What is Healthy Eating?

Friends! This topic has been on my mind since we moved to France and experienced some major shifts in our eating. I’m dying to hear what your thoughts are. I’ve had lots of conversations about healthy eating with dear friends — and dear relatives too. But the thing is, it seems like in every conversation, there is a point I realize we’re talking about completely different things.

In fact, I’ve made a little list, and for every item on the list, I can think of someone in my life who focuses on that type of eating. Some focus on a combination:
Vegan food.
Raw food.
Organic food.
Plant focused meals (not strictly vegetarian).
No snacking.
Locally produced food.
Sugar-free food.
Minimally processed food.
Michael Pollan food. (eat food, not too much, mostly plants)
Robert Lustig food. (sugar is toxic)
Gary Taubes food. (don’t eat sugar, but eat lots of protein)
Fat-free food.
Gluten-free food.
Lactose-free food.

My own definition of healthy eating is definitely a moving target, so I’m not really interested in what’s right or best (I suppose it depends on the person). I’m just curious. I’d love to know: Right this minute, what is “healthy-eating” to you? Has your definition changed in say, the last 3 years? Have you read anything lately that has you excited about healthy eating? Please share!

Image by Ez, from this post about Creamy Broccoli Cheddar Soup

164 thoughts on “What is Healthy Eating?”

  1. I am a single 24 year old girl so I think my version of healthy eating is probably much different than most of your readers :) I am a vegetarian (for the ethical, environmental reasons but mostly because red meat has made me get sick since i was younger). In college I wasn’t a healthy vegetarian; in fact it wasn’t until the last year that I stepped up and taught myself how to cook. I try to eat a lot of local produce and I think a good motto to live by is, “if you couldn’t get it 100 years ago, you probably shouldn’t be eating it now.” I think some processed foods are okay in small doses and moderation, but for the most part I just try to eat stuff from nature not from a factory. :) Michael Pollan is speaking here in Denver on Wednesday and I am SOOOOO excited to hear what genius advice and info he has to share!

  2. What a pleasant surprise to run onto this posting today.

    Dr. Lustig is our daughter endocrinologist for endocrine concerns related to post treatment of a brain tumour, which are not related to obesity.

    Over the year’s I have heard/read of his research on fructose/obesity/heart disease.

    I listened to the video on the link today. I encourage anyone to watch the entire video.

  3. Healthy eating has always been important in our home, but we love our treats and junk food, too. We’ve focused on fresh vegetables (garden-fresh) and lots of fruit. We’ve always gotten our meat and poultry from a local, reputable butcher.

    Thankfully, our children were not picky eaters and today, as parents themselves, they continue with good nutrition. It’s fun to watch the little ones hording their steamed vegetables and enjoying them like they would other goodies.

    We are all bakers and gourmets (in the sense that we try new things all the time and don’t shy away from complicated preparations or exotic ingredients). We envy your opportunities for the local French markets. We have a trip planned in a few months, so we’ll get our fill then.

  4. How can you post this entry on the same day you show an ad from McDonalds? McDonalds is not many mothers’ idea o; healthy eating.

    1. Too funny, Genevieve! I had no idea McD’s ads were showing up. Apparently, different ads show up depending on what region you live in. Right this minute, I’m seeing American Cancer Society ads. : )

  5. Yesterday evening there was an interesting show on German TV about healthy eating. It was produced by one of Germany’s famous TV-cooks (Tim Mälzer). Together with an University professor from Heidelberg they executed an experiment. A group of men was divided in three: First group was for one month on a strictly mediterannean died (considered very healthy in Germany; mostly vegetables, olive oil, fish, few meat), second was on a typical tradition German died (considered not-so-healthy by ourselves; lots of meat, potatoes, bread, some vegetables), third groups was on a fast-food-died (considered horrible by Germans; Burgers & fries, fried eggs, etc.).

    The professor from Heidelberg sported the theory that the nutrition will not have an effect on the blood parameters. The TV-cook expected, that the mediterranean group would come out with the best test results. To make a long story short: In fact the professor was right. They took blood samples from all participants before and after the experiment. No significant differences between the groups. All the markers for blood-fat, Glucose, etc. were basically the same in all three groups. Our poor TV cook was in desperation… ;-)

    BUT: All three groups had a fixed amount of calories per day. The mediterranean groups felt the best. They claimed to feel very active and energized. The fast-food group felt tired and demotivated. And, the fast-food coup felt always hungry despite they ate the exact same amount of calories like the other groups. None of the groups was allowed second helpings or snacking. So I guess, if you would be on a fast-food-diet in real life, the permanent hunger would lead to snacking and eating more and more, which then would have the negative aspects for health….

    And one other thing: All three groups were given best quality food cooked from organic raw materials. So the Burgers and french fries were handmade and not industry-food.

