28th August 2016
What does ‘healthy’ really mean?
Think about what ‘health’ and ‘being healthy’ means to you. Many picture a glowing angelic being, the owner of tight abs and firm skin, transcending through a yoga-fuelled vortex, indulgently munching on sprouted beans and truly loving the flavours of raw earth… Am I right?
‘Health’ is the noun that represents being free from illness or injury. ‘Healthy’ is the verb used to describe promoting the idealism of good health. In my opinion, the word ‘healthy’ is over-used and misunderstood.
I recall a time when I was offered a ‘healthy’ handmade raw chocolate bar: ‘Full of nuts and seeds, it’s completely sugar free and totally delicious,’ he said. I was naturally intrigued, and seeing as my stomach was over-ruling my head at the time, I purchased my ‘guilt-free treat’. It was a big, dark and handsome snack, that’s for sure, however on munching away I couldn’t help but feel I had been misled and mis-sold something deliciously unbalanced. This chocolate bar was in fact not sugar free, as the sweetness came from the copious amounts of blended dates, full of concentrated natural sugars. Indeed, unrefined sugars, and dates are a great food to include in your diet, but still sugar, thus the phrase ‘sugar free’ was unarguably false. Furthermore, the main setting agent for many raw chocolate treats (admittedly, including some of my own recipes) is coconut oil. My super ‘healthy’ chocolate bar of sinless-satisfaction-yet-hopeful-waist-line-friendly-goodness, was indeed high in coconut oil, the most confusing saturated fat in the health food industry. Though my beautiful raw chocolate bar looked and tasted amazing, I was left feeling heavier than expected and started to reflect on the potential dangers of the newborn health food clan.
Anyone can label themselves a ‘nutritionist’ – go on, jump on the bandwagon if you must! It seems like everyone everywhere is an expert in food and the apparent ‘science’ behind what we eat. It is truly a great thing that so many people are caring more about what they eat, however the concerns lie with those without sufficient knowledge and hard evidence to base seemingly factual statements on. As a Dietitian, I represent the British Dietetic Association (BDA), as well as being a member of the Healthcare Professionals Council (HCPC), therefore I aim to avoid giving false statements about foods or nutrition. I aim for my recipes and products to be ‘nutritious’ – i.e. offering additional nutrients to maximise the nutritional profile and efficiency of a food. However, I will never deny that my delicious foods, that offer so many added benefits, are free from fats or sugars where they are not, or even label something as exclusively ‘healthy’.
‘Healthy’ is over-used and sometimes misleading. ‘Healthy’ cannot be applied to a single food, but can describe a person’s overall physical, mental or nutritional intentions. Do not be pressured by the new-wave of ‘Orthorexia’ (an obsession with eating health foods). Enjoy foods in the right amounts, maximise the nutritional value of your diet by making it varied, eat what you enjoy and try not to be influenced by wild low-key health claims that may or may not get you into summer-body heaven.