Lately, I have wanted to scream every time I hear the term “healthy food”, or see a food or nutrient pushed as healthier than something else. (And you see it all the time, which makes me want to scream way too often.)
Here’s a newsflash to all you intellectually challenged victims of health crazes: food is healthy, by definition. If it is bad for you, it is not food. If you do not believe me, try going without for, I do not know, say a month. If you after that still refuse to eat something that is generally considered food on the grounds of it not being healthy, I will do my best to have you admitted to a psychiatric institution and they can inflict an anorexia diagnosis on you.
And no, particular foods are not healthier than other foods, either. An apple is not by some absolute default healthier than a piece of chocolate. If you eat only apples you are likely to feel like crap, just as you are if you eat only chocolate. (I do not recommend trying either, but if you do not believe me, a month is probably a good length for an experiment, again.)
Particular diets are healthier than some other diets, I have to give you that. But even there, the effect is probably less than you think. Your body is brilliantly good at transforming things into other things, with just a couple of notable exceptions (the major one being vitamin C, the metabolism of which in humans, or rather the lack of essential parts there-of, is one of the best arguments there is against intelligent design). Sure the transformation might be somewhat more inefficient than eating everything in the exact required amounts, but last I checked lack of fuel for their bodies was not a problem for most Western humans. It is also crucial to understand that just because a diet consisting of nothing but pizza, fries, and sugared soft drinks is unhealthy, pizza, fries, or sugared water are not unhealthy as such. They are food. Foods are not unhealthy. Diets are. If you generally eat your veggies and so forth, eating a pizza every now and then is very likely going to do exactly nothing to your overall well-being (if anything, it makes you feel warm and fuzzy and adds to your mental health).
And no, we did not evolve to survive on a particular diet. I know, I know, in the stone age we ate berries and meat and not roots and grains and all the carbohydrate crap (says you), but evolution is not about what you do in your everyday. You can do a hundred sit-ups every day and your daughter will still be born the exact same abs she would have been without you taking all that trouble. Evolution is about whose offspring survives. And while I dislike making far-gone conclusions about the effects of our evolutionary history to our current day, if I believe one theory about the evolution of human nutrition, I believe the one that says there has been a huge pressure towards being able to effectively use whatever food happens to be available. If the diet of a nation consists of potatoes and gravy for a couple of hundred of years, the people unable to utilize the potatoes will die off and the rest of us will rule the Earth. If the diet of a nation consists of whatever hell is available and occasionally nothing for a couple of tens of thousands of years, how the hell did the stone age folks who need a carefully balanced diet of carrots and beef to feel good manage to spread their genes to all of us?
There is two major ways to construct an unhealthy diet (given that you have enough to eat in the first place, which we should not forget is still the major problem about food today): eat too much, or do not eat enough veggies. Do both of those, and you end up spherical and feeling like shit. Do not overdo it, and eat your rabbit food like mom told you, and you will in most cases be just fine. Yes, there are cases where special diets and special attention to diet are needed. Some people have actual diseases that kill them off or seriously disable them if they eat the wrong things. Some people are competing athletes who train for full weekdays and compete on the weekends. Pregnant women are recommended to take certain supplements. The likelihood that most people reading this who are very conscious about their diet have any of those conditions is not very great, however.
The ones who really need the special attention should keep on paying it. The rest of us need to stop fussing about it and eat some but not too much of what’s put in front of us, and be grateful.
(I could also use this post to rip apart the YLE newspiece about how “Finns eat healthier, but get fatter” (in Finnish, sorry), but commenter Ari T. did it for me already in the comments. The gist of it is this: 1) the results of the study cited probably mean that some Finns (say) they eat healthier, while some, very likely at least partly other Finns get fatter, and 2) even if point number one does not hold, if your diet makes you fat, it is an unhealthy diet, no matter what you eat, and 3) the questionnaire used in the study does not even ask about the amount of food consumed, so using it as any sort of indicator for the general unhealthiness of anyone’s diet is plain stupid.)