Healthy food, what does that really mean? I was recently asked to write about this topic, so I'm giving it a try. Whilst I usually prefer to talk about healthy or good food, it doesn't really matter which word you use. The question is what do you mean? And how do you know what is healthy?
What is 'healthy food'?
What do people actually mean when they talk about 'healthy food'? Well, that's a good question, because it's certainly different. If you think of the word "healthy", it refers to something that is "beneficial", i.e. something that is good for the body in some way.
Whether something is healthy or not is partly about the food, but it is also about the combination of foods, the person and the situation. And this is what makes it all a bit complex! What "benefits" one person in one context may not benefit someone else in another context.
Is the food healthy?
Since I work with food and health, I have been asked from time to time how much this or that is "healthy". Sometimes it can be fairly easy to answer, but it is not always as obvious. First of all, there are a number of different aspects of "healthy", such as:
- Energy (calories)
When people talk about a particular food as healthy or unhealthy, you can often sense that they are either is nourished or energy in mind. Two completely different things! In addition, food often needs to be put in context. Many foods are beneficial and healthy in the right amount, in combination with other foods. And sometimes you may also need to think about toxins, for example when it comes to certain types of fish.
Is it useful for you ... at that time?
If you think of the word "healthy" as something that "does good", what is healthy can vary depending on the person and the situation. Are you a marathon runner, pregnant or overweight? Depending on your circumstances, you may need to think differently.
Nuts, for example, are packed with essential nutrients and are therefore very healthy. At the same time, they contain a lot of energy (calories), so if you are thinking about your weight, it can be beneficial not to eat too many nuts. And for those who are allergic to nuts ... well, nuts are of course not at all healthy!
How can you think?
If you've been reading my Wednesday food and health musings, you'll know that I think balance is important, and that food is very more than nutrition. Food fulfils many functions in our lives and it is important to balance the pleasure and fun with giving the body what it needs to feel good.
When it comes to what is 'healthy', I tend to think that it is the whole that is healthy (i.e. the combination of foods), rather than the individual food. If you still want to think about an individual food, then I usually think like this:
- High or low nutrition?
- High or low energy?
Foods that have both high in nutrition and high in energy (such as nuts or rapeseed oil) are great, but you may still need to limit your intake. Foods that have lots of nutrition but little energy (e.g. shrimp or broccoli) are good without having to hold back. Foods with some nutrition and some energy (e.g. cottage cheese or cucumber) can be eaten without the risk of weight gain, but may not provide much nutrition to the body. Foods with little nutrition and a lot of energy (such as soft drinks or sweets) are often the worst choice from a health point of view.
Finally: Some quick tips on healthy eating
Maybe you were expecting some healthy eating tips in this post, but think I'm rambling too much? If so, here are some quick tips that are also smart:
- Feast on fruit and vegetables
- Savouring fish and seafood
- Choose whole grains when eating bread, pasta and rice.
- Choose healthy fats such as rapeseed oil.
- Choose low-fat unsweetened dairy products
- Eat red meat and pork in moderation
- Salt carefully - but use iodised salt
- Eat sugar in moderation - be especially careful with sweet drinks