Friday, March 2, 2012

What Is Healthy?

Sometimes it seems to me that every couple of months, I hear about another study that has found another food or health product to be dangerous to our health. Moreover, I’m pretty sure that over my lifetime of 30 years, some foods or health products have zig-zagged from being deemed “healthy” to being deemed “unhealthy.”

For example, a few months ago, I read an article that a few people on my Facebook had posted: “7 Things You Should Never Eat.” I don’t know about you, but my reaction as I scanned down the list of untouchables was, “Oh, crap. Oh, crap. Oh, crap.” I think I was guilty of eating all seven things, and on a regular basis. I figured that some of the items I could replace with the healthier alternative, but some of them I would probably continue eating (like regular apples and regular potatoes--those are healthy foods themselves, right?).

Then, my mother-in-law told me about how Johnson’s Baby Shampoo was found to contain an ingredient that releases formaldehyde. My reaction again was, “Oh, crap.” I promptly went upstairs after reading the article to toss my bottle of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo in the garbage. I decided I’d just stick with the organic baby shampoos and washes that you can get at the Superstore and be done with it.

Most recently, my mom told me about an article she read about a study that found high levels of arsenic in cereal bars and baby cereals that contained brown rice syrup. As someone on a gluten-free diet, which limits my options for “healthy” cereal bars to the organic kind that generally contains brown rice syrup, I threw my hands up in the air and said again, “Oh, crap!” That made me the most angry. Seriously?  What next? I am really limited with what I can eat already, and now people are saying that a major ingredient in a ton of organic, gluten-free products is poisonous? What’s worse for me? Eating gluten or eating arsenic? Or eating neither and further limiting my options like a chump?

I wouldn’t call myself one of those 100% organic, super-health-conscious people that will go raw or vegan or whatever just to be healthy. I still buy meat at the grocery store instead of buying organic. Although I use some beauty products that are organic, some still have the odd paraben. However, I would consider myself relatively health-conscious. I have started reading labels on beauty products and will avoid those that contain a BILLION parabens. I figure that being gluten-free steers me into the organic section of stores often enough that I eat pretty well when it comes to “carb” foods like cereals, cereal bars (although not anymore?), pastas, etc. I love trying new recipes for smoothies or baked goods that have sugar alternatives or tons of health benefits. I often have to bribe my toddler with fruits and vegetables to eat his other food, and so I am hoping that I’m making a good impression on him since we always have a wide variety of healthy food to eat.  

Being a pretty average person, then, when it comes to my food and health care products, this kind of rigmarole associated with what’s beneficial and what’s detrimental this week is really frustrating. Should we be cutting out every single thing that someone calls “bad for you”? Is that being responsible, or is that being extreme?

Take coffee for example. I think that over my lifetime coffee has been in the good books and the bad books several times over. (For the record, coffee will always be in my good books.) So what then? Will we find out ten years from now that the arsenic levels in organic brown rice syrup are actually OK, and no harmful effects have been discovered from regularly eating foods sweetened with it?

Also, if we take the attitude that we should avoid what the latest research tells us we should avoid, does that not create some level of paranoia when it comes to food selection? I mean, who’s to say that another well-known, well-trusted, often-consumed food or health/beauty product might become lethal in a few months? Until extensive research is done on every product and every food out there, how will we ever know if everything we are using and consuming is free of health hazards? How will we ever know?

Where do you draw the line? Do you react to every scare out there? Or do you figure that if we’ve been using these products (like Johnson’s Baby Shampoo) or eating these foods (apples that aren’t organic) for decades and we’re fine, that we should just keep consuming/eating them? After all, if I learned anything in my Biology 101 course in university, there are no "causes" for cancer. It's always a combination of events that result in cell mutation--right?

Although these articles frustrate me, I do try to keep some balance with my decision-making. Some products are easy enough to discard and replace with something better. Others aren’t.  While I can appreciate the choices of some people to go completely organic, I am not sure that’s right for my family. Could we afford to go completely organic? Do we have the time to drive to every different place to get all the different organic stuff? Where do you stop? Where do you draw the line?

After all, sometimes I wonder if certain healthy choices are so beneficial that they far outweigh the potential detriments of other choices.

If I use bath products that contain parabens and/or mineral oil, but I eat a lot of broccoli and drink my full quota or more of filtered water every day, then am I at lesser risk of being negatively affected by the bath products?

If I buy ground beef that isn’t organic, but I exercise regularly, is my body then better equipped to face the potentially harmful ingredients in the beef?

If I eat apples that are covered in pesticides, but I wash them, then doesn't that at least reduce the amount of pesticides I'm consuming, and aren't the health benefits of the apple itself enough to counteract the harmful effects of the traces of pesticides?

I hope I don’t sound like I’m just trying to compromise. I am trying to consider these facts and balance them without having to subsist on less and less options (that are often more and more expensive) as time goes by.

What do you think? What is your opinion on all of this? Do you get as frustrated as I've gotten?


  1. Warning..this is a long comment (sorry). First of all, I don't claim to be an expert whatsoever. But this is one area I've taken great interest in over the last 9 years or so. I've read many books on the broad subject of good health, specifically in relation to the foods we eat. When I first started coming across alarming information like what you've mentioned, I reacted the same way you did. Over time I've learned that good health is as much affected by attitude as it is by the foods we eat. What I mean is, that someone at the extreme end of things, obsessing and feeling anxious about every bite of food or environmental exposure is actually putting their health at risk by living in fear all the time. Does that make sense? On the other end, if you don't take responsibility for your health, in a happy, relaxed, easy-going, yet wise way, then you're oblivious, and that has it's own health risks. So you have to find the balance that [works for you]. I say, don't write-off the information you come across, but don't try to adjust your life according to every little detail either. I find conflicting info ALL the time. In fact, just this week, I read one article praising the health benefits of eating raw food all the time...and then another article exposing the possible problems this could create in someone's body. Then another day this week I read that it's important to keep animal fats in the diet especially if meat-eating was a big part of your ancestral heritage. Again, I say, you must be aware of the information, but not afraid. And I think a healthy frustration is ok. I think as a whole, our culture (in the past) has been much too passive about health, relying on others (Doctors, etc.) to decide what is right for our own bodies. But now we have this great amount of information available to us that can actually help us, and will help many of us, to live longer. But the information is just a tool, and we have to decide how we are going to use it. At the same time, all this information can create quite a bit of confusion. That is why we have a Helper. :) I really believe that if we are open and ask, God will help us to make the right choices - the important ones - for our individual benefit. There is absolutely no way we can do everything perfect..ever. Just enjoy life, be wise, do what you feel is important to you, embrace variety, and be open to change, when it comes to food and health. That's my opinion.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Estelle! I like how you pointed out the emotional attitude and reaction toward all of this information and how that in and of itself is a significant factor. I never thought of it that way before. I definitely appreciate the fact that we have access to lots of information - but like you said, it's all about making our educated decisions - and understanding that maybe we shouldn't believe everything we read. It's really quite the task to navigate through all the information, though!