What is Healthy Food?


Today’s question is deceptively simple: What does healthy mean?

Before we go on, take a few seconds to define healthy food for yourself.

Some common popular ideas about healthy food

  • The more natural a food is, the better
  • GMO is unnatural/bad
  • Unhealthy food is more addictive
  • Processed food is not healthy food
  • You can eat far more calories from healthy food than from unhealthy food
  • Adding a specific type of food to your diet will help you lose weight
  • One particular food is the problem
  • The good ole days were better

Some rambling thoughts about those ideas

Cooking is a form of processing. So is soaking, leaching, grinding, curdling, fermenting, transporting, storing, and cooling. We’ve been modifying plants since the beginning of agriculture. That is agriculture. The ancestors of most of today’s edible fruits and vegetables would have straight-up murdered you.

The taste and texture of foods can—and will continue to be—modified to make them as close to addictive as legally possible. Are they actually addictive? That’s another discussion.

Excess calories pose a far more significant risk than small amounts of natural sweeteners.

Too little iron will cause fatigue, too much will cause organ damage. Too few calories will sap your energy and shorten your lifespan. So will too many.

Processing (yes, including cooking) makes it easy for you to access those calories. Which might be good or bad (see above).

100 calories is 100 calories—regardless of the source.

The only ways that a specific type of food will be the problem is if it will kill you (allergies); make you miserable (intolerance); or if it is something that you just cannot control your eating of (calorie management—mostly). Carbs—or at least certain types of carbs—may meet one of the above criteria. Otherwise, carbs are different assemblies of sugars that come along for the ride with different types of nutrients. It’s pretty hard to pigeonhole them.

Palaeolithic humans got less screen-time, fewer processed foods, and way more deaths from infection, flu, parasites, and chimpanzee beat-downs (per capita).

The good ole days were a disgusting, lawless, time with zero access to streaming movies.

Some action steps

  • Figure out if you’re an abstainer or a moderator when it comes to specific foods.
  • Know how to identify foods with a high nutrient-to-calorie ratio (salads) and a low nutrient-to-calorie ratio (ranch dressing).
  • There’s a handful of potential nutritional deficiencies that you should be aware of. If in doubt, get bloodwork. Even if it’s not covered by OHIP.
  • You probably need to chase vegetables, lean protein, and unsaturated/monounsaturated fats. Factor that into your shopping and ordering decisions.
  • Mental callisthenics around food serve nobody. You probably need some kind of simple organizing rule around what you choose to eat. Weigh a few options and go with your gut (#dadjokes).

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