Health halos convince a naive public that certain food is healthy, other food isn’t. The halo even gets extended to places: grocery stores, restaurants, even someones own kitchen. You hear things like “she cooks healthy food” or “they serve healthy food” despite the fact that most locations also serve or sell food that is not inherently healthy. In addition it is certainly possible to eat a mix of healthy foods that is not healthy for you, and therein lies the problem with health halos in the first place.
A recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek is an example of misguided use of health halos. Mike Roberts is the CEO of a new restaurant concept, and is to be commended. The Lyfe restaurant menu embraces the new world of local and sustainable food. Bravo. The problem is how this effort is contrasted with his former life as an executive at McDonald’s and the food served at McDonald’s.
FOOD OF THE FUTURE: LOCAL AND SUSTAINABLE
Local and sustainable are primarily environmental issues with some health implications. Less carbon footprint, food grown in a way that minimizes use of pesticides or other man made chemicals, food grown with no artificial fertilizers that can create dead zones in oceans are all good things for the planet. Ultimately, having fewer endocrine disrupters in our environment and a more sustainable food supply is definitely better for us.
When the writer describes Lyfe’s menu as local and sustainable it is inferred that this must mean it is healthier. It is also interesting that the writer would like to press the compare/contrast button with McDonald’s. To his credit, the former McDonald’s executive deftly sidesteps the issue.
WHAT IS “HEALTHY”?
It would take a more nuanced conversation to determine whether food at Lyte Kitchen is “healthier”. Just because something is low in calories doesn’t inherently make it “healthier”, just as frying a food doesn’t inherently make it bad for you. Unfortunately, the health care community and the media have created a monster. Sound bite nutrition–whether practiced in a medical setting or in journalism–has created a very distorted understanding of food, nutrition, and what it means to eat well.
First, Americans clearly have a peculiar notion of calories. You would think Calories are toxic and to be avoided if possible. Calories are energy. It is easy to forget that we need enough.
Second, vegetables are not inherently “healthier” than dairy, fish, fruit or beef in the same way that concrete is not inherently better than wood or steel. You want the right mix of materials no matter what you are building. The notion that a quinoa wrap is healthier than a hamburger is debatable.
WHEN A COMPLETE PROTEIN IS NOT MUCH PROTEIN
Let’s look at that Quinoa wrap a bit closer. Quinoa is the rare grain that is considered a complete protein, but most of the calories come from carbohydrate. My guess is that Lyfe kitchen chefs put quinoa in a grain based wrap with lots of veggies. Beautiful. But most of the calories are going to be from carbohydrate. I know many of my clients that would not feel satisfied, would have trouble managing their blood sugar or would feel the discomfort of bloating when they eat this way. So would I. Different people have different nutrient needs and that leads to my last point.
Too often people talk about a healthy diet as if it is a definitive thing. You can eat whole foods, close to the earth, and still not be eating a healthy diet for you. The media is fixated on the concept of best. Which is the best fruit? What is the healthiest vegetable? What is the healthiest diet? Most people–even the professionals that should know better–talk about good food and bad food. These are ridiculous conversations. They are asking the wrong questions. The goal is to figure out an approach to food that works for you.
The writer is determined to differentiate the food at Lyte as “healthy” compared to McDonald’s food. Yet, the article talks about all the ways fruits and vegetables have found themselves on the menu at McDonald’s. The truth is that there is not one right way to eat. Enough fruits and vegetables is a good thing, but let’s not assume too much. I have seen many unhealthy clients eating only fruits and vegetables.
After years of being browbeaten with the message that fast food is bad, people assume that there is nothing healthy to eat at fast food restaurants. This notion is perpetuated by too many in public health and the medical community. It is a simplistic notion that is just plain wrong. All you have to do is scan what is sold in supermarkets and the calorie counts at sit down restaurants to know that poor food choices can be made everywhere food is sold. Even at Lyfe restaurant there are choices that one would consider indulgent, no matter how locally sourced and sustainably grown. Despite what the pundits say, more than where you eat, what matters is what you eat when you get there.
FAT BIAS: The most destructive stereotype of all
There is great harm from all the good food/bad food conversation. All you have to do is read the comments at the bottom of this article to see the evidence. The good food/bad food conversation quickly deteriorates into a fat bias slam fest. Too many very opinionated people want to believe that thin people eat healthy food and if you are overweight it is because you spend all your days eating all the wrong food. The ignorance is astounding. Too many people have not received the memo that it is possible to be healthy at every size (HAES).
In the end, this article is all about food and the direction we all need to move. Every entity that connects with food, farming and the public will need to come to terms with the destructive ways of how we conventionally produce our food. Every player will need to step up and change what they can. Have you figured out a healthy approach to food for yourself?