    For myself, I am following a relaxed diet: Lots of vegetables, few meat (once or twice a week, but of all sorts), lot of water-drinking, almost no alcohol, no smoking, and making as much food as possible by myself from the scratch from ingredients as organic as available for a reasonable price. And despite living in Italy right now, I love German traditional food from time to time. Its nice to know, that obviously I can relax more about our German Würstel-diet. The professor said: eat what you want, but enjoy it a lot a and stay within in your daily calories limits! I guess I’ll go with that. ;-)

    The vegetarian/vegan/raw/cooked, etc. issues were not addressed….

  6. I guess my focus would be on organics. This came about not really because I thought it really was even a real thing. Always just passed it off to marketing. Also being that I live in California it kind of became the trendy thing to do. Until one day I started going to a nutritionist for my migraines. I started getting them when I was 8 years old, about one a month. So bad that my mom would give me codine to knock me out. By age 34 I had them once a week to the day. She had me switch only my fruits and veggies to organic and see what happened. It will be 3 years this June and I have not had one migraine since. So when I hear someone gets migraines I always tell them my story. Maybe it will help someone else too. Being a child of the 80’s with there being only pesticides to choose from I feel VERY blessed to have this new freedom of organics, not only for myself but also for my children.

  7. This post is perfect timing for me as I’m going through a major shift in my diet. Focusing on whole foods, less refined carbs/sugar and more on veggies, fruits and fish. I’m taking a raw foods course in March not because I plan to go completely raw food but my thinking is the more different types of preparations I learn, the better. Maui is filled with farms so I’m trying to locally source my food as much I can as well.

    Michael Pollan’s book is wonderful and the illustrations in the recent version are great as well.

  8. Good food is made by someone you love or made for people you love. I enjoy creating recipes I find in magazines or my new favorite Pinterest. Usually is healthier too even if it has butter as I get to control the ingredients.

  9. All of these thoughts and ideas for healthy eating and my eyes drift over to the sidebar with the advertisement for Mcdonald’s. Isn’t this a little hypocritical?

    1. Hah! I think this is the 3rd comment about McD’s ads. I’m not seeing them, because apparently they only show up in certain geographic areas. But the idea of the ads next to this discussion is making me laugh. : )

  10. Am a “lapsed” vegetarian, so am really trying to get back to more plant based meals, lots of home-made stuff (non-processed) and green smoothies, which my family love. But I agree with many of these comments in that a balance of everything is key. That’s the aim anyway! Love reading these great comments!

  11. The Crazy Sexy Diet (cleanse) had the most significant change on the way my husband and I eat. I did it in advance of my 40th, and was shocked by how quickly a low-sugar, gluten-free, vegan diet (with green juices for breakfast every day) had such a quick impact on my energy level (and my love handles). Oh, and I switched from a bad, bad coffee habit to green tea as part of it. Major improvement! (We’ve been vegetarian for over 20 years and still are post-cleanse.) We’ve maintained 75% of the cleanse’s philosophy over the last 9 months, and have also cut back on the amount of gluten and dairy our kids eat.

    For our kids the most significant change has been inspired by The Unhealthy Truth (we’re now keeping a keen eye toward food dyes and GMOs) and In Defense of Food. At ages 5 and 8, they’re cognizant of HFCS, the idea of eating food made in a kitchen rather than a lab and can spot food coloring in a product. That said, we aren’t 100%. We just want them to understand how to make informed choices and the power of advertising in the food industry (especially in the US).

  12. Healthy eating to me means home cooked meals, minimally processed, less sugar and grains, lots of vegetables. I’ve explored paleo…and we try to have at least 2-3 paleo friendly dinners per week. It is hard with kids who are picky eaters but luckily we have access to grass fed/local meats which makes this easier. We’ll never give up dairy, coffee, wine, etc…but eating less grain and sugar is my goal.

  13. HI Gabrielle! As a family, our idea of healthy eating began to really shift when the food allergies made leading a functioning life impossible. My husband has dairy and gluten allergies as well as a tendency toward diabetes and colon cancer, so no sugar or meat for him. My daughter has food allergies/sensitivities to dairy, soy, eggs, gluten, strawberries, oranges and pineapple. We discovered most of these for her about 9 months after she began eating solid foods, as she stopped sleeping through the night. She would awaken 10-12 times a night, in fact. (You read correctly.) I recently discovered I cannot eat gluten or sugar lest I also wish to no longer know the luxury of sleep. So, out of necessity, healthy eating is pretty strict at our house. We eat alot of raw food, and of course, no meals containing the foods on “the list”. BUT, as a result, we have discovered we all feel so fantastic and alert when we eat this way! I occasionally personal chef for people who have health issues and food allergy/sensitivity symptoms. When I take them off the main “food devils” (gluten, dairy, sugar) they report weight loss, cholesterol drops and much more energy. So, I have been a bit of a loud mouth about this approach, which is sometimes hard, as I really love bread and cake…. I used to own a pastry business!
    Thanks for asking. ;)

  14. I’m reducing the amount of processed foods we eat and hopefully eliminate as much as possible. I’ve also started increasing the whole, real foods we eat. I’ve started with fruits and incorporated more fruits into our life because I knew this would be a great, easy way to get real food in because they’re sweet and who doesn’t like fruit? Next on my list is introducing more vegetables. This will be slow but sure. We have our regulars we like. I’m thinking of making it fun and taking my daughter to the grocery to pick out the ones she wants to try next. She and my husband will be the most difficult to convince to eat new veggies. The next step after that is to reduce the amount of meat we eat while using more of the new veggies we begin to love to be more of our main dish foods. I’m not trying to completely eliminate anything really but just to reduce the junk and be healthier by increasing our real food consumption. When I buy produce I use the dirty dozen list as a guide for which items I should buy organic and which I can pass on.

