Healthy is in the eye of the beholder

Recently a friend of mine posted to Twitter that she was eating eggs for a snack, because she wanted to eat healthier and was using a list she’d found online. Now, I am all in favor of eating eggs. They’re delicious and, when laid by healthy chickens, are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. Since there are still some sources saying eggs are bad for you, especially if you eat the yolk (which is where just about all the good stuff lives), I admit I was curious to see this list and sent her a message to tell her. She was happy to oblige and admitted she was glad I had said something about it. Guess my blogging is paying off, even if I am not a formal expert in any sense of the word on these matters.

(Incidentally, if you ever have a question for me, you can always @message me on Twitter or leave a comment on my Facebook page.)

So, on to this list. I’ve been feeling testy lately with the way “healthy” gets banded around to sell foods. Remember when a certain puffed rice cereal was claiming it could prevent bird flu? That sort of thing, only not quite so extreme in their presentations.

At first, given that the domain was whfoods.com, I confess that I was a little concerned it might be from Whole PaycheckFoods, who have been promoting more of a “plant-based” diet. It’s not their work and for that alone I give it a thumbs up. The list has some great foods and ideas on it… and some things which had me utterly cringing.

The Good
I think I am in awe. There is CHICKEN LIVER on this list! Liver, rich in vitamins like A and K2 and a sacred food in many cultures. Huzzah! We may be bringing back offal yet. There is also a nice selection of seafoods; some good meats; a lack of refined sugar, wheat, and salt; nuts; vegetables, fruits; natural sweeteners; and some highly nutritious grains.

The list featured at the bottom highlights very good points about healthy foods: nutrient dense, which has been something of a key phrase among people following traditional food diets; whole foods; familiar foods (aka you don’t have to look to exotic places to find the good stuff); available; affordable; and tasty. All things I can get behind!

But there’s a lot on this list that bothers me.

The Bad
Item one: Where is all the good fat? The only fat listed in this collection is olive oil. Certainly it’s not a bad fat, but it does somewhat contradict one of their points. Olive oil was originally found in the Mediterranean, which is a far distance from the United States. Granted there are not people growing olive trees in this country, but its adoption into the American diet is a fairly recent one.
Apparently, unless you count the nuts and fish, there is no such thing as a healthy fat. Yes yes, I know what the current thinking says about fat. I hate to break it to you, traditional fats are not going to make you fat. You’re much more likely to get fat, and do a lot of damage to your healthy, by eating the “modern” fats like margarine, hydrogenated oils, and the ubiquitous bottled suff dominating the shelves of supermarkets today. Fats used 100 years ago, like BUTTER and animal fats solid at room temperature, are both much easier for your body to properly process but also contain a slew of nutrients critical for good health.
The grains give me a lot of pause as well. First, it is very difficult for people to digest whole grains in their natural state. This is why traditional cultures would often soak, sprout, and ferment their grains to remove anti-nutrients and make them much easier to digest. In the case of quinoa, the list is again breaking its rule of familiar, as quinoa is grown in South America and has only recently seen a high demand in Western culture. Additionally, that demand has led to a major price hike in the countries of origin. The New York Times had an article about this earlier in the year (and woe to my degree I can’t find a link for it) that this has been a boon to farmers but a bust to the people who depended on quinoa as a major source of protein. They’ve had to turn to imported, overly-processed and imported cheap food instead of the food upon which their ancestors had relied for generations. Finally, unless you buy organic, the corn you’re eating is very likely genetically engineers. GE food has yet to be proven safe for long term human consumption. Also consider if you want to eat food which has a trademark attached to it.
If you’re interested in this topic I highly recommend the documentaries The Future of Food and King Corn, both of which I reviewed here

The Ugly
I’ve got three bits of ugly for you.
First, the “lean” meats. Why lean? As I noted above, fat isn’t bad for you. In a healthy animal you WANT fat. Not to mention, what is so wrong with eating beef? It’s very worth your while to find a source for grass-fed beef, not to mention more organ meats from both beef and the animals listed. More liver, more kidneys, more hearts. If you’re worried about so many animals being killed for specific cuts, expand what you’ll put on your plate. Organ meats were not originally included in the diet to gross out kids. They were eaten FIRST (and predators do this anyway) because they were where you found the most nutrient-dense bits of the animal.
Secondly, what is with that dairy section? Low fat dairy only? Are you mad? Again note The Skinny on Fats. Dairy fat is not your enemy. Again, when the animal is healthy, that fat does a lot for your health. Besides, skim milk tastes pretty bad. I thought the healthy food was supposed to be delicious. For that matter, when fat gets stripped out of things like yogurt, sugar is put in its place for flavor. THIS is where the problem lies. You’ve taken a food which people in eastern Europe cited as the key to their good health (remember ads for yougurt in the 1980s?) and put something in it which causes a slew of issues.
Finally, the soy. An issue I have yet to really cover in this blog. To sum it up though, soy is not the health food it’s been sold to be. In its unfermented state (a la soy milk, texturized vegetable protein, soybean oil), it is full of anti-nutrients, estrogen-boosting compounds, and has actually become one of the more prevalent allergens in the United States due to being found in so many processed foods. It’s also another one of those foods you are likely to find genetically engineered.

Thank you Monsanto.

Lists like this is why I feel very skeptical whenever I see a food blazoned with that “healthy” label. Consider what falls under that category right now.
HEALTHY! (Whatever that means in the next five minutes)
Low fat
Low calorie (you need a certain amount of calories per day just to maintain bodily function. Going below this and putting yourself into starvation mode is a great way to make yourself sick. No wonder why such diets don’t work and people “cheat” on them.)
Vegetarian and Vegan (since animal products are not inherently “bad” for you and the lack thereof does not mean it’s full of good stuff. If the ingredient list reads more like a chemistry lab experiment instead of recognizable food, it’s not real food.)

