What does “healthy” mean?
To a national cereal brand, it can mean the product contains added vitamins. To a restaurant, it can mean a focus on using locally grown vegetables and plant-based fats. To Webster’s, it means something that’s conducive to good health. To the Federal Food and Drug Administration, it can mean all of the above.
The FDA regulates food products and requires them to meet specific criteria to be labelled “healthy.” They include restrictions on total fat, all saturated fat, sodium, cholesterol, and requirements for 10% daily intake of two vitamins or minerals, as well as fortifying a product when applicable. While the guidelines are intended to be helpful, they’re outdated, which only clouds the picture for consumers.
The regulations were developed when fat was considered the evil in the American diet, not sugar, as it is now. So the FDA’s criteria for healthy food discounts nuts, seeds and plant-based fats (avocados) that are good for the body, while high-sugar cereals boosted by added vitamins pass muster.
Another difficulty with defining “healthy” food is that it doesn’t take into consideration portion size – a handful of nuts is “healthy,” a cup isn’t – high caloric content. So a perfectly nutritionally balanced restaurant meal made with healthy ingredients may still contain more calories than a dieter should eat because of the enormous portion sizes at most US restaurants..
Doctors’ and nutritionists’ best advice is to limit processed and sweetened foods and rely instead on nutrient-dense green vegetables, lean protein and plant-based fats that will not only fill you up but satisfy you. Always read labels when buying packaged food, the fewer and natural ingredients, the better. And when you do eat out, choose wisely, because most three-course meals won’t fit into a weight loss program, no matter how “healthy” they are. Portion control, moderation!
“Healthy is a lifestyle, dependent upon balance, moderation and variety.”
Source: Andrew Wade, RDN, LDN at Post-Gazette.com