No Wellness Wankery

24: What is 'healthy' food?

August 16, 2022
No Wellness Wankery
24: What is 'healthy' food?
Show Notes Transcript

Let’s be honest. There’s a lot of misinformation out there. The idea of what is or isn't healthy changes with the wind in peoples minds. But in reality it doesn't...

In today's episode, we were prompted by the amazing listener Laura with her question, "what is healthy food?".

Let's dive in.

Spoiler alert: It's a whole bunch of foods that don't cost the earth or your weekly wages…

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 Hello, this is the No Wellness Wankery podcast. My name is Jenna D’Apice and I am joined by the lovely Lyndi.

 Hello, hello.

 I'm a dietitian nutritionist and Jenna and I, we're going to dive into one of our listener questions. Let's listen.

 Hi, Lyndi. I just wanted to say thank you for the app and the recipes. They're all really easy and yummy and really friendly for a busy family life. I was just wondering how you define what healthy food is, because I'd learned that a quarter of a plate is protein and it's got to be lean protein, a quarter of a plate is starchy carbs and the rest should be vegetables and not too much fat. But that's not something that's promoted in your app. So I was just wondering, how do we define what is healthy? Is it just aiming for more vegetables and more fruit or is it variety? Yeah, looking forward to hearing your answer.

 Thanks, Laura. I mean firstly, thank you. I'm so glad to hear that you like the Back to Basics app. That makes me very, very happy and thank you for this very, very good question because it's a complicated one. How do we know if something is healthy? What is healthy anyway? It's all become very confusing.

 I suppose I feel like a good place to start is like when you're creating recipes for Back to Basics, what do you kind of think about when you're putting together a recipe that is healthy?

 Okay, cool. So there's a few things that I'm not going to include. So things like bacon or really processed meat, anything that's considered carcinogenic, so like alcohol, that kind of thing. It's a very small list, but that kind of stuff isn't really generally making it into Back to Basics. But everything else is fully included. The other thing I'm trying to do always is crowd in more of the healthy stuff while still giving you lots of flavor. So it's like, well, how can we get more vegetables into this meal? And some of the recipes are going to have like, you know, it's going to be pasta with lots of vegetables and not as much protein. So I don't think we always need to stick to that ratio. And some of them will be more of a high protein with like lots of vegetables. And I just think that we need to be a little bit more fluid with this definition of what healthy is. Some meals, it would be nice if they were a little bit balanced and had a bit of mix, but sometimes you're just going to have the carbohydrates. What I'm always looking for is can we pump in more of the healthy stuff, crowding in more fiber, so like legumes, lentils, chickpeas, beans, or can we crowd in more vegetables? We know that only 5% of Aussies are eating enough vegetables. 5%, right? That is really small. It's super low. So like generally, if something's going to contain more vegetables, it could be healthier. Not always, depends on the person. Adding in fruits because we're not getting our fruit targets for the day. So I'm always kind of going, okay, how do we add in more of this stuff? And also with the recipes, I'm always thinking how to make it affordable, doable, convenient, and you probably have it in your pantry already whilst being flavorful. And I think we have this idea of like this perfect nutrition, right? Which is like these smoothie bowls and there's like minimal anything added to them.

 And the perfect plate with the exact right proportions and ratios of everything.

 Correct. The right macros or the right calorie amounts and I just think that these are two quite extreme versions of what health is. I don't think it's probably what's realistic and doable for us. I think what we are looking for is yes, we're looking for variety. So if you're eating the exact same food every day, even if it is the quote-unquote perfect salad, right? It had everything beautifully mapped out, ticked all the boxes. If you ate it every single day, that's not healthy either because your body really does need variety and mixing things up. We're meant to change with the seasons and so sometimes I think we get cooked on this idea that these are allowed foods and we only stick to a small number of allowed foods as opposed to embracing constantly varying up our diets. I know that's a lot harder because it's easy to go, well, this is black and this is white and these are the rules, but ideally we're always mixing it up. You and I were talking about this question because we think it's a really good one and I think it really does come down to also the context of a diet. So you can live in Japan and in some areas in Japan they live really long lives, particularly when there's things like more of a traditional diet, which includes things like seafood and vegetables and seaweed and rice. You can live in Denmark and you can live, the Danish diet can be a very healthy diet as well. The Japanese and the Danish diets, they're very different diets. And yet, both population groups can be incredibly healthy. I think we tend to think that there is like one definition of health, but most foods, they fall somewhere on the spectrum of health. So sushi, for example, right? Okay, so sushi can be a healthy option. It can be a less healthy option. It depends what you're comparing sushi to as an option, but I think there's certainly a place in your diet to have sushi. I consider it a healthy enough option, and I guess that's a definition I'm always running through my mind, is something healthy enough, where I'm kind of like, you know, it's ticking enough boxes. It doesn't have to be perfect. It doesn't have to fulfill everything. Sometimes it's healthy if it's giving you the energy you need and you need that energy right now. Sometimes it's healthy if it's like warming and comforting and ticking those boxes and sometimes it's healthy if it's giving you a whole bunch of nutrients that make you feel better. I know I'm not going to give a very concrete answer here, but I think it's all about the context of the diet and frequency. So fruit is incredibly healthy, but if you just lived on fruit, that's not very healthy either.

 I think it's as people are trying to wean off all the diet culture rules in their head and move into a more intuitive space, you kind of are seeking out other rules. It's like, well, what rules can I... I want to live no rules, but I need rules to replace my old rules. So what foods are healthy and what foods are not? And it's a very hard thing to start eating more intuitively and realising that there doesn't actually need to be rules for food to be healthy. And if you're trying to stick to a certain plate where everything is perfect and the meal is always balanced, that's not going to be intuitive because sometimes you don't feel like eating all of those things and you're forcing yourself to eat things that are perfect and then if you don't eat that, then you're going to go eat something that's not perfect and then you're off the bandwagon.

