So what exactly is “healthy food”? And exactly when, if ever, should we be spending our hard-earned money on it? Let’s start with the definition of healthy food.
What is healthy food?
The thing about healthy food is that it’s not as cut and dry as many people — even experts — claim. Our bodies are not all the same. And so we process foods differently. In general, good foods include: lean sources of protein, fresh veggies, fresh fruit (but not too much because of sugar), whole grain carbs (but again not too much), nuts, legumes, and healthy oils.
But some people do just fine with foods that diet “experts” warn against. Foods that are too salty or fatty or have lots of sugar or even carb-heavy foods. Then again, some people really do need to restrict such foods. For them, these foods can lead to things like high blood pressure, too much cholesterol, diabetes, etc.
As for the foods themselves, many health advocates swear by things like beans, kale, soy products — even rice. But for me those are all bad choices. Not nutritionally per se, but because of how my body reacts to them.
So finding the right diet for yourself is not always simple. And that leaves us wondering how to make the right choices for our particular needs.
Deciding what’s healthy for YOU
My best advice when it come to your own food choices is to do some nutritional research, so you have a general feel for things. Like fried vs baked foods and just how many teaspoons of sugar are in a glass of soda or even fruit juice. Knowledge really is power.
But then take time to experiment. Observe how you feel after eating certain foods. Or combinations of foods. Any swelling? Energy loss? Are there certain ways of eating (sometimes it’s timing or food combos or preparation method ) that leave you feeling better than other ways?
If you start to pay attention and trust your body to give you good info, you’ll be able to find ways to eat that work for you. Also, remember to discuss this with your doctor or a nutritionist, so you can adjust your choices to your own state of health and any lab results.
But what about all those packaged organic or “natural” products?
Well, now we get to the main point of this article. If you go to a a natural foods store or many grocery stores nowadays, you’ll see carts loaded with “good” food. And you may wonder whether you’re wasting money on food that’s supposed to be healthy. After all, the labels lead us to believe they are.
Just as with so many things, we’ll probably never know for sure if organic fruits and vegetables, for example, really will prolong our lives. Or keep us healthier. We hope they will. But I know people who have lived into their 90s who did not eat well. At least not in the modern definition of healthy eating.
So is it worth the extra money to buy organic or “all natural”? Sometimes not so natural, btw, if you read labels carefully.
The decision I made is to support organic farmers when I can. They not only produce organic foods, but help keep toxic chemicals out of our groundwater — and out of our children. And they choose not to poison bees or other creatures who ingest the chemicals used by non-organic farmers.
But if you are on a budget and organic products mean you can’t buy enough food to feed your kids or yourself, then that’s a valid consideration. You can always research the most-sprayed fruits and veggies and make sure to wash them well and / or not eat the outer layer.
Or you can simply buy organic only when it’s something thin-skinned like apples or grapes. Then again, in a well-balanced diet you may do just fine using the products you can afford. In moderation — always a good word when trying to eat healthy.
Beware the zillions of “natural” products that are not such good food
So now we turn to all those shelves just filled with yummy cookies and chips and sugar-filled products of all kinds. My vegetarian and vegan friends gobble them up. So do friends trying to eat well.
But they are filled with sugar and carbs. And even ingredients technically called natural, but not necessarily healthy in everyone’s mind. Like guar gum, carrageenan, xanthan gum, “natural flavors” (sometimes that’s msg), sugar substitutes that not everyone can digest well, and other additives.
While these ingredients might be ok (the research jury is still out), I think the further you get from simple ingredients, the less natural and healthy these foods probably are. Again, just my opinion.
Next time you eat one of those healthy treats you pay more for, check out the ingredients. And the fat and sugar content. For all you know, there is some not-so “healthy” treat you might do just as well with for half the price.
BTW … there’s also controversy about just how bad fat is for you, but we don’t need to go into that here.
Why does healthy food cost so much?
Sometimes healthy food costs a lot because of higher-priced ingredients and special manufacturing conditions. And also, often if it’s made by a small company, they can’t compete at the slimmer margins of the big guys.
But other times, it may just be that they charge a lot because the health-conscious public are willing to pay more. They do so thinking that THIS will be the way to stay healthy and live longer. (Probably not if your key to longevity is “healthy” cookies.)
So is spending more for healthy food wasting money on food?
It really depends on the foods you’re buying and why you’re doing it. If you feel strongly about supporting organic farmers and can afford it, then you probably aren’t wasting money on food. Especially if you stick to meals made up of fresh ingredients as close to the natural state as possible.
But what if your cupboards are stacked full of self-proclaimed healthy foods with lots of salt, sugar and fat, along with questionable ingredients? Well, then perhaps it’s worth taking a second look at what you are spending your hard-earned money on. Sucker is not just a lollipop.
But even the smartest of us get taken in by packaging that makes us feel good. Buying these products helps us feel we are doing good for our bodies by eating — let’s face it — junk food. Not to demean junk food; it has its place in our lives. Just worth thinking about whether the extra money really makes your snack any less junky. 🙂
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