By: Holly L. Goroff MS, RD, CDN
Have you ever heard someone say something to the effect of ‘I bought something healthy – it was a gluten-free … (insert food name here)’? Or, ‘It’s good for you – NO CARBS!’? I have and it gives me chills! We are such targets of manipulative food marketing that our sense of ‘healthy’ has been obscured and our wallets are consequently drained.
It seems like every six months to a year there is a new definition of healthy. Healthy one day means juicing every morning, colon cleansing and antioxidants and the next it is eating quinoa, going gluten-free, drinking kefir or almond milk and no dairy...the list goes on and on.
I refer to these changing definitions of healthy foods as ‘food fads’. In addition to being heavily marketed, they also seem to get adopted by key public health figures, say…Dr. Oz, Jillian Michael or someone similar. Daytime shows have special guests to speak to the fads and drop key words like ‘toxins’, ‘metabolism’ and ‘cleansing’ and know they will capture your interest to hear more about the latest health craze.
What makes things a bit complicated is that these fads generally have some element of truth to them. It’s just not the WHOLE truth. And generally, it’s a truth that is subjective. We’ll get into this in a minute.
If I were to ask you WHY some of these foods are healthier than others, what would your source of information be? If it is Dr. Oz, Jillian Michael or someone similar, a quick Google search, branding or word of mouth, I would suggest you consider those resources questionable. Ask yourself, what makes them experts in nutrition? They could be super smart in cardiovascular disease and or fitness, but why does that make them worthy of dictating your diet?! Does what works for them work for everyone?
With all of these food fad’s flying around and your busy life which prevents you from doing scholarly research, what does “healthy food” actually mean? How do we know? And, how do we know quickly?
Excellent questions! Let me help…
Let’s start with the basics. What does it mean to be healthy?
Here are some helpful definitions to keep in mind:
A) Health – The condition of being well or free from disease.
B) Macronutrients – Food (substance) required in relatively large quantities for providing energy and essential nutrients: Protein, Carbohydrates (including fiber) and Fat.
C) Micronutrients – Organic compounds (notably vitamins and minerals) essential in minute amounts to the growth and health.
Putting it all together:
A healthy food will provide macro and micronutrients to support your bodies’ optimal functional performance. This includes healthy weight, controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol.
Notice I said, YOUR bodies’ optimal performance. Each person has unique needs either for optimal nutrition to accommodate a fast-paced life, athletic lifestyle, pregnancy or perhaps a disease state.
Quick tip for choosing healthy foods before we get to part 2:
- Shop the perimeter of the supermarket where the fresh produce, meats and dairy are located. Or, patron farmers markets and fill in the nutritional blanks by purchasing a protein like chicken or fish at the supermarket, butcher or fish store.
(UPDATE: Click here to read part 2!)
But until then, tell me, what do you consider ‘healthy’ foods for you or your family, especially when you are grocery shopping?
About the Author: Holly is an experienced dietitian in both clinical and community nutrition. She is currently serving as the Clinical Nutrition Manager at now guest blogger for Choosy Kids!
She received her Master of Science degree in Nutrition and Food Studies from the Steinhardt School at New York University. She is published through her research and contributing work at Burke Rehabilitation Center investigating nutritional factors impacting neurological rehabilitation in stroke patients.
In addition to managing her staff of clinical nutritionists, she has a passion for serving at-need and underserved communities. She teaches outreach programs focused on mindful eating and strategies to make healthier lifestyle choices to at-risk community populations. She has recently been made lead in her hospital for teaching and managing the outreach classes to reduce childhood obesity.
She has expertise in: weight loss and management, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, dealing with polypharmacy and achieving nutrition goals, achieving wellness goals in a creative and resourceful manner and motivating change.
[A] Merriam-Webster.com. Health. Available at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/health. Accessed on June 15, 2015.
[B] Mahan, K. Escott-Stump, S. Food, Nutrition and Diet Therapy 11th Edition. 2004. Page 38. Saunders
[C] Merriam-Webster.com. Micronutriends. Available at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/micronutrients.Accessed on June 20, 2015.