 I think it's such a good point. I often think about how in nutrition, we're often told, all right, well, for your cereal, you should be looking for this many grams of sugar per 100 grams, and I'm like, who can remember all these numbers? And who's, because each category, you have to remember like,

 Different numbers.

 Different numbers, I'm like, this is too hard for all of us and no wonder we all feel so overwhelmed because we've been told to focus on nutrients as opposed to whole foods. You don't eat calcium. You eat yogurt, which contains calcium, but we keep talking about things like calcium. I think what happens is we so get caught up on which nutrients we're not allowed. I think what we need to focus on, instead of this reductionist approach, which is like, here are the foods you're not allowed to eat. Subtract these from your diet. We're focusing a bit more on an additions approach to nutrition, positive nutrition. We're focusing on the foods we want to eat more of. And instead of just focusing on the nutrients we want to eat more of, we're focusing on more of the foods we want to eat more of. So what are those foods? What are foods that I would categorically go, these are healthy for you, if you're eating them within the balance of that food? Vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, seeds, nuts, beans, like pretty much those are like staples in many diets. How much meat you have, I think we typically do eat quite a bit of meat. You could either go vegetarian and not have meat and that could be a healthy way to eat. You could eat a little bit of meat or you can eat a medium amount of meat and still be healthy. It just depends on what other stuff you're having within that. Sometimes, let's say you're having meat only once a month, you could go for that fatty delicious meat option because it's not something you're having every day anyway.

 I think it's a big thing to point out. If you think of how many people are constantly on diets and dieting and doing all these things, yet only 5% of people are eating enough fruits and vegetables, those numbers are out of proportion. So it's like it's not 5% of people are on a diet and doing these things. It's most people are living some type of diet, healthy lifestyle approach and no one's eating enough fruit and vegetables. So if it's a stripping down to where can you add in more of the good things to the diet you

 already have, then everything's healthy. Absolutely and always just coming back to the context. So for example something like salad dressing. Salad dressing fundamentally is sugar and fat and salt like mixed together in like a delicious little tasty pocket. But you eat salad dressing on salad and it helps you eat so much more salad. So is salad dressing itself healthy? No. And so you often get these articles that are like salad dressings, all the hidden sugar and hidden fat and so bad for you. But if it's helping you eat so much more vegetables it's good. Think about something like sweet chili sauce. It's also like another thing where people are like, this is You have a dollop of sweet chili sauce.

 No one's drinking a bottle of sweet chili sauce.

 No. And so it's all about this context. I think we shame and we vilify certain foods without thinking about how does a normal person actually eat these things. Is this problematic? Is this worth turning into something? It all depends on you as a person. And I think just as long as we know that there are basics that we can always turn to and that we don't have to fear any food. Nothing is off limits. Nothing is awful for you. Even how I mentioned there are some foods that are correlated with cancer, if you're not having them all the time, there's no reason to say that they're terrible for you. It's just not something I'm going to add into a diet. When I was creating the Back to Basics recipes, I'm always thinking about which foods do people need to eat more of because they're probably already eating the rest of the stuff.

 Correct. You don't need to encourage someone to have bacon and eggs. They know that's good. They're doing it themselves. They know it's tasty. They're having that on the weekends. They're living their life. But it's ways of like what are good vegetables that you could add into the bacon and eggs to make it like

 have more nutrients and more fiber. That's it. We're not striving for perfect health. So how to know if something's healthy. Does it have anything that's positive for me? You know, old school nutrition is like all the nutrients like less fat, less salt, less sugar. I'm going, what does it actually bring you though? So I can handle a little bit of fat and sugar and salt if you're giving me those healthy nutrients as well. And that's the sweet spot, that's the balance that we should be striving for. So I don't know if that helps a little bit.

 But it is a very nuanced area.

 Oh, it's nuanced. And we could talk about this for a very long time, but hopefully it's helpful. What we're saying is crowding in more of the healthy stuff, remembering that everything is in context. If you have an ice cream, that doesn't necessarily make that ice cream unhealthy. If you spend your entire life avoiding ice cream, I'd argue that's not healthy. So it's just about how often we're having these things, even if we know they're not the healthiest for us, even something like ice cream could be argued that it gives you calcium, it gives you protein. Everything is on a sliding scale of being healthier or less healthy. It just depends on what you're comparing it to.

 And I would say most people probably need to work on their relationship with food as opposed to working on their diet because it's the guilt that comes with all these foods, I shouldn't have this, I should have this, that's just riddling their minds, people that do have a bad relationship with food, as opposed to the occasionally having an ice cream or having a sandwich and toast, like these things.

 I think it does so much more harm because of what it does is it can swing us into that weight cycling, the yo-yo dieting, the good or bad relationship with food, and can often lead to things like binge eating and overeating. And on that note, I know it's like a bit of a divergence, but if you do feel like that is a thing you'd like to work on, I do have a free five-day course that you can do to help you stop binge and emotional eating, you can just sign up to it via my website,, and I've got some really good tips in there that hopefully can help you answer this big question about healthy food and reducing some of the rules around it.

 The mental load. As always, if you have a question that you're thinking about, nude__nutritionist on Instagram, look Lindy up, have a scroll, maybe like some posts if you like them. It's not my Instagram, so imagine if Lindy was like, like my post, like her

 post, send a question and we would love to answer it. Thanks for listening guys.

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