What is a healthy food?

'Healthy', 'clean', 'pure', 'natural' are all terms that come up often in news, magazine and online articles describing the healthfulness of a particular food. The wording often implies that those foods are mostly good, which conversely may imply other foods are bad or unhealthy. The understanding of what a healthy food is seems to have been lost amongst the all the conflicting information made available to us in this modern age of technology. 

A healthy food is not limited to one idea, divided perfectly into healthy and unhealthy foods. There may be a general consensus that Oreos are not healthy and an apple is, however each of these foods can easily form part of a healthy diet within a bigger picture. There are many foods which come somewhere in between an Oreo and an apple, which makes it hard to come up with an easy definition. 

A food's nutritional quality, and the extent to which it is good for you depends on the dosage. Have too much of any one thing, and it begins to have a negative effect. For example, if you eat 10 apples in a day you may be consuming too much natural sugar and fibre, potentially resulting in an upset stomach, and you may have little room left for a variety of other nourishing foods from different food groups like vegetables or grains. In the same way, one Oreo is not likely to have a negative effect on your health, however eating lots of highly refined foods on a daily basis in large quantities may. 

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGHE) describes a healthy diet which consists of mainly foods from the core food groups (fruit, vegetables, grains and cereal, meat, poultry and alternatives, and dairy and alternatives) with some occasional foods (chips, chocolate, lollies, alcohol, etc). The idea is to have a variety from these food groups to form the overall picture of a healthy diet, and not focussing on one particular food or group to provide your nutrition needs. Based on the AGHE, a healthy food therefore may be any one found in the 5 food groups, which may include mixed dishes or processed foods made from core foods such as tinned tuna, peanut butter or a salad sandwich, the list could go on forever. 

The important thing to realise, is that eating is a very personal experience. What's good for one person is not necessarily good for everyone. You should choose mostly whole plant foods and eat in a way which you can enjoy the food and experience, having foods which are sustainable within your lifestyle, rather than focussing on single 'bad' or 'unhealthy' foods.  

Today's health and wellness industry take things to the extreme, with many strict rules and exclusions within dietary trends. This makes it difficult for those with less nutrition knowledge to filter out the credible information and focus on what's important. Any lifestyle which promotes the exclusion of a certain food or food group for no particular reason (except for allergy, or personal preference) is not a healthy one. 

The best advice on how to follow a healthy diet is: 

1) Have a variety of foods from the 5 food groups according to your personal preferences (including options for meat/vegetarian/vegan). 

2) Choose less processed, preferably home made foods that you enjoy, and eat them regularly. 

3) Enjoy all foods in moderation.