This is why I no longer describe food as “healthy,” instead calling it nutritious. Or at least when I consider it to be such.

So what do you think of the list? And what is on your roster of “healthy” foods?

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I’m sharing this post at Monday Mania, Traditional Tuesdays, Real Food Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday, Fresh Bites Friday, and Fight Back Friday.

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17 responses to “Healthy is in the eye of the beholder

  1. I love your comments. It’s so refreshing to not have to go on a rant when someone already covered it for me, LOL! :)

  2. This is the first chance I’ve had to make comments like this to such a list, and boy it feels good!

  3. Great idea! “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” There are all of them when it comes to fats and this list helps break it down!

  4. The problem I think with lists like that is that the state of nutritional science is still so unclear. We’ve got a good idea of some things that are definitely bad for us, but what’s good, and in what quantities, is still up for debate. My own suspicion is that this is partly due to different people having different nutritional needs, making a single list of foods for everyone nearly impossible. But most of these lists, much as they aren’t what I want to eat exactly, are still 100% better than what most Americans eat. But seriously, what *is* their obsession with low- or non-fat dairy? Yuck!

    • Ana, I find it interesting that these lists don’t make a distinction that everyone does have their own individual needs and should be tailored around various foods. We’re not robots coming off an assembly line after all. It would be nice to see such lists really focus on region-specific foods instead of getting so happy about trendy imported ones.

  5. Great post Soli! I love all your comments and agree with them!

  6. I agree with your thoughts as well. I got a lesson on the drawbacks of using large quantities of non-local (for your body and heritage) foods from an MD about 20 years ago. He was quite a radical in many ways… was our family doc and also my ObGyn who caught several of my babies… some at home. Anyway, we were talking just after my second daughter’s birth — around this time of the year — and he mentioned it was just about time for the rash (pun intended) of parents to begin calling… it seems that “diaper rash” and similar redness and issues on the rears of youngsters peaked with the onset of serious winter (we were in WI at the time). Curious fellow that he was, he eventually tracked down one commonality in these affected patients and his other young patients did not share: the consumption of large amounts of (primarily) orange juice offered by moms who were hoping the vitamin C would help ward off colds. Most of his patients were of northern European stock and we were definitely living in an area where apples or cranberries were the more common winter fruits. Once the moms began offering these alternative juices instead, they kid’s bottoms cleared up immediately.

    We eat a variety of meats (I cut the obvious pieces of fat from mine because I do not like to eat it). I love liver, K does not but he cooks it for me. We use 2% milk when we buy it at the store just to keep his doc happy, but both prefer when we can get whole fresh cow or goat milk from friends. Use butter, often and rape seed oil as well (canola, now…) more than olive. We both eat a lot of veggies and fruits, locally grown mostly and frozen if not. I draw the line at whole wheat pasta (texture issues) but we like whole grain breads… do eat more rice than we grow … K does use Splenda because he is diabetic and cannot just drink water or unsweetened beverages (he makes lemonade… I think that is better than the soda habit he had when we got together).

  7. No, we haven’t… I will look at it again but the last time I priced it, it was WAY too expensive. He goes through a gallon of lemonade a week, minimum…more during the summer… which equates to a cup or a cup and a half, I don’t recall the recipe… of splenda. Unless stevia, as sold commercially, is much sweeter, volume for volume, it would be prohibitive. And there is the taste issue; K has VERY picky taste/smell issues. It took him quite a while of having the splenda around for him to accept it. He has never been able to tolerate any of the older non-nutrative sweeteners.

  8. Well, there is an ugly side of what is beautiful – a bad side of what is thought to be healthy. Whatever it is, know what weights heavier. If the bad part of it is, then eat with moderation.

    Followed and Liked your lovely blog. I am also inviting you to add your blog at Momma’s Lounge ( http://olahmomma.com/momlounge ) where you meet more mom bloggers, shout away, add your giveaways and business links and get featured by sharing your crafts, recipes and interesting musings. Following us back is deeply appreciated.

    Thanks and have a great day!

    http://olahmomma.com

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  10. Lean meat is a rip off, it doesn’t even taste good. I’ve just fallen in love with all of the animal tidbits in the past year. I’m hooked on raw cream, liver and bone marrow! Homemade stock was probably the single most important thing I’ve learned to make this year. Why people preach about the evils of butter and animal products but consume a plethora of GMO ridden soy and canola just baffles me. Vegan zombie food is about the most un-natural thing you can eat.

    • I agree. Sometimes I think we really have things all bass-ackwards in this country, and anything that might really taste good is automatically something we should NEVER EVER EAT BECAUSE YOU WILL GET FAT AND DIE!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Pingback: As seen on the internet January 6, 2012: the I found new blogs to read edition | I Believe In Butter

  12. I’ve used that site before, and I have to say that I love it… but, only one part: the nutritional profiles it has for each of the foods listed. Being able to get such a breakdown of which fats, minerals/vitamins, sugars, etc. each food has is just insanely useful (not to mention, if I know of any specific food-born migraine triggers, like tyrosine, I can (hopefully) look it up on that list).

    • I think these lists would be a lot better if they could focus more on the actual nutritional content and not emphasize the calories and fat.

  13. Pingback: As seen on the internet: July 5, 2013 | I Believe In Butter

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