The Truth about ‘Healthy’

by Jennifer Fugo on July 4, 2010

What’s healthy today can easily become unhealthy tomorrow. Swinging between those two labels, most of us would think that it’s always got to be one or the other with any given food. It does make for easy explanation, no? Not quite. The accuracy of the labels ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ don’t exactly describe the true nature of food and, I believe, prevent us from coming face to face with the sticky, uncomfortable mess that the so-called ‘shades of grey’ plop into our lap. These two labels allow us the convenience of rounding the ‘health’ value of a particular food up or down in order to back up opinions for or against consuming said food. That’s where the trouble really starts to rear its ugly head.

What it ultimately boils down to here is that it’s not about judging a food healthy or unhealthy because partaking in this activity is a huge distraction from the larger problem at hand. We’re not talking about the narrow focus of food here. Rather we need to become aware of our relationship with food that dictates the frequency and quantity of what we are consuming.

Case # 1: Chocolate
A week ago at a raw chocolate event in NYC, I was surrounded by many delightful concoctions of raw chocolate creatively sweetened and occasionally mixed with various, non-mainstream ‘superfood’ ingredients. While engulfed in conversation with several nice chocolate lovers, one of the raw chocolatiers (someone who produces chocolate) exclaimed that the other companies present using agave syrup to sweeten their chocolate were producing absolutely unhealthy products.

I shot back to correct his lovely generalization, “None of this chocolate is healthy…it’s healthier.” Needless to say, my statement didn’t go over so well and he went on some misinformed diatribe as to why his chocolate was superior and healthy because it was sweetened in various combinations of yacon syrup and raw honey. After delicate questioning, it became apparent that he didn’t know that these sweeteners (agave, yacon, and honey) are primarily fructose and how they are metabolized in the body when consumed. Let’s just say he wasn’t very delighted to hear my explanation.

Case # 2: Leafy Greens
I started with the easy ‘sweetener’ target, but let’s look at a totally different, yet similar situation regarding bok choy. Now, if you don’t know what bok choy is, here goes: a very nutrient-dense and delicious leafy green of the cruciferous family that you can eat raw, steamed, sautéd, roasted, etc. I happened to catch this tiny article in the NY Times and then re-posted it to my Facebook page. Basically an 88-year-old diabetic woman read that consuming raw bok choy could help to control her diabetes. So, she ate 2 to 3 pounds of it daily which, in turn, caused her thyroid to become extremely depressed. Even with no history of thyroid disease present, she died. Shall we now demonize bok choy and move it to the list of unhealthy food items? No.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to knock the raw food community. Even the fact that these two examples happen to be based on raw food is totally beside the point. I want to highlight that, whomever you are and whatever ‘tribe’ you like to consider yourself to be a part of, the reality is that we all get sucked up into the hype of hearing something called ‘healthy’. We want to believe that we’re doing right by how and what we’re eating….and then we go overboard because we don’t look for the shades of grey and nuances of truth that are always staring us straight in the face.

Labeling food as healthy and unhealthy doesn’t entirely serve anyone because no one really talks about how food, any food for that matter, affects your body as a whole when over-consumed. Instead, polarized opinions about the microscopic details of food push aside reasons to stick with the bigger picture of eating a varied diet. If one chemical, one plant, one whatever can possibly cure X, Y, and even Z, then people will jump on-board the train to over-consumption without even batting an eyelash. That’s why placing static titles on any one food is dangerous. I don’t doubt the good intentions behind wanting to eat well, but I can doubt the level of discernment that went into the decision to overeat a particular substance.

I’d like to be the first to suggest that we stop labeling everything as either healthy or unhealthy. Let’s acknowledge the possibility of both good and bad aspects in food…its shades of grey… and get our tongues used to using ‘healthier’ and ‘unhealthier’ in order to talk about how to implement moderation in our diets. Aside from the fact that I think it would be a much more interesting conversation for everyone, it really could make the difference between life and death.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer Fanega July 6, 2010 at 6:08 am

I really don’t like the word “healthy”. There is so much attached to it and everyone has a different idea about what it means. I usually just try to eat more plants!!

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Amanda Diephouse July 6, 2010 at 7:58 am

Nice Article Jennifer! I like the points you made, they were totally valid and something I try to incorporate into my clients lives too…its tough because of all the “hype” from the news and polls, etc. But I loved reading your article, and Boy Choy is one of my fav foods!!

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Marcia Rado July 6, 2010 at 8:14 am

I agree that it’s the quantity & quality of the foods we eat, as well as the combinations of foods that we consume.
THANK YOU for your very informative & educational articles. I read them & use the info.
I live in the Berwick-Bloomsburg area and someday would like to attend one of your classes. I am your Aunt Elaine’s ex-sister-in-law.
Have a super-sunny day !!!

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Jennifer Fugo July 6, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Thank you for your thoughts, ladies. I think that I’ve become more aware and careful of how I describe food and lifestyle choices lately. More because I see how damaging being extreme can be. Though it’s probably not the most dramatic way, I look to continue stressing moderation whenever I can.

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John August 5, 2010 at 1:06 pm

I searched for something completely different, but found your website! And have to say thanks. Nice read. Will come back.

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