“Is ___ healthy?”
Updated: Aug 10, 2020
“Is ___ healthy?”
“Can I eat ___?”
“Isn’t ___ bad for you?”
These are some of the questions I most commonly hear when the topic of food or nutrition ever comes up. People are becoming more and more interested in their health these days and they want answers…FAST. What should they eat? What should they not eat? When should they eat?
If I’m honest, these questions always make me cringe.
I appreciate the intention behind them, I really do. As someone who values physical and mental health, I always want to support people that are on their own journeys to finding their best selves.
Here’s the problem I have: the questions imply that foods can be labelled as 'healthy' or 'unhealthy'. And the reality is that they can’t.
At this point, many people will begrudgingly say, “Okay, yes, fine, everything in moderation,” but I find that this concept is actually hard for people to internalize.
I get it! That answer is not nearly as sexy as "red meat will kill you" and "red wine is better than exercise". Black and white answers are a lot easier to swallow and regurgitate to others. Who wants to deal with that messy grey area anyway?
Mainstream media certainly understands this and they fully utilize sensationalized titles to get more clicks. They will even reference a research study or two and throw in the name of a doctor to really sell their narrative. Then, when a few months later, you see headlines touting the exact opposite advice, you can’t help but get frustrated because nutrition science is just so ‘undependable’.
So how can we combat this dichotomous thinking? How can we stop trying to label everything we consume as 'good' or 'bad'?
Baby steps! Here are three things to remember the next time you find yourself wanting to give into that labelling mentality:
1. No single food can give or take away your health
Granted, there are literal toxic poisons out there that could kill you, but we’re talking about actual food here. There is no single food item that can independently overturn your health status (for better or for worse).
First of all, food is just one small component of your overall health. But let’s say I let go of that (for just a minute); your overall eating pattern matters way more than any single food item. You can have chips, burgers, and the buttery movie theatre popcorn and still be the picture of health. You could eat kale, avocado, apples, and smoothies and still find yourself getting sick frequently.
It’s important to remember that ALL foods can fit into a healthy eating pattern. There are only two foods that I would recommend completely avoiding:
(1) Foods that you are allergic or intolerant to
(2) Foods that you don’t enjoy
2. We are all different
And I don’t mean this in a “we’re all precious, unique snowflakes” sort of way. I mean truly, each of us have different genetics, upbringings, needs, and preferences, and are in different environments with varying levels of accessibility.
Let’s take something as simple as eggs for instance. In Canada, eggs are considered a priority allergen and many people also experience digestive difficulties with them. Eggs also have cholesterol; this isn't a problem for most people because our bodies will just compensate by producing less of its own, but this compensation doesn’t happen for some people and may be a cause for concern for those individuals. At the same time, eggs are packed with nutritional value (yes, even the yolk) and many individuals could benefit from including them in their diets if they enjoy them.
Like I said, we are all different!
3. All foods have health-promoting and health-detracting properties
These properties may be in different proportions for different people and may even vary for one person from one day to the next. Let’s take spinach for example, a food that tends to be labelled unequivocally as 'healthy'. It certainly has a lot of wonderful micronutrients and can be utilized in a wide variety of dishes. But should I eat it every day even if I’m not enjoying it? Should I have that spinach salad that I had planned for lunch if I’m going to hate every minute of it and it’s going to leave me unsatisfied? If it’s compromising my state of mind, is that not health-detracting?
It may not happen overnight, but over time, my hope is that we can move away from our inclination towards dichotomous thinking. It’s a natural tendency as we inherently want to build schemas to help make decision making as easy as possible. However, in the context of food and overall health, it can be extremely counterproductive.
Remember: ALL FOODS FIT. Prioritize variety, moderation, and proportionality.
Stay nourished my friends,