What does “Eating Healthy” Mean? by Katie Kimball

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kimball_katieAsk not what you can take out of your food, but what your food can put into you.

Eating “Healthy”

The way I see it, there are basically two philosophies on how to eat “healthy”. The first involves eating less: low-cal, low-fat, low-carb, low cholesterol, low salt…the list goes on and on. The second is about getting more out of what you eat: Nourishing Traditions, Super Foods, locavores, Slow Food, and I’m sure there are other terms and non-termed eating styles.

I’ve been a party member of both in my time, so you understand I’m only pointing fingers at someone I can entirely identify with. The cultural trend is certainly the former: we are told around every medical corner what we need to avoid and take OUT of our diets. I had a conversation with a dinner guest recently that epitomized the avoidance paradigm perfectly. The topic was canned spinach (Blech. Seriously.) which the guests all actually liked. (Blech. Can I say that again?) I’ve tried it, and it was a primary player in the only meal I’ve ever thrown out lock, stock and barrel before it hit the dinner plates. Beyond my personal distaste for canned spinach, I pointed out that canned veggies have no nutrients left, so why bother eating something “healthy” if you’re not going to get anything out of it. My guest argued, “But it’s tasty AND low-cal!” I let the topic fall by the wayside, but I was thinking, “Yes, but fewer calories of what?”

My Philosophy on Eating

I’ve recently been seeing the beauty of simply making sure the food you eat (and enjoy!) counts nutritionally for your body and is as efficient as possible in giving good health, as food should. If I’m going to eat something that’s not delicious (like canned spinach!), it had better be nourishing to my system and providing well-being to my family. If not, why bother? Fresh spinach is incredibly healthy, and lightly cooked is even better. Knocking all the nutrients out of a super food like spinach (in the canning process) possibly even knocks it right off the food pyramid into the realm of diet sodas and other non-foods that you pay money for and put into your mouth. I, for one, am not going to eat a vegetable if I can’t count it for my 5-a-day.

I can remember being just the opposite though. I would tell people my banana trifle dessert was “healthy” just because it was fat free and had bananas in it. But what else? Lots of high fructose corn syrup and fillers, I can guarantee that! I was all about cutting the fat and reducing the calories in anything. Now I worry much more about what IS in my food than what isn’t.

I still talk about things to avoid sometimes at Kitchen Stewardship – mainly: don’t eat stuff that’s not food, like margarine, for example. But instead of just AVOIDing trans fats, I want to learn about what kind of fats we should be eating. We’ll die without fat in our diet, so we can’t just avoid. Capitalize on the fact that you’re putting something in your mouth that’s going to be incorporated in your system. It will affect the way you feel, your energy level, and your immune system function for the next day or so…maybe longer…so make it count.

Sorting it all Out

There’s a lot of controversy out there about what is healthy and what is not. You can find people who say coconut oil is just about the best thing you could possibly consume, and just as easily folks who will say the same thing is going to give you a heart attack. Seven servings of grains/pasta a day, or low-carb/no-carb? More meat or less meat? Or just meat that is eating the proper food itself?? There’s a tangle of nutritional information, and it’s difficult to sort out the fad from the food, the information from the commerce, and the truth from the paid-for-by-the-company-that-will-make-a-profit-from-it. I land on the conservative side most of the time, but through prayer and conviction I’ve also come to believe that some of the more revolutionary anti-food-pyramid info is what God is calling my family to.

But some choices are easy: no one has anything bad to say about vegetables, for example. Everyone is acknowledging that trans fats will kill you. I feel confident in echoing those sentiments and teaching folks how to eat more vegetables and avoid trans fats. Certain foods, like salmon and spinach, are exempt from the “don’t eat it” mentality…unless of course it’s farmed salmon or E. coli contaminated spinach. Yes, even some black and white subjects aren’t so cut and dry anymore. What’s a wanna-be nutritious chef to do?

Do your best. Pray that God takes your best effort and makes it whole, that He provides good health for your family both because of AND in spite of what you may end up doing in the kitchen. Eat your spinach (but lightly cook it first). Eat your salmon (but find out where it came from).

Super Foods Series

If you’re interested in more, check out the Super Foods series at Kitchen Stewardship: 15 weeks of recipes, nutritional information, and practical usage tips for 20 of the healthiest foods out there, those that really pack a nutritional punch in more than one area of health (plus a handful of honorable mentions).

Ask not what you can take out of your food, but what your food can put into you.

Copyright 2009 Katie Kimball

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