What is a Healthy Food?

Defining words in your own way is difficult. See what a nutrition student thinks about healthy food.

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A lot of my friends and family ask my opinions on different foods.  Sometimes, it’s something like “is this good for me?” or “is this healthy?”  My response to either of these questions is a shrug of the shoulders and a “I dunno, what do you want from your diet?”  If I have not made my stance on foods clear, I try and focus on what the person wants from their diet, rather than what many other sources (some with a severe lack of credibility) think.  Today I am going to discuss some aspects of what makes a food “healthy” in my opinion.

What/How many nutrients does it have?

Every food has nutrients, but different foods will have varying quality and quantity of things like vitamins and minerals.  Some foods are more nutritious (like fruits and vegetables) than others (like packaged snack foods).  For optimal health, it’s recommended to eat foods like fruits and vegetables over prepackaged meals.  These prepackaged meals can be high in fat, sugar, and/or salt.  While these are

My rule of thumb is fruits, vegetables, beans, and lean proteins are generally very nutritious.

What is the capacity for the food to do harm?

All food has the capability to kill you.  However, this capability is not equal in all foods.  Some foods are high in nutrients that can be toxic to you.  One example we learned in my biochemistry class is liver in some species of animals can contain enough vitamin A to give you vitamin A toxicity.

Other foods have a link to certain diseases.  Ingredients like refined sugar, alcohol, salt, and other food additives have been scrutinized and examined for many years now to see what sorts of effects they have on the body.  There is a lot of inconclusive research, so for now my non-professional advice is to limit these.

Is there any symbolism to the food?

The irony here is that I said earlier that foods high in fat and sugar is typically unhealthy.  However, ice cream can be healthy.  In a blog about eating disorders, the writer mentions that for her, buying and eating ice cream was a victory.  She had gotten ice cream and ate it, despite some of her struggles she faces with her eating disorder.  I would say that this is a case where ice cream is healthy, despite what previous health advice says.

I would not worry about what you eat too much, unless you need to.  Eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein foods are always a good way to go.  However, I still indulge in a lot of foods that are not considered “healthy.”  I’d rather enjoy good food on occasion, rather than worry about every single macro- and micronutrient.

What do you guys think?  Feel free to comment them below.

Shoot to Grill: Food Safety Tips for a Labor Day BBQ

Here are some basic food safety tips that can help keep you healthy, and not sick.

Summer is almost over, which means it’s just about time for me to go back to school and get more educated.  Today is a good day to fire up your grill (or “barbecue,” as some call it, despite the fact that it is NOT a barbecue).

  1. Wash your hands:  This is a basic food safety tip.  Who knows what kinds of germs, debris particles, or other nasty stuff are hiding on your hands?  Well, preparing foods without washing your hands can get this into whatever you are making.
  2. Keep raw meat away from fresh produce:  When preparing a dish that has raw meat and fresh vegetables, it is important to keep them separate to prevent cross contamination.  My recommendation is to use two cutting boards with two knives:  one for the meat, and one for the vegetables.  Wash your hands before switching between the two just to be sure that you aren’t spreading bacteria.
  3. Test the temperature of meats and/or meat substitute before serving:  As we know, germs like to grow on pretty much anything.  As such, it’s important to make sure that everything is cooked to a safe temperature before serving (after all, I doubt that you or anyone you are serving food to want to get a foodborne illness).  To check the temperature, you need to use a calibrated thermometer.  Simply remove the food from the grill, and stick the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat.  Generally, if the food is above 165 degrees Fahrenheit or 80 degrees Celsius you should be fine.  Here’s an image I found from Healthy Canadians that highlight this:
    Image result for safe food temperatures celsius
  4. Be mindful of the Danger Zone:  No, you are not Kenny Loggins.  You don’t want to go to the Danger Zone.  This is a range of temperatures that allow bacteria to grow, which again, can make you sick.  Because for some reason the USDA does not like adding Celsius temperatures on their infographics, I’ll post two pictures.  One is from the USDA, the other from Australia’s Food Safety Information Counsil:
    Image result for danger zone foodImage result for danger zone food safety uk

I know a lot of what I covered today pertains to American audiences more than international people.  However, these tips still pertain to basic food safety, regardless of the day.

Got any questions or comments?  Feel free to leave one below.

Glory: Are Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Healthier than Canned or Frozen?

Right off the bat, some readers out there might be thinking “Yeah, of course it is.  Canned goods have extra stuff added to them.”

Some might be thinking “No, because otherwise why would this guy make a blog post about it?”

Well, the latter is correct.  From what I have researched, fresh, frozen, and canned all have similar nutrients across the same product.  Meaning it would be unfair to compare something like the Vitamin A content of canned pumpkin puree to canned applesauce, because pumpkin naturally has a higher vitamin A content (1 cup of cubed pumpkin has 197% of the Daily Value of Vitamin A, whereas 1 cup of cubed apples only has 1%).

