People are paying greater attention to their health than any time I can remember. They are more aware of how dietary choices and lifestyle factors can impact their health. One indication of this trend is a question that my patients frequently ask me, “Is (fill in the blank) healthy?”
I’m glad people are taking such a keen interest in their nutritional choices, but answering questions like this are never quite that simple. I often find myself saying, “compared to what?” Let me explain…
Putting Food Choices in Context
Let’s take a look at a concrete example so you can see what I mean. Say someone asks me, “is a strawberry milkshake good for me?” The answer will depend on so many factors such as the patient’s overall health, the context of their other dietary choices, and how often they consume them. It will also depend on the ingredients in that particular strawberry milkshake (they are not all created equal) and the other beverages they could be drinking instead.
A strawberry shake made at home with frozen yogurt and organic strawberries is a whole lot different than what you’ll get at the fast-food chain in town. A good shake will include healthy things like calcium, protein, vitamins and minerals. It will likely also have a lot of saturated fat, sugar, and calories. If a person is watching their weight or at risk for cardiovascular disease they’ll certainly want to exercise restraint as far as milkshakes go.
In this example, a good quality strawberry milkshake is probably a better choice than a soda. But it’s not as healthy for you as green tea, which is loaded with antioxidants, beneficial minerals, and a compound called amino acid L-theanine, which works synergistically with caffeine to boost cognitive function. Studies also show that green tea helps to regulate blood glucose levels, lower inflammation, and improve metabolism.
Now you can see why the answer to the “is xxx healthy?” question is not that simple. A strawberry milkshake is better than a soda, but not better than a cup of green tea. The answer is always, “compared to what?” The message here is that every food choice is just that…a choice. And my job is to help you make a better choice whenever you have the opportunity.
A similar logic applies to other dietary considerations. Your goal is to develop a pattern of dietary habits that lead to making healthier choices over a sustained period of time. As I’ve mentioned numerous times, you can’t go wrong with vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, and whole grains. An occasional milkshake (or even a burger) isn’t going to do irreversible harm. What you want to focus in on, is your dietary patterns over time.
When you find yourself asking things like “Is chicken good for me? Shrimp? Pumpkin pie?” I’d encourage that you use it as an opportunity to ponder the alternatives. Respond to your question with a question…”compared to what?” In our milkshake example, you may want to consider a healthier option (such as a homemade fruit smoothie). Because I’ve had milkshakes on my mind, here’s a quick and simple recipe for a delicious all-natural mint smoothie.
Shamrock Mint Smoothie Recipe
- 1 cup of ice
- 1 cup organic non-dairy milk (almond, hemp, or coconut all work great)
- 1/2 of an avocado
- 1 teaspoon organic vanilla extract
- Organic or local honey (add amount to your taste)
- Organic essential peppermint oil (add amount to your taste)
Add ingredients to a blender and mix until smooth.
Enjoy in good health,