What is a Healthy Food?

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

Advertisements

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.

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!

Halo on Fire: What is the Health Halo?

I discuss a marketing tactic trying to get you to buy products based on health merits.

I think it’s time for me to get up off my ass and do some writing for my blog.  Instead of getting on my ass and writing for my assignments?  That doesn’t sound quite right, but whatever.

First, let me take you on a mystical, magical tour of going to a grocery store in America.  The first step is getting in a car.  Along the way, you pass by a restaurant promoting that their meats are “Antibiotic Free.”  Another restaurant proudly proclaims that they do not use GMOs in their meals.

While in the grocery store, there are many products available for any type of food you can imagine.  Foods labels promote the item inside as being “gluten-free,” or “reduced fat,” or any other label variety you can imagine (and label claims you can’t).  All these products are exhibiting what is called the “health halo.”  The health halo is more of a lose term, as a quick search online does not directly tell you what it means.  From what I have gathered, it means a food item is marketing itself as being a healthy choice, or at least a healthier choice, when compared to other products.

So what?  Why is this a big deal?  Well, for starters, this can skew consumer choice, which is what food companies want.  Organic food items sound healthier than conventional produce.  Organic products might have less antibiotic resistant bacteria on meats, or more phosphorous and omega-3 fatty acids, when compared to conventional products.  These health benefits can be eliminated though, if the product is something unhealthy, like in a candy.  Organic cane sugar is still added sugar.

As with the restaurants promoting antibiotic-free meat, or non-GMO ingredients in their meals, these phrases do not indicate things about how healthy the food is.  You can have antibiotic free, non-GMO meats and cheeses in a product, use only the finest of gluten-free flours to make breads, and any other health buzzword out there, and still wind up with an unhealthy product.  In the case of restaurants, assuming the meal IS in fact healthy, you can undo the health effects.

This begs the question:  Why should I care?  If you just want to eat whatever food, no amount of blog posts are going to change your mind.  However, I am focusing on those who will learn and become more aware.

So how can you avoid the “health halo?”  I recommend buying raw ingredients, like fruits and vegetables.  Reading the Nutrition Facts panel is also helpful.  Look for things like Calories, and added sugar.

Spirit: Understanding Your Alcohol

A brief overview of some alcoholic beverage terms, and some cautions.

Wow, yet another blog post title that wrote itself!  Thanks Ghost!

Alcohol is one of the beverages I enjoy in moderation (might have to do with the fact I am still young).  When I drink, I typically have are beer, vodka, and whiskey.  I sometimes drink tequila if I feel like spending a bit more.  Talking with my peers, I am unique in the fact I take my drinks straight.  I don’t add anything to them, just add the liquor into a glass and drink it.

Instead of discussing my choice of poison, I am going to give some loose definitions for different kinds of ethanol-infused solutions.  My information comes from a few quick searches online, and from one of my nutrition classes.

Alcohol Proof:  This is how “strong” the drink is.  Proof is measured as twice the alcohol by volume (ABV) amount in America.  Meaning a 100-proof drink is 50% ethanol.

Beer:  This is an alcoholic drink made with fermented grains with hops added for flavor, and slowly fermented with yeast.  A typical serving of beer has somewhere between 5-9% ethanol.  A standard serving is 12 fluid ounces.  Some beers are stronger, so keep that in consideration when drinking, as these have a much smaller serving size.

Wine:  This is a fermented grape drink.  Sometimes other fruits are fermented to make different wines, but this is a looser interpretation of wine.  Wine typically has 12-17% ethanol.  A serving size is 5 fluid ounces.

Spirits (liquor):  These are drinks that are made, and then distilled to have a higher proof/ABV.  Any alcoholic beverage with more than 20% ABV is considered a spirit.  Drinks like vodka, tequila, and whiskey are considered spirits.  A serving of these is 1 to 1.5 fluid ounces.

Some of you might be wondering what is considered a “safe” amount to drink.  One drink a day for women, and up to two drinks a day for men is considered safe, according to mayoclinic.com.  Now, this does not mean you have to drink this much.  It is healthier to drink as little as you can.

Ethanol, even when drank responsibly can pack a lot of Calories, as 1 gram of ethanol contains 7 Calories (compare this to 1 gram of fat with 9 Calories).  This is not even considering mixed drinks, which have even more stuff added that increases the number of Calories per serving.  Not to mention there is an age restriction in the United States, so anyone under the age of 21 probably should not drink alcohol anyway.

What kind of drinks do you guys out there enjoy (if you are legal, that is)?  Anyone abstain from drinking alcohol at all?  If so, would you like to share why in the comments, provided it’s not too personal (don’t want to make things awkward for you guys!)?

Valentine’s Day: The Heart You SHOULD Care About

I use the holiday to discuss heart health.

Oh yeah, my calendar indicates that it is the 14th of February.  Meaning that today is the day of love or some other bullshit that the corporations came up with to get you to buy cheap candies, cookies, wine, etc.  Because we cannot clearly show love without spending a shit-ton of money on frivolous crap, I say cynically.

Valentine’s day is closely associated with the heart shape.  But I don’t give a damn about that heart.  The hearts I care about are more internal.  And on the left side of the body.  I’m talking about that blood-pumping motherfucker.

The American Heart Association has a set of recommendations to take care of the four-chambered beast contained inside of your flesh prison.  They are:

  • Eat enough Calories, but not too much
  • Be sure to exercise for at least 150 minutes a week at moderate intensity
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins (like low-fat dairy, skinless poultry, fish, beans, tofu, and legumes), and nuts
  • Limit saturated-fats, trans-fats, sodium, red meat, and sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Be sure the foods you eat are high in nutrients
  • Moderate alcohol consumption, for those of legal age. None if you are underage

The guidelines set up by the AHA are a good rule of thumb for anyone to follow.  The diet they suggest has benefits for everyone.  The older population can minimize the damage a longer life has caused, and younger populations can help prevent the damage to the heart and vessels.

Some of these foods increase blood pressure, meaning your heart must work harder.  This can lead to several problems in the future, involving issues with the vessels in the kidney and the brain.
For any of you out there who are sad I rained on your plans to drink a bunch of wine with your significant other, don’t be.  If you care about your heart (and your liver, and brain, etc.) perhaps you would rethink your plans for romance?  Or not, it is your choice after all!

So what did you guys think?  Did you have to rethink your Valentine’s Day plans after reading my post?  Feel free to leave a reply below!