What’s a healthy diet, anyway?

By John Aubin

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 2.12.21 PMWhat can I say about nutrition, other than I simply do not get it. I am a reasonably smart man, I have a university degree, I’m an avid reader, but when people discuss nutrition, healthy eating, and — God forbid — whatever diet they are on, I lose all ability to focus and just smile and nod. If carbs are bad for you, why do athletes carbo load? How can meat be both good for you and bad for you at the same time? In what world can fruit have too much sugar?

My education in nutrition started in elementary school with the four food groups. I believed you had a healthy diet as long as you ate from one or more of the healthy food groups, which are basically meat, fruits and vegetables, wheat and grains, and dairy. But, if cheeseburgers and pizza cover all four food groups, how can they be so bad for you?

So the formal education system left me with nonsense, but that’s okay; lucky for me I have a logical mind. In situations like this, I usually use common sense to get me out of trouble. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as when it comes to this topic. I am told that a caesar salad is worse for you than french fries. Now, I get that the dressing on a caesar salad is not the best thing in the world for you, but how on earth does that make a dish that basically consists of vegetables worse for you than a dish that — while is does have potatoes in it — basically consists of grease?

So if what I learned in school is obviously wrong, and common sense clearly does not apply, I guess the answer is to hit the books. I’ll do some research, find out what works, and most importantly, what will work for our lifestyle. Have you ever gone to the library and looked at their healthy eating section? It is daunting. It seems everyone has a theory, and everyone is positive their theory is correct, and by extension, they are positive that those who wrote the other books are wrong.

I admit, I do not know what I’m doing in this venue. I do not have time to read every book on the shelf, weigh the pros and cons, and come to a logical conclusion. If I pick out a couple books and read them, they could be written by complete quacks. There is so much information, and so much of it at least partially contradicts other parts of it, that it is a grim prospect to a novice like me.

So I guess I am back to common sense. That seems like the best available tool for the job. I mean, I know carrots are better for you than ice cream. It’s meager, but this is the basis of my nutritional plan. It is all educated guesswork. I am right some of the time, wrong some of the time, often, however, I have no clue.

It is not just a factor of what is healthy and what isn’t. As mentioned, I know choosing to eat a carrot is a heathy choice. Preparation of said carrot is paramount to how healthy the carrot will be. Now I obviously understand that if you deep fry a carrot it will cease to be healthy as it will be more of a greasy mess than a vegetable (for the record I am not saying I deep fry carrots, I am merely trying to stress that if you deep fry anything, it becomes more grease than food, and is therefore unhealthy. I guess I should use a potato in this example, but I hate potatoes, so carrots it is).

Deep frying anything is obviously an unhealthy choice, but so is boiling the carrot they say. I have heard that you leave what’s healthy in the water when you boil vegetables, so unless you make a soup out of the water you boil the carrot in, then it is best to leave it raw, or steam it. This bugs me, as I have cooked/eaten boiled vegetables for years. I have done so because I understood it was good for me, and — oops — its not. My next question is, is it really not healthy, or just less healthy than raw vegetables? If it is less healthy, how much less healthy? It’s not like caesar salad is it?

I have been doing a lot more cooking in my household over the past few years as my wife has been fighting cancer and, simply, is not always up to the task. I certainly don’t mind pitching in. I really want to make healthy foods, but as you have read, I don’t know what I’m doing. Sometimes my wife will get a diet from a doctor, and that’s easy enough to follow. Sometimes, such as when she is in treatment, she has very little appetite, in which case anything she can keep down is a win.

Most the time when I am in charge of the meal, I just take whatever meat we have, fry it up with whatever sauce and vegetables are available, and serve it with either rice or pasta — whatever I have handy in the kitchen. I was told recently that frying vegetables was also a nutritional crime, and that I am robbing them of their nutrients.

Ugh.

Like I said earlier, I don’t get it. I really want to eat healthy, I just don’t know how. If a raw vegetable is healthier than one that is boiled or one that is part of a stir-fry, why so I bother cooking them? Is that really the answer? And the people who seem to get this, how the hell did they figure it out? Healthy eating, for me, is like a language that many seem fluent in, but I just have an outdated phrase book.

Or maybe they make it up as they go along. If that’s the case, I can get on board in a hurry. I’ll start telling people that vital nutrients escape in the steam of steamed vegetables. I can even create and try to market some kind of bong attachment for a vegetable steamer which allows you to capture any steam that escapes, and — I don’t know — inhale it? Ok the plan needs work, but its not bad for first idea.

I’m not sure what the solution is here. In all honesty I could (should) make more of an effort to study this, but it just seems so needlessly complicated, and in my life when useless complications create stress, I tend to just walk away. I do have enough stress in my life without worrying about the healthiest way to prepare a carrot. It bugs me, though. I drives me bananas (bananas are healthy right?) that I cannot seem to find a consistent logical framework for healthy eating. Or more to the point when I do, I learn something new that completely shatters it. And most of all I do not get how almost everyone seems to be an expert on the subject except for me. I’m sure many people are making it up as they go along just like I am, but I cannot tell the experts from the frauds.

Anyways, my plan for going forwards is to just try and mix in more fruits and vegetables. I plan on cooking said vegetables however I feel they will best work in the dish I’m preparing. I already eat plenty of protein (meat). I am going to do this, cross my fingers, and hope for the best. I figure anything that I make in the kitchen will at least be healthier than fast food.

 

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