This morning I received an email from a friend. Lisa and her husband, John, are writing a cook book and they've been debating the term "health." They wanted to know how I defined "healthy food," and if their food and recipes fit with my definition.
"Granted," Lisa wrote, "a lot of it boils down to marketing and word choice, but we don't want to appear/be something we are not either."
This is why I love Lisa and John. They have integrity. They think critically. And let me assure you, their home grown food IS "healthy."
However, depending on the diet-of-the-decade, headline-of-the-week or nutrient-du-jour, Americans' perceptions of "healthy" are largely driven by billion dollar ad campaigns. We learn early on that "healthy" foods are low in fat, sugar and calories. They carry labels bearing "lite," "fat free," "low carb," and "diet." Rarely are farming or processing methods part of the discussion.
Let's take a closer look at fat. Avocadoes, nuts and olive oil are laced with critical nutrients. Should we give them up because they're" high in fat?" Heavens NO!
Step into my kitchen and I'll show you how to bake the best pie crusts -- with a mixture of organic lard and butter and whole wheat organic pastry flour. I top them with organic whipped cream, never a "lite" fake whipped topping. Organic fat is "safe fat" I tell my guests as I offer cream with their fairly-traded, organic and shade-grown coffee. That's because fat soluble pesticides tend to settle in an animal's fat tissue. "Healthy" food is free of pesticide residues.
Plus, a little bit of fat makes food more palatable. "Moderation" is key here. And if you want an easy lesson on moderation, check the plate and bowl sizes of your grandmother's china.
As for carbohydrates, organic whole grains fit my "healthy" definition. I prefer to buy them directly from my farmer, or scooped out of a cooperative grocery bin to cut down on package waste. Healthy food doesn't burden the environment with excessive waste and it gives farmers a fair cut on their labor.
When it comes to sugar, I stand with Mary Poppins. A spoonful helps the medicine go down, not the 17 teaspoons in a 20 ounce bottle of soda. When I was recently asked what I thought of high fructose corn syrup I said: I don't consume it because I don't want to support the food system it represents. High fructose corn syrup comes from genetically modified corn; it's highly processed, and some of it may be contaminated with mercury. I prefer organic, fairly traded sugar, honey from my local farmer, or maple syrup, because my nutrition decisions extend beyond myself. "Healthy" food protects the planet for future generations.
Which brings us to meat. You may have heard that white meat is healthier than red. Not so fast. I'll take a steak from grass-fed, organically raised cattle over an industrially-raised pork chop or chicken breast any day. Birds and animals raised in confinement on factory farms typically receive routine antibiotics to speed their growth and prevent disease. Healthy meat, no matter red or white, does not contain antibiotic, or synthetic hormone residues. It is raised and processed humanely. And it does not poison the environment with concentrated wastes.
Healthy food is safe food, but safety extends beyond bacterial contamination.
Lisa and John eat organic food, mostly raised locally by family farmers they know personally. By voting for truly sustainable agriculture with their food dollars, Lisa and John protect our common environment from contamination with genetically modified and patented seeds. They preserve biodiversity and help keep our air and water clean, and our soil fertile.
Last, but certainly not least, healthy food is served in a loving environment to aid in digestion and absorption of nutrients. Is it any wonder "healthy" food tastes so good?
Think critically and eat well!