“Food is fuel…or sometimes, it just makes us happy.”
As a health and wellness enthusiast, I get asked a lot of questions related to being healthy. Among my favorite – yet, least favorite – are questions about food.
“Is being a vegetarian healthy?”
“What’s a healthy pre-race meal I should eat?”
“Can you recommend a healthy protein bar?”
“Is this [insert food] healthy?”
You get the idea. I say these are my favorite questions because I love food. I say these are my least favorite questions because…well, I love food.
Confused? Stick with me, I’ll explain.
When it comes to “healthy” food, I’ve come to the conclusion there is no right or wrong answer. Personally, I’m a fan of inclusivity, the idea that no food should be off-limits and encourages one to eat any food in moderation. Yes, eat all.the.foods.
The problem in trying to define healthy food is the term has become subjective because there’s no one-size-fits-all model of what it means to be healthy. I think we’re all striving for our own version of what healthy means and there are a lot of variations of healthy, especially when it comes to food.
One person can make the argument that a salad is healthy while another can point out why it’s not.
One person can tell you why being vegan is healthy while another can support the argument that eating meat, eggs, and dairy foods offers more health benefits.
Hell, I could make the argument why a donut is a healthy food choice and I could stand behind it 100%. My pal and awesome runner, Tom Donaldson, would be my expert witness if we ever went to trial.
My point is, what’s “healthy” for one person might not be for another person because we all have different goals. We all have our own personal baseline for healthy and it can look greatly different than someone else’s.
I’ll use myself as an example. I’m training for a marathon and I lift once or twice a week. My weight and muscle-to-fat balance are appropriate for my genetics and frame. But I’ll never be skinny. I’ll never have a flat stomach. I eat to fuel my body to run, lift, focus at work, and be happy so I’m a good wife and mother. I don’t cut calories or deprive myself of foods I enjoy to lose weight or my gut.
Back to that “healthy” donut argument – while I could make the argument and stand behind it, I’ll admit it would be a thin one. A better way to make my point is with more realistic examples.
For me, a waffle with peanut butter and half a banana is a healthy breakfast.
For me, a veggie-filled pita with cheese and hummus, a peach, and a protein bar is a healthy lunch.
For me, Greek yogurt is a healthy snack.
For me, eggs on avocado toast with a baked potato and ice cream for dessert is a healthy dinner.
Those foods fuel my goals, my happiness, and give me a feeling of balance. For me, those are healthy foods.
For someone trying to cut carbs and sugar, or lose weight, most of that food is not healthy. It’s not so much that it’s not healthy (weeelll, I may be stretching that statement with the ice cream), it’s more that it doesn’t support that person’s goals of what he or she define as healthy or what would make them healthy.
Another point that comes into play is frequency. Back again to the argument I can make for a donut being healthy – it doesn’t stand up if I’m trying to plead the case for eating a donut every day. Me eating ice cream for dessert to give me some healthy balance and happiness? Yes…but No, if I’m putting down a pint every night.
I’ve thought about this idea of defining healthy a lot, especially when I’m asked about if a certain food is healthy. An event that happened at work last week inspired me to finally write about it.
Our office participated in National Walk at Lunch Day. After the walk, our wellness committee told us a variety of healthy snacks would be offered. We were provided an apple, a standard protein bar, and a high-protein granola bar.
For the person avoiding sugar, none of these snacks would be healthy. For most people, the nutrients, fiber, and protein offerings between the three absolutely qualifies them as healthy. Add to the fact they’re all tasty snacks that would be a better nutritional choice than what’s offered in a vending machine, further makes them healthy snacks.
Side note: I happily took one of each snack to parcel out and enjoy at my leisure later on.
My final point in this struggle to define healthy food is that we, as a society, particularly “experts” trained in the fields of nutrition, can’t even agree on what foods are healthy.
Expert #1: Fruit is healthy!
Expert #2: Nope, fruit has too much sugar, so fruit is not healthy.
Expert #1: Milk is healthy!
Expert #2: Actually, dairy is now, in fact, not good for you, so milk is not healthy.
Expert #1: Vegetables are healthy!
Expert #2: Not so fast – carrots, corn, and potatoes are too starchy so they’re really not healthy.
Expert #1: Eggs are healthy!
Expert #2: Nope, egg yolks have too much cholesterol, so eggs are not healthy.
Expert #3: Whole eggs may not be healthy, but egg whites are healthy!
Expert #4: Nope, you don’t get enough protein from egg whites alone, so egg whites are not healthy.
O.M.Effing.G. And don’t even get me started on the push to swap regular foods for the latest healthy food or superfood – you know, the ones that really aren’t swaps, like kale chips. Swapping kale chips for Baked Lays surely will save me calories but will also make me sad and unfulfilled.
Side note: Please stop with the kale. No kale. No kale, ever, no thank you. #teamspinach all the way.
Health, like wellness, is more than a number on the scale, pants size, or daily macros. Health is what makes you feel good, your best. For the most part, what are generally accepted as healthy foods like apples, salads, and veggies are going to make up the bulk of my diet because eating those types of foods make me feel good, my best, and I imagine this is the case for most people.
Typically, I feel much better after snacking on an apple vs. a donut. For the most part, I’ll have more energy eating something like a veggie-filled pita for lunch vs. pizza. But not always…not always. Some days, especially during marathon season, I want the donut. Or the pizza. And I feel great after. There’s a place for all in my healthy lifestyle.
What are your thoughts on the healthy food discussion? Are there foods you believe to be healthy for all and those that should be avoided at all costs? The comments are your space to share thoughts so please do so. Or, connect with me on Twitter @LindsayIRL.