Foods: Are They Really Healthy or Unhealthy?
My son, who is almost 3 years old, is currently in a stage where everything is evaluated and categorized as either things that “can hurt me” or things that “cannot hurt me.” Some things clearly fit into one category or another. For example, scorpions. We recently moved to Arizona, so we've been sure to explain to him that scorpions are dangerous and they definitely belong in the “can hurt me” category.
Other things are a little less definitive. Take a kitten, for example. There is very little that seems as innocent as a tiny kitten, but even that adorably playful ball of fur could pose a potential threat. Between the sharp nails and sharp teeth, not to mention the risk of getting sick from the cat's saliva if the skin were to be broken, there is actually plenty of potential danger. Does this sweet kitten need to be categorized as things that “can hurt me”? No, certainly not! But it would be careless not to teach boundaries on how to handle the kitten so it doesn't become harmful.
As adults, we recognize that most things in our environment don't fall into some black and white category of helpful or hurtful. Yet, when we think of food and our diet, we are quick to categorize things as “healthy” (i.e. helpful) or “unhealthy” (i.e. hurtful).
Spinach = healthy
Sugar = unhealthy
Apples = healthy
Gluten = unhealthy
*** If only it were that simple. ***
Instead of looking at food as healthy or unhealthy, we need to consider ALL potential benefits AND potential threats. It's about coming to a point where we create BALANCE (I know, that's cliche word, but it is important) in our diet to support the synergist relationship between the nutrients found in different foods.
Let's take spinach as the example here. Spinach is definitely a “healthy” food, but it doesn't come without it's own dangers. Spinach is high in oxalic acids, which can interfere with the absorption of calcium and potentially lead to kidney problems, amongst its connection with other health symptoms. Does this oxalic acid negate the benefit of spinach. NO! Not at all, in fact. Oxalic acid is naturally occurring in many foods and most people can process a normal amount of it just fine. However, going on a green smoothie craze or eating spinach daily could contribute to higher levels of oxalates than the body is meant to process. So the take away here is this: spinach is a nutritious and nourishing food but it should be consumed in moderation along with a variety of other nourishing foods to enhance its benefits and decrease its risks.
On the flip side is sugar. Sugar is almost always deemed as “unhealthy” and for good reason. But it's also very necessary and very useful in many “healthy” foods. Sugar helps to catalyze the fermentation process in foods like kombucha, so without it, the gut-benefitting bacteria in fermented foods couldn't grow. Categorizing sugar as “healthy” and consuming large amounts would be unwise, but blindly disregard it in efforts to have a perfectly healthy diet is a bit more extreme than is necessary.
I could go on and on because these types of examples are true for many foods, but for now I will leave you with this….
Most “real” food (i.e. things not manufactured) are not simply healthy or unhealthy. To create more balanced health, enjoy a wide variety of foods and avoid over-consuming any one food.