Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What is The Healthiest Food?

What are the healthiest foods to eat? Is meat healthy? What about milk and whole grains? Are humans the only species that don't inherently know what to eat?   Jonathan K.

Hi Jonathan,

I wouldn't say there are "healthy" and "unhealthy" foods: There are foods that contain more desired nutrients (like vitamins, minerals, and fiber) and less undesirable components (like cholesterol and sodium and added sugar).

For example, a hamburger has fat and cholesterol...but it also contains protein and iron, so it's not "bad for you" if you aren't eating a 10-oz burger while you're overweight and have high blood cholesterol levels.

Broccoli and kiwi are nutritious, providing vitamins A, C, potassium and fiber in a very small amount of calories; but they don't have protein, vitamin B12 or sodium, which your body needs. So if your diet was just composed of broccoli and kiwi, it would be unhealthy.

What's "healthy" or not is your average diet over a period of time... what you eat, in what amounts, and how much variety you include. Are you eating the calorie level you need, or too much?  MyPlate.gov helps show people how to balance their diet by making the better choices from all food groups to balance their diet, so they aren't missing nutrients Americans tend to fall short in (like Calcium and Vitamin C) and aren't over-consuming other components like fat, sodium and sweets.
 The best foods are those we call "Nutrient Dense" meaning they have a high amount of nutrition compared to their caloric content. For example, if you compare a peach to a slice of peach pie, they both have vitamin A, fiber, and carbohydrate from the peaches, but the pie adds calories from fat (in the crust) and sugar (in the filling) and an extra dose of carbs from the flour in the crust. So the peach provides in 60 calories what the pie provides in 300, while the latter is also tipping the scale with more fat and sugar.

If humans ate what was natural (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and dairy), it probably wouldn't be an issue. It's when all the canned (high sodium), processed (low-fiber), manufactured (added sugar) and "convenient" items get into the mix that we start getting into trouble!

In my opinion, everything is fine, in moderation. That means even bacon once a month or *wince* soda is okay once in a while. Most often, the diet should be composed of a balance and variety of fresh foods from each food group. There is nothing inherently wrong with sugar, wheat, meat, or dairy.