ColumnAre the “healthiest foods” always what’s best for us?
Chances are, when you see an article with “healthiest foods” mentioned in the title, you click on it. You clicked on this one, now didn’t you? And if you’re not on the internet, I’m sure a magazine or newspaper article promising to tell you all about the healthiest foods out there would sound enticing enough to read. In a world where we are trying to eat better, this is perfectly normal behavior.
When we focus on the “healthiest foods,” often we’re most focused on nutrients. How many vitamins, minerals, calories and cholesterol we get per serving. Recently I saw a healthiest foods roundup where bananas came out on top.
In North America, we’ve been eating bananas since the late 1800s; long enough for them to be a perfectly normal staple even though they come from afar. Besides being carted into grocery stores from other continents, bananas have a pretty dark side; poor worker conditions, human rights abuses, child labor and beyond. A banana might get five stars on various nutritional elements, but that doesn’t account for all the bad that happens in the banana industry behind the scene.
Even foods that are grown closer to home come with their issues. All that out of season stuff we see everywhere. In a supermarket, where we can buy anything we want at any time of the year, a lot of us don’t even know what’s in season and what isn’t.
But just because you can buy something, doesn’t mean you should. A caprese salad in winter for example; those tomatoes are not what they could be come summer. Stocking up on avocados every week, even though that consumption is drying up water supplies. Honeybees dying because growers have to cart them in to pollinate California’s almond crops and they’re in turn exposed to deadly pesticides. Or a morning smoothie made with raspberries and blueberries in the middle of winter. Again, just because you can make it doesn’t mean you should.
The reality is, that when we think about “healthy foods,” we are only thinking about “healthy” as it pertains to ourselves.
Choosing healthy foods is most often about about how I, the individual, will benefit from the consumption of said food. But food isn’t just about our own health. It’s about our community’s health, and the planet’s. And if we want to eat better, we need to reorient our selfish thinking into one with a more global outlook.
If there is one thing that’s sure when it comes to nutrition, it’s that we need more real food in our diet. Certainly bananas are better than a Twix bar. But focusing on only the nutrients of a food is a one-sided solution.
Eating well can be a very simple thing, but it requires a holistic approach, it requires thinking not only about what the food will give us, but where the food comes from, how it was grown, whether or not it’s in season. These are just as much essentials of a healthy diet as thinking about nutrition and nutrition only.
So next time you’re thinking about what healthy foods to eat, do more than look at the nutrition label.
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This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.