In the past few weeks, I’ve had the chance to ponder the question “What is healthy food?” It seems that many of us have very different perceptions. Maybe that’s what stands in our way some times, we think healthy food and healthy eating is not obtainable.
It would be so much easier if my brain did not crave things like salty chips or sweet cookies but the reality is, it does. Maybe it’s a combination of many years of being bombarded with advertising to make me think I want it or maybe it’s as simple as it satisfies something in my head. I didn’t take enough psychology in college to answer that. I do know if it’s around me (like it is now as I write; you wouldn’t believe what is at the end of the table at my sister’s house) I’m less likely to eat well.
In my older years, I have realized that if I allow myself a little rather than denying myself entirely, I can balance the cravings with the reality of what I think I should eat. When I bake cookies, for example, I often freeze over half of them. When I need something sweet, it’s defrosted in a matter of minutes. At least the treat is homemade; that I can rationalize.
One definitive difference when I compare myself now with myself of 10 years ago, is that I really don’t eat a lot of processed food any more. I worry less about the calories and more about whether or not it’s “real” food. Now, if you see me at In n’ Out (the only fast food hamburger restaurant I will go to), all bets are off. Otherwise, most of what we eat is just real food. I have stopped buying fat-free and sugar-free foods and still can maintain my weight. The old me would not have believed that but the new me understands why.
There’s a video on YouTube in which someone makes a “Healthy Breakfast”. The person truly believes he is trying to help the viewer with his tips. In his dish, he uses egg substitute, a slice of fat-free American cheese and fat-free sour cream on the side. Yes, he did serve some vegetables with it but hardly a serving. Wow. If someone served me that “healthy breakfast”, I’d run for the hills. Sorry, that’s not my thing. But it was so eye-opening at the same time.
What I deem as healthy seems very obvious but clearly it’s not the same for everyone. At some point in my life, I started to really look at labels in the grocery store. That’s when I started putting things back on the shelf. If it had ingredients I couldn’t pronounce, additives, preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup or trans fats, as hard as it might have been, I put it back. I did this for my own health as much as I did it for the health of my family. Try to do this at a conventional supermarket. You may walk out with much less in your cart.
My best advice is to keep things simple. Our bodies need basic nutrients: protein, carbs, fat, water, vitamins and minerals. Although it’s not a nutrient, fiber is something we should get as a result of food that is nutrient dense like vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
For me, shopping in regular super markets became very difficult so that’s when I shifted to more natural grocery stores. The food, especially the produce, tastes better and I feel better about it. I like to say that I spend money on food and not going to the doctor or the drugstore for prescriptions. That’s just how I see it.
When I teach cooking classes, I explain that my take on healthy eating has evolved over the past 8 years. I feel like now I get it. I may not always practice what I preach, but I think I have a good handle on what is healthy.
So as you start the new year, instead of hopping on a new diet or food trend, be honest with yourself and decide “what is healthy” for you.
Happy New Year and of course, healthy eating to you and your family!
ps I just want to remind you that I am neither a dietitian nor a doctor. This is just how I see it. Take this advice with a grain of (sea) salt!
Hear, hear! “Processed” generally means “not really food.” Shop — as M. Pollan suggests, too — the outside borders of a conventional supermarket for the less-processed stuffs: produce, bread, meats, dairy. You still have to make smart choices, but the choices are inherently smarter.
Thank you! Great point and a great author. It seems obvious but isn’t always.
Hello! I came across your blog looking for a whole grain pancake recipe and liked what I saw and so explored more. This post is so true. My mom has a really hard time with “healthy”. She honestly believes serving low-fat processed foods with artificial sweetners is healthy. It isn’t that she is unintelligent, or doesn’t have the means to serve healthy food, or doesn’t want to be healthy, it is just that she has been immersed in a society that tells her this IS healthy. She isn’t terribly interested in cooking, so she just kind of goes with the flow. I think that is what happens if you don’t have a particular interest in cooking/nutrition (like I don’t have a particular interest in up to date fashion, so I just kind of take the stores word for it that what I’m buying is at least somewhat in style).
I’m working on her, but the misconceptions run deep…
@Meg I was just thinking about this the other day, about what we believe and how it’s based on what other people tell us. We’ve been told we have to drink milk (other countries don’t have this belief), eggs are “bad” for you (are they really?), or that fat is bad for kids (it’s really a combination of quantity and quality). It is a paradigm shift for sure. Thinking about the basics such as which nutrients our bodies need, is an easy way (I think) to judge healthy versus not. Good luck!