We are all taught what healthy food is, when we were kids. But where those teachings correct? We automatically assume that something that is nutritious is also healthy. That is not the case though. In this blog post I explain to you why this is an incorrect way of thinking.
What does ‘being healthy’ mean?
First of all you have to know what is meant by ‘healthy’. Usually what is meant by health comes down to the absence of disease or illnesses. So if you do not have diseases like diabetes, cancer or a heart disease you could be considered healthy. However, there are some more delicate issues that matter here. For example, health can also mean how well a person feels. So depression and other mental problems can diminish your health.
Your attitude towards your situation therefore matters too. Someone who has had a stroke, but is feeling happy and does not feel disabled, might feel healthy. Whereas a person who has got only nine fingers could be clinically healthy, but feel disabled and sick because of a missing digit.
Speaking in terms of nutrition, healthy foods are usually full of nutrients (nutritious) and have more benefits than downsides. Personally I believe a healthy food should not only consist of a lot of nutrients. It should improve the way you feel. Foods that cause an upset stomach, overweight, diabetes, irritated bowel or gastric reflux, are not healthy.
In fact healthy food should not only cause no disease, it should prevent it. There are thousands if not millions of studies that prove certain foods can prevent a wide variety of diseases. A plant based diet is known to reverse heart disease risks and can prevent diabetes. Many fruits and vegetable have anticancer properties and certain foods have been known to elevate your mood, preventing depression.
There are no fruits and vegetables that make you sick. Beans and whole grains are both nutritious and have protective properties as well. Choose foods low in calories, but high in vitamins and minerals. Apart from vitamins and minerals, many plant foods also contain antioxidants, phytochemicals and enzymes aiding your body to stay healthy. To summarize, foods that are considered healthy, should both nourish your body and prevent disease. Luckily there are a lot of those foods.
Saying a food is healthy, just because it contains lots of calcium or omega 3 is not correct. For example king mackerel is rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which have been said to be good for your health. The big downside though, is that this is also a fish that has very high mercury levels. If you eat fish high on the food chain, you get in a lot of mercury. You may not know it, but mercury is one of the most dangerous toxins that cause a variety of health hazards. So even though a food contains certain nutrients we need for our health, some may have costs that outweigh the benefits.
Milk is often considered a healthy food. First of all it is high in calcium. Besides that it contains a good amount of vitamins such as vitamin A and some B vitamins. Then there are also some other important minerals. Looking strictly at the micronutrients, one could consider milk healthy. But here is the downside, making milk nutritious but NOT healthy. It is high in animal fats which are known to cause a variety of diseases including cancer. It contains cholesterol, which is a dubious nutrient as we do not need to get cholesterol from our diet. There is still some debate going on whether cholesterol from foods raises your blood cholesterol. My stance on this is that it doesn’t add any health benefits, so it should to the very least not be considered healthy.
Last but not least, dairy cows these days get a lot of antibiotics added to their diets. They are often given hormones and indirectly get in a lot pesticides. None of these components are healthy. So yes, foods like fat fish (especially those high on the food chain), milk and hamburgers contain a lot of important nutrients. But the negatives often outweigh the positives. The unhealthy components at the very best even out the health benefits that consuming their nutrients gives you. So why not rather concentrate on eating healthy foods without such downsides.
Correlation and causation
I would like to finish this statement with the difference between correlation and causation. Whether they use it in their advantage or simply do not understand the concept, this is an essential part of science not everyone grasps.
Being healthy usually is connected to longevity. So the older you can become, the healthier people assume you are. Besides, only healthy people become old, right? That’s not necessarily true, but it comes close. We all know this old man or woman in the age category north of 90 years that smoke. You do not need to be explained that smoking is unhealthy. Yet this person managed to become this old even while they have smoked their whole life. The correlation here is that a person smokes and still becomes 90+ years old. You could incorrectly conclude that smoking improves your longevity. We all know this is not the case of course. The person became old DESPITE smoking, not BECAUSE (causation) of smoking.
The same is true for eating red, processed meat to give you an example. Many of us assume that because their grandparents ate that food their entire lives, it must be healthy. And that is where the mistakes are made in the reasoning process. It is the difference between correlation and causation.
So causation means that A is the cause of B, whereas correlation only means that A and B are found together in this particular situation. Smoking does cause weight loss, so weight loss and smoking are not only correlated to each other, the latter is also the cause of the first component of this comparison.
For those struggling to put this theory of healthy eating in practice, here are some guidelines I would like to give you.
- Limit your intake of processed foods, high sugar products and saturated (animal) fats.
- Aim for eating at least 200-300 grams of vegetables per day. More is usually better when it comes to vegetables. I usually eat at least 600 grams of vegetables per day, with some days topping 1000 grams of them.
- Eat at least 3-4 pieces of fruit (300 grams or more).
- Do not consume alcohol or limit your alcohol intake. Wine is NOT healthy. Alcohol is literally poisonous to your body, I am not exaggerating.
- Do not eat fish that is high on the food chain, or do not eat fish at all. Omega 3 has yet to be studied more thoroughly if you ask me.
- Eat 80% of what you need to fill yourself. Eating too many calories is unhealthy, whether you are overweight or not.
- Eat a minimum of 30 grams of fiber, but preferably more than that.
- Get in plenty of legumes and lentils in your diet due to their high nutritional profile and many health benefits.
- Do not shy away from whole grains. The low carb craze is nonsense. Carbohydrates are not the enemy. Whole grain foods are high in nutrients, phytochemicals, antioxidants and fiber, all which are known to increase longevity and health.
Time to end this post with one of my favorite quotes by Hippocrates:
“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”.