What is healthy?
Excuse me while I step onto my soap box. Okay, thanks. [Audibly clearing throat] I would consider myself a pretty moderate person – I don’t spout off my political or religious beliefs, I’m often able to see and appreciate both sides of an argument and I am not typically driven by my emotions. But, where food is concerned I am a little nutty. Well probably a lot nutty. Not only do I feel the need to constantly feed people (the thought of hunger hurts my soul), I also have a very clear personal definition of what is “healthy”. And while I understand it is not shared by all, I find it nearly impossible to keep my little opinion to myself. So this is my platform, my blog, and tonight I just need to vent.
The company I work for recently started a wellness program to incentivize healthy lifestyle choices. I think it’s awesome. Seriously. Part of the program is that we have access to a wellness portal where we have all sorts of resources available… and one of those is “healthy” recipes. My initial thought? Great! I love new recipes. So I started to browse and came across one called “Chicken al a King”… looked interesting. I began reading the ingredients: 4 cups of cooked brown rice, 1 cup low-fat cream of chicken soup… I stopped there. You want to know what’s in “low-fat cream of chicken soup”? Here goes…
For those of you counting at home, that is 43 ingredients, including some gems like monosodium glutamate (MSG), partially hydrogenated soybean oil (trans fat), butyric acid (you know, the stuff folks make stink bombs out of), and things I can’t pronounce like acetoin powder and acetyl propionyl. And that, apparently, is an acceptable ingredient in a “healthy recipe”, because darn it, it’s low-fat! The chemical count unfortunately went unnoticed.
Does this seem wrong to anyone else?
And then today I was filling out a pre-screening questionnaire for the same wellness program and was asked the following question…
How often do you eat the following foods: High fat foods (whole milk, butter, eggs, fried foods, regular salad dressing, chips, hamburgers, bologna, steak, cake, pastry, etc.)?
Really? Interesting how whole foods like milk, butter, eggs, and steak are not healthy, but they endorse the 43 ingredients above. It is absolutely absurd to me. How is it that conventional thinking about what is healthy is so focused on calories and fat, that little to no regard is placed on what’s actually in our food. The FDA continues to disappoint me with what they find acceptable in our food supply, but I suppose I had higher expectations for this “wellness” company whose sole purpose was supposed to make me healthy.
So what is healthy to me? Real food. Minimally processed food. Food that you can pronounce. Food with an origin you can trace by logic and not by a periodic table. All and any of these foods within moderation. My answer to the question how often do I eat those high fat foods: Every single day. I cook with butter just about daily, eat eggs when I’m trying to eat “healthy”, I don’t do “light” anything (especially dressing), and a good steak every now again is a protein-packed treat. Do I think I eat healthy? Yes. In addition to these “high fat foods” I eat fiber-rich fruits and vegetables every day too. It’s balanced. It’s sustainable. It’s a lifestyle that I actually want to live. It’s healthy. Can I appreciate that calorie restriction is an important part to some people’s healthy lifestyle? Yes, but not at the expense of food quality.
There are some days when I read the news, read blogs or talk with my friends about this topic and I feel encouraged – I feel like others are getting it. But then I go through experiences like this wellness program and I realize that for some, this is their only education on what constitutes “healthy eating” and it makes me feel like we’ve taken a step back. I did not grow up eating clean. I grew up eating what most others in my generation did – a lot of boxes and a lot of cans, because back then we didn’t know better. Well I know better now and I just want to shout it from the rooftops “Stop eating all that highly processed food full of chemicals!!!” And sometimes I do just that and I recognize that I can come across a food snob. But maybe I am… and I think I’m okay with it. But it’s not because I feel like I am better than anyone else, I just feel like not everyone sees the whole picture… and I guess I feel like I need to be the one to enlighten them. Adding food coloring doesn’t make food taste better. If you make your biscuits from scratch they won’t have trans fat. All of your beloved canned soups are full of MSG. Just because Coke Zero has zero calories does not mean it’s good for you. That ketchup, that BBQ sauce and that jelly aren’t made with real sugar – it’s high fructose corn syrup!!
Tomorrow I’ll be doing my “wellness screening” and I hope that the nurse inquires about my answers from the dietary questions from the questionnaire. And I hope I get the opportunity to explain what healthy means to me.
Chez @ Chez Moi
I couldn’t agree more. The way you describe your diet is exactly the approach I take – just food, as close as possible to its natural state. I thought that the tyranny of low-fat diets was shifting…but maybe not, or not fast enough
Not fast enough for sure! After my cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure came back perfect today, I mentioned to the nurse who administered the screening the irony of my “high fat” diet and good scores, but turns out she gets it too. Unfortunately her company is still spouting off misinformation, but at least she agreed with my approach 🙂
I’m too am constantly surprised by the low level of knowledge that the general public seems to have around healthy eating, considering it’s becoming ever more mainstream to cook whole and fresh foods. But the people that need to change their eating habits away from canned and pre-packaged convenience foods probably aren’t the ones looking for healthy recipes because they clearly can’t be bothered to actually cook.
You’re right… I wish people knew that it’s not really that difficult to cook from scratch, and that the benefits of doing it are huge. Hoping more folks will join the real food bandwagon with me!