One research study from 2007 found that while canning a product does lower the amount of water soluble vitamins (such as Vitamin C and the B vitamins), the process happens the same if you were to cook the product.  So even if you bought the produce fresh or frozen and cooked it, you would still experience some of the nutrient loss.

However, another study from 2012 found that while there are these losses in canned products, the loss exists in the “juice” with the canned goods.  Canning also increases the available Vitamin A and fiber in some products.  This study also looked at the nutrition quality across fresh, frozen, and canned and found for the same product their nutrition was pretty much the same, or similar enough.  Canned goods might actually be cheaper than fresh or frozen, too.

In my nutrition classes, we have talked about this too.  One thing that happens with fresh produce is that it loses its quality overtime.  Fresh produce might have been picked too soon and ripened elsewhere, or the quality degrades as it’s shipped from farm to where you bought it, and then further when you leave it in your refrigerator.

My opinion is buy what you are able to, and what you want.  Eating your fruits and vegetables is a good thing.  Even looking into ways to use some of these foods in new and creative ways might be fun (such as using frozen fruit in a smoothie, or using canned produce in a soup or stew).  To take a phrase from a behavioral marketing campaign from where I work:  “Fresh, Frozen or Canned, It’s All Good!”

What do you guys think?  Have a preference of fresh, frozen, or canned?  Any ideas on how to use them in cooking?  Feel free to comment them below!

Choose 1 or 10: Understanding Food Choices

I briefly discuss what draws some people to one food or another.

Food is an interesting topic.  As someone who is studying in the field, I’ve seen people get riled up over one thing or another.  Whether it’s the safety of GMO crops, eating vegan/vegetarian, or following a diet like paleo or ketogenic, people seem to get irate that not everyone follows what they think is the ideal.  Even people in the field or are training to be a dietitian are very opinionated.  So instead of adding an opinion on why people should eat one way or another, I am going to contribute to what I think helps lead people to eat one way or another, as I have learned from my classes.

Cost:  This is a big one.  Food is expensive.  What’s more, healthy food costs more.  A study found that typically, healthier foods, proteins especially, cost more than unhealthy ones.  For people who are in a pinch, this means they will opt for the unhealthy option first, or do without.

Availability: A year ago, I wrote about food deserts and how they may or may not affect the health of a population.  That said, if certain foods are unavailable or are unappetizing in an area (we watched a documentary in one class, where several people said they were willing to eat fruits and vegetables, if they were available where they lived), people cannot buy them.

Culture:  One training video we watched in a community nutrition class had a nutrition expert promoting brown rice to a woman.  Due to her culture as the video described it, she had little say in how the food was prepared or in grocery shopping.  This meant the idea of eating brown rice did not work for her.  Some other limitations on food choice are from religion.  Many restrict or limit what kinds of meats are available for consumption.

Preferences:  I think this is one that gets overlooked a lot.  Personally, I eat almost everything.  The things I don’t like are really spicy pepper-based foods (jalapenos sometimes are too spicy for me) and asparagus.  Gasps at the fact that a food-guy can not like foods aside, other people have foods they dislike or like too.

Allergies:  The eight common allergens can cause people a variety of issues.  I don’t have an allergy to any of these things, so a peanut and tofu milkshake with a fish sandwich using whole wheat bread is not out of the question.  But for a lot of people, one or more should be avoided at all costs.  Some opinions I’ve read online suggest that diets that rely heavily on these foods for protein often exclude people because of their allergies.

I know this list is not exhausted, and there are other reasons people might choose to eat one food or another.  A good summary of my stance on this is stop worrying so much what others are eating, and focus instead on what you are doing.  Every food has its pros and cons when it comes to consumption, and everyone has their reason for eating the way they do.

What do you guys think?  Any foods you can’t stand?  Any other reason I missed in my summary?  Feel free to comment them below!

Take Me Out: Does Coconut Oil Need to Go?

Recent news is saying coconut oil is unhealthy. But is it really?

The American Heart Association (AHA) has published an article recently that is shaking up the nutrition world.  Recently, in the news, people have been bashing coconut oil, and others have been defending it.  So what’s with all the hubbub?

The AHA article in questions showed that lowering saturated fats (i.e. butter, and animal fats) with polyunsaturated vegetable oils (i.e. olive oil and flaxseed oil) lowered the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 30%.  The AHA recommends that people follow a low-saturated fat diet for optimal heart health.  You can read the article here.

So what’s this got to do with coconut oil?  Simply put:  Coconut oil is high in saturated fats.  Many “tropical oils” are high in saturated fats.  In fact, before my hiatus to do schoolwork, I briefly wrote about this.

Fat Comparison.PNG

This is a table from a Wikipedia page on Peanut Oil.  There’s a lot of information here, but we are specifically looking at the saturated fat category.  As you can tell, coconut oil is 86% saturated fat!  This specifically is what is worrying about coconut oil.

