Category Archives: healthy eating

What Does “Healthy” Mean?

I originally posted this over at the blog I recently started with my friend Pam, Fit Moms & Full Plates.  I wantd to cross post it here as well becasue I feel very strongly about this topic.

“This should be filed under rant. I know this won’t be a popular post and I’m OK with that.  I want to start out by saying that I am not perfect when it comes to food and nutritional choices. I have been known to enjoy a chicken sandwich and fries from the golden arches; I’m a fan of ice cream in abundance; my favorite meal in the world is New York System Hot Wieners (a Rhode Island thing—think disgustingly processed hot dog smothered in a greasy meat sauce, onions, mustard, and celery salt). I say all of that and also say that I consider myself a relatively healthy individual. I am a true believer in the idea of all things in moderation (OK, so maybe a ¼ block of Comte cheese with a crusty loaf and a ½ bottle of Cabernet on the occasional Friday or Saturday night isn’t moderation)…but when does moderation cease to actually be moderation? Sure today I may have only had a ¼ block of that yummy cheese, but if it is done once a month, once a week…for let’s say from the age of 21 for the next 30-years is that REALLY moderation? A whole lot of littles can quickly add up to one big lot over time.

What has recently been bothering me is a realization that a good number of people might not really have a sense of what is good and what is bad—thinking that they are making the right choices, when in fact they are being duped (me included from time to time).   Marketing companies are labeling food products with words such a “natural” or “whole”; shakes are advertized as being good options for a “meal replacement” to lose weight (why would you want to replace a meal of REAL food with something to drink?). Even some of the most recognizable diet companies are adding to the guise of things being good for you simply because a serving “only costs me 7 points!”—meanwhile the recipe someone concocted to get to the magic number 7is comprised of regular white pasta, 2 cans of cream of condensed soup, and a whole block of—wait for it—fat free cream cheese! If you ask me, fettuccini alfredo will never be a healthy dish, even if it does only cost me 7-points per serving. Clearly people are missing the fact that at the very least whole wheat pasta should be used (better yet—no pasta at all!), that cream of anything soup is bad for you, (forget the fact that it is laden with preservatives), and just because something is fat free doesn’t make it good for you.

It wasn’t that long ago that I too fell into the trap of thinking that if the label says it is healthy, and good for you it must be true.  I rarely read the ingredients labels for products that I always thought were beneficial to my family’s wellbeing.  Take for example yogurt—I’m not sure why the idea that there was organic cane juices in my fruit on the bottom Greek yogurt surprised me—I mean shouldn’t it just be yogurt and some berries?  I now see the importance of reading all the ingredients on the package—which is hopefully less than five (though, I tend to give a pass when there are 6 herbs listed in addition to the other 4 actual ingredients).  I have since made it a priority to make myself (and my husband) aware and educate us on what we put in our bodies to fuel it.  The way I’ve been looking at it recently is in terms of gasoline.  Sure my car can run on the 87-octane fuel that is assuredly cheaper, but I can get much better gas mileage and performance on the higher octane fuel for a few extra cents per gallon.  Same goes for food and fueling your body.  Can we live on low calorie cream-filled cake treats, snack crackers that are whole wheat but may contain traces of a GMO, or boxed and canned fat free prepared food?  Sure—but there is a price our bodies will eventually pay for it.

The idea of all things in moderation has been weighing on me heavily after having my two children.  As I have mentioned before, both of my children were products of infertility treatments.  While it was discovered that I indeed had one blocked fallopian tube, my reproductive endocrinologist hesitated to say that was definitively what caused my infertility (as it continued even after opening the tube).  The fact of the matter still remained that I was not ovulating for any good reason.  All my blood work and hormone levels came back OK—I just didn’t ovulate.  In the end, after having the two children I was left with a diagnosis of “unexplained infertility.”  How in the world is “unexplained” any kind of a diagnosis?  Oddly enough, there were two other women and a man at work who sat in adjacent offices to mine who were also going through infertility treatments and we all jokingly agreed that “there was something in the water.”  But what if that were in fact true to some extent?  What if it was nothing in the water so to speak, but in our food supply?

Most of our fruits and veggies growing up as kids were treated with pesticides and I can remember many times grabbing the apple before my mom had a chance to wash it.  More recently, many crops are genetically modified.  Our meats and dairy sources at some point In our lives have been given artificial hormones and antibiotics; and most food on the shelves in markets are filled with ingredient lists a mile long with words that are difficult to pronounce.  What if my occasional or “in moderation” healthy treats over time have simply built up a toxic level of garbage in my body that it’s prevented me from having normal fertility?  If that is plausible (which it is, check out what Robb Wolf has discussed on Paleo eating and fertility), then could my daughter be susceptible to the same fate if she is given the same garbage food in “moderation?”  Sure can!

Instead of shopping for “fat free” or “low calorie” foods, which are highly processed and sadly, also cheaper, maybe focus  on shifting the money from many processed snacks to a couple true healthy snacks—a big bag of organic apples and a jar of almond butter?  Instead of making the dinner with 2 cans of cream of condensed soup, figure out a way to get the same creaminess from ingredients that are in fact natural and not highly processed and refined.  Something that we have recently considered in our family is local farming.  Our produce bill is GIGANTIC because personally, we have opted to purchase organic in most cases.  This year we joined our local CSA—their produce is cheaper, fresher, and still organic.  Many local farmers are indeed practicing organic farming but simply cannot afford to pay the governmental entities the registration fees to become “certified.”  Not only are you helping your family by eating better produce, but you are also helping your local farmers in the process.

I fully recognize that eating truly healthy can be expensive and eating perfect with 100% organic and grass-fed/pasture-raised can be downright wallet emptying.  I am by no means passing judgment if you cannot afford to pay the prices that can go along with that kind of a lifestyle decision (because there are weeks where we can’t afford it ourselves).  What I am saying is that we, as a country, should do a better job at educating ourselves and our children on what is truly healthy and demand that those products, which can be out of financial reach for many, become cheaper.  I really believe that if enough people recognize that we are being fooled by false advertising and begin to boycott some of the products; it can send a message to our government.  Instead of subsidizing large corporate entities to produce genetically modified organisms they should subsidize the small farmers; we will get a better food source for all to access.  Please, be aware of what you are eating—read labels.  Try and stick with five ingredients or less.  Don’t buy something that contains an ingredient that you cannot pronounce.  If it has a shelf life that is longer than the life cycle of a gold fish—it’s probably not good for you.  If you don’t do it for yourselves, do it for our children.  Kids learn by example and they emulate what they see other do.  We have the ability to help change the thinking and health of a generation.”