
ShadowMercury complains in the first episode of Super Playify that his mother likes to make things "health food style", which sucks all the taste out of them.
In Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, when concocting a type of tea that's good for colds, Luke complains that it's a little too bitter for him. Layton explains to him that that that's how you know it works, quoting a Japanese proverb about how good medicine is bitter to the taste.
In the Super Robot Wars series, Original Generation character Kusuha Mizuha is known to concoct health drinks that can even bring the manliest of men to their knees. However, once they recover from their near-death experience, they seem to be much more energetic and ready than they were beforehand.
An episode of As Told by Ginger has the creepy brother Carl playing as a feral wolf-boy. A bystander throws a veggie burger into his enclosure for him to eat and then Carl goes crazy after eating it. Despite the fact that he was told "you can't tell the difference", he still did.
Zig Zagged in an episode of Goof Troop. Peg puts Pete on a diet medication that comes in the form of a granola bar. Pete, understandably, fears that they`ll taste bad; however, they taste so good he eats a week`s supply in one sitting. Peg informs him they`re supposed to be taken with three square meals a day (not exceeding three), and unless they`re taken properly they might as well be candy.
Parodied in an episode of Johnny Bravo, where, having come to the incorrect conclusion that the secret ingredient of his favourite brand of beef jerky was people, Pops corrects him in front of a press conference, revealing that it was actually vitamin-enriched soy cake. The realisation that this technically made his favourite jerky health food drives Johnny mad.
An episode of King of the Hill had a scenario in which Hank Hill had eaten way too much meat and as a result was constipated. In order to help cure his embarrassing symptom, his wife tried to get him to eat more veggies and tofu. He expressed his utter dislike for tofu and, in fact, was offered a tofu substitute called "Fauxfu". When Hank asked the store owner straight out if he has anything that tastes good, he thinks about it for a moment and says no.
Another episode had Peggy decide the family would eat healthy, after a few days she decides only Bobby will eat healthy food due to the fact that a lot of it tastes horrible to them. It ends up being subverted later as Bobby has gotten used to the food and can't stand eating a regular candy bar due to it being too sweet (if you cut sugar to a minimum in your diet this can actually happen). He proceeds to realize that the wheat grass juice hes been drinking now tastes better.
Subverted later on when Hank was forced to buy food from the local co-op after his favorite grocery store was bought out by Mega-lo-Mart. After buying free-range, grass-fed steak he's also given complimentary organic tomatoes and other vegetables, which has Bobby and Peggy mouthgasming. Cue Hank saying "Tomatoes don't have a taste" before trying it himself.
"Beat Your Greens" from Powerpuff Girls, where not eating vegetables turns out to be a good thing, as they've been contaminated by mind-control spores as a front to an alien invasion of sentient broccoli. In the end, the children of Townsville fend them off by eating the broccoli soldiers, and after the aliens retreat, wind up craving more.
Actually, not so much craving as "distrusting every vegetable on sight and deciding to not allow even one to continue existing". Which raises a bit of Fridge Logic: what if another crop got contaminated and now the kids (including the superpowered heroines) become brainwashed? Also, they made eating the broccoli soldiers easier by drowning them in cheese sauce, which can legitimately mask some bitter flavors (and add a fair number of calories and fat in the process, reducing the health benefits of the veggie underneath and enforcing this trope).
In an episode of The Raccoons, Cyril drinks Bert's peanut butter soda, believing it to be a youth-restoring drink. He remarks, "This stuff tastes terrible. It must be good for me!"
In a Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episode, broccoli killed Homer.
Dr. Hibbert:examining Homer's body Hmm. Another case of broccoli-related death. Marge: But I thought broccoli was... Dr. Hibbert: Oh yes. One of the deadliest plants on Earth! Why, it tries to warn you itself with its terrible taste.
In "Pranks and Greens", Marge puts the family on a healthy diet after the other mothers chide her for serving unhealthy food. When her attempts to improve only make them more critical, Marge ends up gorging out on junk. Homer discovers this and they gorge together, deciding to only make the kids eat healthy.
An entire Muppet Babies episode centers on Nanny's mysterious stinky mixture in the kitchen. Early on, they suspect it's good for them and imagine it turning them into Conan the Barbarian knockoffs. (This is not enough to get them to try it, and just as well, since it's actually glue).
An episode of Chowder has Truffles put everyone on a diet, and the most effective weight-loss food is the utterly disgusting Flibber-Flabber. (Like Numbah 2 before him, Chowder enjoys it to the point of ironically getting even fatter.) Mung Daal hopes that its grossness will outweigh her stubbornness, but she fights back by challenging Mung Daal's Supreme Chef reputation: If he is such a good chef, he can make it taste better. Ultimately, Mung cannot and cheats by enlarging the house, making Truffles feel thinner.