What's a healthy food? Why is this seemingly simple question so difficult to answer? As human beings we seek simplification: black or white, yes or no, healthy or unhealthy. Oh how simple nutrition would be if this binary determination existed!
It seems as if we vacillate between parallel nutritional universes. What's the health craze of last season suddenly becomes vilified as obesity-inducing or cancer-provoking. What's healthy according to one diet may be supremely unhealthy according to another. For instance, the Paleo diet may advocate eating triceratops entrails and pterodactyl eggs, but the American Heart Association would likely eschew these fat-laden foods. Wait, what? The result is a confused and frustrated consumer.
Back in 4th century Greece, Hippocrates proclaimed, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." In a time and place without Nathan's Famous or Artichoke Pizza, this advice was better suited to the average consumer. For the modern New Yorker, this Hippocratic advice is not as simple nor straightforward. Which diet should I follow, Doctor K: low calorie, low fat, low carb, gluten-free, high protein or Mediterranean? This, followed by an onslaught of related questions: Is _________ healthy to eat? Insert a trending or controversial food:
For starters, what does healthy mean? Healthy is most commonly used as a surrogate term for supporting one's health + wellness goals. Healthy eating for a lactose-intolerant, obese man trying to shed the equivalent of a small child may be very different from healthy eating for a diabetic frat bro trying to build muscle mass. Healthy is a term relative to the food and the consumer. What's healthy for one consumer may be harmful or even deadly for another. What's healthy for a consumer today may no longer be healthy for him next month. Healthy is never absolute.
Swipe to Health
Nutrition can be divided into macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are consumed in large quantities and represent the caloric building blocks of the body: fats, carbs and proteins. Micronutrients are non-caloric substances consumed in small quantities and are essential to proper cellular function: vitamins and minerals.
What are your macronutrient and micronutrient goals? Macronutrient goals usually revolve around body weight: maintaining, increasing or decreasing. Micronutrient goals tend to deal with cellular health and the immune system.
Let's take a millennial approach to nutrition: create a Tinder My Tummy profile reflecting your nutritional goals. Once you understand the macronutrients and micronutrients that you seek, you are ready to evaluate prospective foods. Keep an eye out for a macro-micro-match, then swipe right!
Of course, your unique medical history must be incorporated into your profile, too. Do you have any allergies? Do you have any impairment in digestion or absorption? What about any relevant medical conditions? Do you take any medications? A food requires medical clearance in order to be approved as a match.
In the absence of a medical contraindication, when your nutritional goals align with the food's nutrient content... it's a healthy match!
into your mouth.
Nutrition encompasses both caloric intake and essential nutrients required for proper cellular function.
- Nutrients consumed in large quantities
- Caloric intake
- Fats, Carbohydrates, Proteins
- Fiber and Alcohol can also be considered macronutrients
- Nutrients consumed in small quantities
- Non-caloric intake
- Vitamins, Minerals, Elements, Antioxidants, Phytochemicals
Even if macronutrient and micronutrient goals align, you must assess if there is a medical reason which prohibits eating the food.
- Digestive System: Is there any impairment in your ability to digest or absorb food? Such as: celiac disease, lactose intolerance, gallbladder disease, gastric bypass, etc.
- Diseases: Do you have any relevant medical conditions? Such as: diabetes, acid reflux, Crohn's, Ulcerative Colitis, etc.
- Medications: Does the food interfere with absorption of the medication? Does the food alter efficacy of the medication? Such as: antibiotics, warfarin, etc.
For decades the food industry has made profit-driven, cookie-cutter recommendations about what is healthy. The dairy industry promotes dairy, the beef industry pushes beef and the corn industry advances corn. But, what's healthy for you? We are past the age of uniform consumerism. We now understand that healthy is not an absolute term; healthy is a term relative to the food and your goals. The next time you find yourself wondering Is _________ healthy to eat?, consider the goals on your Tinder My Tummy profile. What nutrition do you seek and what nutrition is available?
How we can improve your nutrition:
- Explore your fridge and pantry
- Shop together at the grocery store
- Learn how to read nutritional labels
- Dine together at a restaurant to discuss the menu
- Identify healthier restaurants in your neighborhood
- Educate the entire family about nutritional principles