Confused about “healthy” foods?

The recent survey from the International Food Information Council Foundation found that many Americans are confused about what a “healthy” food is. I think that one of the reasons is illustrated in the survey’s finding that most people rely on friends and family for information about healthy food (even though they believe dietitians and other health professionals are more trustworthy sources).

Why aren’t people getting information about “healthy” food from the right sources?

There are so many people out there claiming to be nutrition experts and there’s a lot of confusion about what constitutes an expert. With that in mind, it’s easy to see how difficult it can find good info about healthy food.

What are the right sources to learn about healthy food?

A good rule of thumb is to get your information from sites that end in .gov, .edu, and .org. Some of my favorite websites are Choose My PlateEat Right and The Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

What’s wrong with .com websites?

Every single blog and website that ends in .com is trying to sell you something,* so you need to be a smart consumer of nutrition claims. Reliable websites and bloggers will provide links to sources that back up their claims about food and health. Some red flags to watch out for are “experts” who:

  • Promise quick results
  • Use fear tactics used to convince you to adopt the diet / buy the supplement / give them money
  • Claim their methods are scientifically proven to be the best or only way to eat (this is never true)
  • State that the dietary guidelines and other peer-reviewed scientific evidence is wrong and they have a better way to eat (and please to buy the book now)
  • Use disclaimers

*Yes, even this one!

Okay, but what is a “healthy” food?

I think it’s better to look at what makes up a healthy overall dietary pattern; the distinction between organic and non-organic carrots is moot when most of us aren’t eating enough of any type of vegetable anyway.

The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate illustrates a healthy dietary pattern nicely. Fill half of your plates with vegetables and fruit and prioritize whole grains over refined grains, vegetable fats over animal fats, and lean protein sources over red and processed meats. Also, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that we eat less than 10% of our calories from saturated fat and added sugar and limit sodium.