The New Magic Word: Healthy

I’ve been finding very little time lately to blog, but mostly because I am doing a lot of reading, in many formats, and on many platforms. My readings of the last few months have mostly consisted of scientific articles on nutrition (some results you can see in my other blog). I have also recently started “Food Politics” by Marion Nestle, and I am very excited that tomorrow is the official release date of her new book, “Unsavory Truth” (which I have pre-ordered, and am impatiently waiting for). Tomorrow is also the first day of the course Nutrition, Heart Disease and Diabetes, offered by Wageningen University on the EdX platform. So it’s an exciting, and busy, time for me.

Where there were few opportunities to write, there were ample to think. What I have been thinking about, among millions of other things, is the power of self promotion. I am not gifted with it, and it makes me feel rather uncomfortable. But I see it a lot in others. I am not saying it is a bad thing, but like anything else in this world, what matters more is how you use it. It’s wonderful that we live in a time when we can, with just a few tools, share our thoughts with the world. But the world is big. How far we reach, depends entirely on us and how much time and effort we are prepared to put into it. Some people are comfortable with self promotion, and as a result, can spread their words far enough. Good for them! But there are those who spread them too far. And I will explain in a minute what I mean by that.

My interest in food and nutrition is recent, just a few years, since Kid 1 started eating things other than milk. It also had a slow start (no, I did not jump right into the BMJ from day one). Like for many others, the journey’s first stop was the internet. From one site to another, I started becoming aware of the different ideas out there, of the millions of moms who have it all figured out, of the blogs, the books, the influencers. I am not up to date on all of them, my patience is very limited for certain things. But I can say with certainty that health and healthy eating are popular concepts. Whether they are also understood, is a very different matter.

The problem arises from the fact that no one really thinks that they don’t know what health and healthy eating are. Quite the contrary is true. But what is the measure of that? Not all bloggers also run their clinical trials before writing what they call a healthy recipe. Nor do they stay on top of the latest scientific evidence in the field. Yet publish the word “healthy” in your recipe, low-bad-stuff-of-the-day, high-good-stuff-of-the-moment, promote it well enough, and you will attract readers and followers. And become trusted and credible as a consequence, and can indeed reach too far.

I do not think that we need to go to school to find out what to eat. I am absolutely convinced that deep down we all know what our bodies need. But that information is difficult to reach. That is a natural instinct that is blurred and covered by culture. By the foods we eat as a child, by the messages that are constantly being sent our way, by the lobbying and marketing efforts of food companies, by the doubts instilled in us by news we hear, by all the conflicting information available. So we get confused, we don’t know who or what to trust, and we love the moderation message because it is so vague, that it could mean anything. It is possible, quite likely actually, that moderation is the way to go; but what I understand by moderation may differ quite a lot from what you understand by it. And the way my body reacts to different foods may be substantially different from the way yours reacts. So who has the answer?

Not the self-proclaimed health experts. Yes, the ones overusing the word healthy in their recipes, without any grounds for it. I don’t follow the food blogging community, but I do occasionally look at dessert recipes that are not full of sugar. I cannot tell you the number of times I have taken the bait and clicked on a link just because it was titled “no sugar something”. But too many times have these led to recipes containing either one or several of the following: honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, apple sauce, mashed bananas, figs, dates. I find it especially troubling when a recipe features at least 2 or 3 of these, all of them at least 1/2 cup each. How does that make a “no sugar” recipe? I am all for using minimally processed sweeteners, like honey, maple syrup, and fruit; but not by the bucket-full and not pretending to eat sugar-free. When you mash and puree and whatever else you may do to fruit before putting them in a cake, you are changing they way they naturally are and the way the should naturally be consumed. You cannot expect to be able to eat as much as you want of this new product and call it healthy eating.

This is what really drives me nuts – calling cakes, biscuits, muffins, all the lot, healthy. They are not healthy. For the sweet taste to shine through flour and flour alternatives, you need a lot of sugar, wherever that comes from. That means more sugar, and very importantly, in a different form, than you should be eating in one go. This is not healthy. If you want a treat, have a treat, that’s not the point here. But don’t call it healthy and balanced, and don’t boast its healthfulness all across the internet.

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5 thoughts on “The New Magic Word: Healthy

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  1. I couldn’t agree more. Watched a YouTube video recently, where a nutritionist was saying: You skip sugar in your coffee, but have a cookie or two with it. It’s better to add that spoon of sugar into the coffee rather than eating a cookie which is loaded with sugar. Made so much sense.

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  2. Good post! I also think that our bodies know what they need, but you’re right, it’s hard to get to that knowledge. I’m always impressed with my boys who still know how to eat until they’re full–no more, even if it’s something they really like. Little changes, like saving leftovers instead of making them clean their plates, and I’m hoping they can be smarter about what they eat than I was as a teen/young adult.

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