  15. it does become a blur, all the studies and fads telling us different things about diet and nutrition. it seems that a few things are constants. the more plants: the better. avoid ingredients you can’t pronounce as well as artificial colors and preservatives. eat things that come from nature, without a stop by a lab or factory. in the past year, we’ve really decreased white sugar, using natural sweeteners instead and have enjoyed great results in energy levels, etc. also, eat food that is made by you or someone you know, whenever possible.

    that’s my 2cents!

  16. We’ve found that talking about food and nutrition in our food-obsessed community (Portland, Oregon) is akin to talking about politics: paleo vs. vegetarian vs. vegans, and so on. It can be maddening. There doesn’t seem to be one “right” way. Our nutritional needs and sensitivities are not going to be the same as other families we know. We’ve always tried to eat “well,” but since having our son 4 years ago we’ve made a concerted effort to cut out almost all processed/packaged foods. We like to cook and I work from home, so that helps. Dietary restrictions have led us to eat a mostly plant diet with a bit of protein with each meal (not a lot, about 3 oz or 20 to 30 grams per adult). We don’t consume many grains because one of our family members has blood sugar issues and autoimmune issues that seem to worsen with the consumption of grains and refined sugars. That said, we give ourselves little treats here and there because life would sure be dull without a slice of pie and a scoop of ice cream now and then.

  17. I’m such an overeater of all the good things! We try to be vegetarian but we still will eat chicken and fish. My husband and I were Vegan for about two years. We were so thin and fit! I couldn’t believe it. Now for some reason that would be really difficult for me to do! This was a great article!

  18. I feel best when I’m focusing on “real” food. No restrictions on carbs or fats (within reason) or sugar, but food that comes from the outer rim of the grocery store and is in as unprocessed a state as possible when I buy it. I make a lot of things from scratch if we want treats and I try to use as few boxes, mixes, cans as possible.

  19. I focus on whole food. I have to avoid most processed foods and preservatives because of food allergies. As long as what we eat is balanced and minimally processed, I figure we’ll be okay. We try to eat local foods as much as possible (they taste sooo much better than grocery store foods) but it doesn’t always happen and that’s okay too.

  20. I’ve read every comment – such an interesting topic!

    It’s a total mental trick, though – now, all I want to eat is a bag of neon orange cheez curls.

    {But overall try to eat lots of fruit & veg, no meat}

  21. After watching a bunch of documentaries on netflix, and being fed-up with feeling cruddy, we cut out sugar and processed foods at the beginning of the year. We try to eat whole, organic food, and we juice a lot, too. It has made such a huge difference in how I feel and think, that I am sold on it! I am still deciding what I do and do not believe about food, and I think it is an evolutionary process. It will change a bit as I go, and that’s okay. To help me figure it out, and because I was frustrated trying to find information that aligns with my personal food philosophies, I started a blog about my journey into the confusing world of forgetting everything I ever thought I knew about food and seeking better health: http://www.nourishstrengthen.blogspot.com

    p.s. Coincidentally, my daughter is currently reading, “The Carnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollen with her school class (5th grade). It has been AWESOME, because now she ‘gets’ what we are trying to do, and is supportive and willing to try things that don’t look appetizing to her in the name of health. It has been helpful because she is the oldest, and the little kids follow her lead.

  22. To me healthy eating is *healthful* eating, which means homemade, from local, happy places. Lots of veggies, lots of fruits, but it’s also okay to eat butter, sugar, and carbs. Wholesome. Hearty. Delicious. Made with love. Like a grandmother would feed you. (Or at least how *my* grandmother would feed you.)

  23. Sometimes the hardest thing for me is just getting started. Making a new habit (or ditching an old one) can look big, so I focus on just doing it – even if it isn’t perfect. I started working out last October, and now it isn’t very hard to get up and go do it, be cause it is a habit But those first weeks were hard! I kept telling myself “It’s ok if you can’t DO that much – just get up and go do ‘smething’, to get your self in a habit!”

  24. Healthy eating for me is knowing the ingredients within my meals. It could appear general, but I’ve discovered that slowing down to contemplate this has made a difference and has helped to eliminate tons of foods I didn’t realize I was eating. While I’m not saying that I’ve lost many pounds or done anything amazing however it certainly helps me avoid buying lots of items at the store. Also fascinating, once I’ve made this shift in thinking is observing what my son consumes compared to other children who are his age. A huge difference in processed food vs processed food! Also, if I’m wanting to spend a little more on dessert, etc…I just whip something by hand at home. It’s a simple, sensible choice for our family!

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