Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What is Healthy?

I know that we all have our own opinions as to what healthy* eating means. But, seriously, look at that cheese. That’s a lot. That isn’t healthy, regardless of what the description says. I'm not just picking on this pin. I find so many recipes on Pinterest that claim to be healthy, but simply aren’t. A pasta dish with heavy cream, for example. Heavy cream. Or “Healthy” chocolate chip cookies. That’s impossible. I’ve made chocolate chip cookies with chickpeas that were better for you than regular cookies, but I never once, with their sugar and chocolate content, thought of them as healthy. They were ultimately bad for me even though they tasted oh, so good.

I get it. There are people looking for gluten-free, or low-carb, or low-fat, or whatever, and they think that if a recipe doesn’t have gluten or is low in carbs, then that makes it healthy. But that’s wrong. It just meets your dietary request. I don’t eat meat. I can’t call chocolate cake healthy just because it doesn’t contain meat.

This is such an important part of the weight issue so many Westerners have. People don’t truly know what it means to eat healthfully. Fad diets are touted as being based on hard science. News reports are constantly coming out telling us about the newest ‘scientific’ evidence on how to eat. It’s all conflicting and confusing.

When you combine all the conflicting news coming to us through perceived reputable sources with the information we get from the food industry, things get really convoluted. While there are so many products touted as being good for us, but aren’t (Bel-Vita! Who doesn’t want cookies for breakfast?) I think the one that really sums it all up is Ensure. Ensure is a line of nutritional shakes, if you’re not familiar. It’s supposed to be consumed to fill in the gaps you might have in your nutrition, or used as a meal replacement. Kind of a drinkable vitamin, very healthy, allegedly. They contain 18+ grams of sugar and 11 grams of fat. But the factoid I love about this “healthy” drink is that it is often the food of choice used by scientists to make lab rats obese in scientific studies. Granted, rats aren’t humans, but I think it kinda says something.

So how do you make people aware of what is healthy for them and what will kill them? I think science reporters who really understand science would help. Rather than just tossing the juicy bits of a science story, someone could explain the whole study and what it actually means, if it means anything. Forcing companies to be honest in claims they make about their products would be a huge help. Nutella couldn’t say their product is a healthy breakfast food, most of the granola or protein bars wouldn’t get to claim to be good for you, and Ensure would have to confess to being a dessert, a yucky, yucky dessert (though endorsed by lab rats everywhere). Gimmicky diet books could have warning labels admitting to the wonky ‘scientific’ findings they contain. Menus would have to outline the calories and fat their offerings contain. I’m sure there are plenty of other actions we could take to help people better navigate the modern food labyrinth. Anything to stack the deck a little more fairly would help.

*It really should be ‘healthful’ but that sounds snobby since no one talks that way. However, using ‘healthy’ in place of ‘healthful’ bothers me every single time I do it.

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