Does this mean coconut oil is Satan and eating is is going to send your arteries straight to Hell?  I don’t think so.  Personally, I think most of the news surrounding coconut oil is a pissing contest between two sides, and for some reason people don’t like neutrality.

Dr. Willet at Harvard’s Department of Nutrition had this to say about coconut oil “what’s interesting about coconut oil is that it also gives ‘good’ HDL cholesterol a boost…Coconut oil’s special HDL-boosting effect may make it ‘less bad’ than the high saturated fat content would indicate, but it’s still probably not the best choice among the many available oils to reduce the risk of heart disease.”

What is the Punk’s advice here?  I would limit eating sources of saturated fat, like what the AHA says, including coconut oil.  Notice my word-choice though.  Limit.  Not eliminate, just make sure that you aren’t eating a shit-ton.  And this does not mean that you can’t use coconut oil in other ways, such as a lotion or in your hair, as I’ve heard people do.

I also would keep the flavor in mind.  Coconut oil has a flavor, like olive oil.  I personally would not cook my meats in coconut oil, but I would with olive oil.  However, coconut oil is solid at room temperature, so you can try making baked goods, or use it in recipes where the coconut flavor is desired.  Just be aware how much you are eating.

So what do you think?  Is coconut oil bad, good, somewhere in between?  Feel free to leave a comment!

Fat Country: A General Guide for Different Fats

Food and nutrition can be confusing.  One such way is with fats.  There are so many types out there, and debate about if they are healthy or not.  Thanks to its poorly-moderated nature, the internet has all sorts of misinformation out there.  Today I am going to be making a short-hand guide to hopefully help you be a better educated consumer!

 

FAT:  This is a general term for boring biochemical stuff.  It comes in one of three forms in foods (I know there’s a lot of different ways this stuff can end up before or after being eaten, but this is a general short guide for any of you science people out there who want to criticize me for overly simplifying this!).  It can be found in saturated, unsaturated and trans-fat varieties for cooking.  Other forms are used in the body for various functions

SATURATED FAT:  This is the kind that doctors call “unhealthy fat.”  It plays a role in increasing blood cholesterol, which can cause damage to the blood vessels and heart.  It’s found in foods like butter and other animal products.  Typically, this is found in a solid form at room temperature.

UNSATURATED FAT:  This is the kind that doctors call the “good fats.”  It can help lower bad cholesterol in the body.  These are found in liquid form at room temperature.  Foods like nuts and avocados are high in saturated fat.

TRANS-FAT:  These are most commonly found as synthetically made fats (they can actually exist in nature, but they are pretty rare).  Essentially some food chemist does their mumbojumbo science stuff to some unsaturated fats, and it becomes solid at room temperature.  They are also more shelf stable than other kinds of oils.  However, they also increase the risk of developing heart and vessel issues.  In fact, the FDA removed it from the “generally regarded as safe” list!  This means that foods with trans-fats in them must undergo reviews to ensure consumer safety.

TROPICAL OILS:  These are things like palm oil and coconut oil.  Many people think coconut oil is a healthier option when compared to butter.  Unfortunately, this type of oil has A LOT of saturated fat.  More so than butter!  Some websites proclaim this as a healthy oil, but so far my research does not indicate that.

 

Any comments, questions, or anything else you would like to say?  Leave them below!

All in the Family: Does Eating Meals with Family Decrease Obesity Risk?

I take a look at two sides on whether family meals can lower the risk of obesity.

Damn, it’s been awhile since I made a post.  Sometimes, college happens…

It’s been talked about in the field of health and nutrition that eating dinners at home might decrease the risk of developing obesity.  Cornell University’s director of the Food and Brand Lab, Brian Wansink said that where you eat, and how long it takes you to finish eating are indicators of children developing obesity.  This makes sense to me.  You spend five hours in a pizzeria, chances are you are going to eat a lot of pizza, whereas if you eat at home and eat a homecooked meal you are going to eat fewer Calories.

However, a recent article in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (or a journal that has a long title about nutrition, for the less scientifically inclined people) indicated this might not be the case.  Research shows that you are not more or less likely to be obese if you eat with or without your family.  Basically, eating with your family does not necessarily decrease obesity risk.

What does this mean for you?  To start, I think both people are right in their own way.  Where you eat, and how long you eat does impact how many Calories you consume.  Eating at a place where they have unhealthy food for a long time does mean you are more likely to eat unhealthy (unless you have a cast-iron will, unlike me).  However, I think it is also right that eating with family does not necessarily mean you are eating better.

There is a factor to food and nutrition I don’t think either cover very well.  Meal quality.  I can eat a healthy meal that consists of a shitton of fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, and lean proteins alone.  I can also eat this when I visit my family.  I also eat a lot of unhealthy foods, because college.  I eat these foods whether I am alone or with my family.

Long story short:  Eat fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole-grains, and healthy oils, and you should be fine.

 

What do my readers think?  Would eating more meals with family reduce obesity, or should we instead be focusing more on what is on the plate?  Leave your comments below.