Is it healthy?

“Is this healthy?” I get this question a lot. Like every time I teach a class or share a recipe or eat out with a friend. I thought I might share it today because the new year and all its associated resolutions are nigh and I know that at least a few of you might be considering eating “healthier” in 2016.

This is an unsurprisingly complicated question when you consider that we live in a world in which there’s a new diet or study or recommendation out on a daily basis and few of us have the time or inclination to sort through all of them in detail.  Now before I tell you my criteria for deciding if something is “healthy” I want to be very clear that I’m a fan of whatever helps people find the style of eating that works best for them. If being paleo or vegan or gluten-free or {insert other diet style here} helps even one person find a classification and community of support for the way of eating that makes them feel good then I’m thrilled!

That said, I think that these latest trends and studies and diets can distract us from finding what really works for our individual constitution if we’re not careful. This is why after trying all the trendy diets and latest and greatest trends I threw it all out and came up with my own set of questions that helped me answer that question “is it healthy?”

Will these work for you? Maybe. Maybe they work with a caveat or with certain foods excluded or with a certain category of foods emphasized (hey there veggies!). If they don’t work for you, I encourage you to think carefully about what your core questions might be so that the next time you’re staring down a new diet or meal or recipe you can answer the question “is it healthy” for you.

So without further ado, here are the questions that I ask myself to hone in on the health of something:

  • Is it real?
  • Is it whole?
  • Is it unprocessed?

If I can answer yes to all of these questions then it is likely that I can feel good about that food being a solid base for a healthy diet.

As you can imagine, yes is an easy answer to these questions when looking at something like apples, broccoli, or brown rice. But it gets infinitely more complicated when you start looking at packaged foods, which is why I added in one more question:

  • Could I make this myself at home if I was so inclined?

What the heck does that mean? For me it means that while time and inclination don’t result in me making everything myself, I like to focus on buying packaged foods that I could easily get or make the ingredients for if I really wanted to. Some examples:

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  • Larabars – they’re just a mix of dried fruit and nuts. With enough of these two things and my trusty food processor I could easily make them at home if I wanted and, you know, had more time
  • Whole grain sourdough bread- water, a starter, and whole grain flour combine to make this magical bread. If I could keep a dang starter alive I could totally make it myself
  • Unsweetened applesauce – throw some apples in the Vitamix et voila. If the homemade stuff had a longer shelf life I might actually make this at home
  • Frozen brown rice – I know I could make this myself (and even freeze it) but sometimes the hour of cooking time is just too much to ask

Some examples of things that wouldn’t fit:

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  • Anything with high fructose corn syrup – you can’t buy that crap for home use
  • Powdered cheese – I’ve seen what cheese looks like and it’s not dry or powdery usually
  • Anything brightly colored – if it isn’t a color that naturally occurs in food (I’m looking at you Flaming Hot Cheetos) that’s usually a pretty good tip off

Obviously, this isn’t a perfect science, but by combining all of my questions together I usually feel pretty confident in making healthy choices. And when I’m not, at least I know I’m not, which is really all I ask for. After all, healthy living is a huge handful of healthy eating with a generous pinch of delicious indulgence.


  1. Marybeth Russum says:

    Healthy living” to most people means both physical and mental health are in balance or functioning well together in a person. In many instances, physical and mental health are closely linked, so that a change (good or bad) in one directly affects the other. Consequently, some of the tips will include suggestions for emotional and mental “healthy living.”

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