The “Healthy Food” Myth

Let’s stop calling food “healthy” right now! You can have “healthy habits” because that’s using the word correctly. in this context the word healthy is used as an adjective adverb.

Food, however, is an inanimate object. Unlike plants, people, and animals, food can neither suffer poor health or enjoy good health. In other words food can’t be healthy or unhealthy. Those are adjectives that describe living things.

No food is so nutritious that it can supply 100% of our nutritional requirements. No food is so good for the human body that it can prevent sickness or cure disease. In fact, there was only one time in our lives when one food was so perfectly suited to our nutritional needs that it could supply 100% of what we needed to thrive and even provide us antibodies against some sicknesses. I’m talking about breast milk!  Once we grow beyond infancy we need more nutrition than even breast milk can provide. We broaden our horizons to include other foods in our diets and our source of breast milk dries up, and we need a variety of foods for optimal nutrition.

On the other hand no food is so bad for you, unless it happens to be tainted with a deadly bacteria such as salmonella or botulinum toxin, that eating it occasionally, can make you sick or ruin your health.

If we were to analyze two foods – one called a “healthy choice” and the other labeled “junk food” we’d discover something contradictory. Looks like the junk food is better for you than the healthy snack.

Have an organic apple! It's a healthy snack... or is it?

Have an organic apple! It’s a healthy snack… or is it?

Apples! Healthy food, right? Some readers may go off on pesticides used on apples so to stop that debate, well, at least most can agree an organic apple is healthy.

Snickers chocolate candy bar! Junk food right?

Let’s let go of our prejudice and look at the facts.

ONE APPLE

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 10.59.31 AM

Don't eat that candy bar. It's full of fat and sugar - pure junk food... or is it?

Don’t eat that candy bar. It’s full of fat and sugar – pure junk food… or is it?

ONE SNICKERS CANDY BAR

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 10.59.49 AMWhat is a macronutrient?

Definition: Nutrients that the body uses in relatively large amounts – proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. This is as opposed to micronutrients, which the body requires in smaller amounts, such as vitamins and minerals. Macronutrients provide calories to the body as well as performing other functions.
Pronunciation: ma kro NOO tree ent
     One of these foods provides a little of every macronutrient the body needs for good health. One of them is missing two of the macronutrients necessary for good health. No protein which is needed to build and repair tissue and no fat which is needed for normal growth and development.
     If you were stuck on an island with only the “thought-to-be healthy food,” the apple,  you would have a harder time surviving. In addition to no fat or protein, your apples are not providing enough calories to fuel your body’s needs. It would be very hard, indeed, to eat enough apples to get adequate calories. Apples are high in fiber. We are told that high-fiber foods keep us feeling full longer. I’m not sure that only apples, despite their fiber content, are going to keep me feeling full. They’d probably give me a bellyache, but I don’t think I’d feel full or satisfied – just happy to have something to eat!
     If you found yourself on an island with an ample supplies of Snickers bars, however, which most people put down as “junk food,” you’d fare much better. Snickers also provides some very important trace minerals the body needs such as calcium and iron, neither of which is in the apples.
     Eggs were once considered to be healthy, then they got maligned for cholesterol and now they’ve regained some of their former good reputation. They’ve graduated to “a couple times a week” status. Eggs would nourish you better on the desert island than the apple that sits at the top of the “heap of healthy!”
     If we stop labeling foods as healthy and unhealthy and pay more attention to the total nutritional quality of our food choices over a period of several days we can do more to achieve better health and healthier weight.
     We can also eat in a way that consistently gives us the things we want such as taste, texture, aromas and feeling of fullness – in other words all the elements necessary for satiety. When we do that it becomes easier to monitor calories to ensure we aren’t eating more than we need or if we seek to lose weight, to be sure we’re eating slightly fewer than we need.
     I cringe when somebody announces, “I’m eating healthy to lose weight.” I hear, “I’m eating stuff that I don’t like much to lose weight.” I think it’s great to try to improve the nutritional quality of the food you eat as long as you’re not sacrificing taste for better nutrition.
     Here are my rules to live by:
1. Never eat anything you don’t like because it’s “good for you.” There are other foods with the same good things in them and you actually enjoy them. Mackerel is a greasy, fishy fish and a good source of omega 3 fatty acids. Walnuts are a delightful treat and full of the same omega 3 fatty acids!
2. Fill up on your favorite vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins. Explore and experiment with cooking techniques and recipes to find what really tastes good.
3. Include some dairy and healthy oils to complete your essential nutritional needs.
4. Sugary, fatty foods are good in small servings once in a while. Don’t apologize, don’t feel guilty and don’t hide when you eat them. Include them in balance and moderation and be moderate with your moderation. (In other words, sometimes EAT HAPPENS! and it’s not the end of the world, the end of your diet, or the end of your healthy habits!)
5. Portion control is more important to a healthful diet than any single food choice!
6. Keep moving to burn some extra calories and that gives you freedom to eat enough to stay happy!

 

Jackie Conn

About Jackie Conn

Jackie Conn is the general manager of Weight Watchers of Maine. She is married and has four grown daughters and four grandchildren. Her experience with her own weight management journey and raising girls has given her insight into the struggles families face with weight, healthy body image, food and physical activity. She has been a regular guest on Channel 5 WABI news for more than ten years and appears monthly as a guest on FOX network morning program Good Day Maine.