“Healthy” isn’t one-dimensional

This story begins (as is often the case on this blog) with a Don Boudreaux post:

It’s pithy and to the point, so I’ll quote the bit that set me off:

One of my very best and favorite former students, Laura Sacher, told me today that her nine-year-old daughter, Caeley, recently expressed the following desire at dinner: “Mommy, I wish there was a law that made brownies more healthy than spinach.”

Caeley is an adorable and bright little girl, one who no doubt does truly wish – and for all the right reasons – that brownies were better for the human body than is spinach.

When her mom pressed her, though, even young Caeley conceded that no “law” could perform such a miracle.  Caeley understands that the impossible is not made real simply by legislators writing words on paper and then performing an elaborate secular ceremony over these words.

Dr. Boudreaux is of course absolutely correct.  I’m not here to nitpick his economics; in fact, I’m not here to nitpick him at all.

But I am sick to fuckin’ death of the notion that food is, or can be, varying degrees of “healthy”.  The next time some shitwit talks about how “healthy” a given chunk of consumable might be, I’m gonna crush s/h/its gonads with the pliers on my Leatherman.  It’s a simpleminded superstition, well in the realm of magical thinking: “if I eat enough healthy food, I’ll be healthy!”  No.  No.

All right, you primitive screwheads: listen up!

Food is fuel.

Let me repeat that.

Food is fucking fuel.

A “healthy diet” is one that gives your body the resources — calories, macro-, and micronutrients — it needs to function properly at your given metabolism and activity levels, and doesn’t provide too much of any given resource to fuck it all up.  Spinach is “healthy” insofar as it provides an assload of vitamins and minerals at a relatively low caloric load.  Does that mean you should all eat kilos of spinach every day?  Hell fucking no! C’mere, you little shit; come and meet McGyver!

One of the vitamins of which spinach provides an assload per calorie is our good friend vitamin A.  It’s critical for nifty things like being able to see, so you want to get plenty.  It’s also fat-soluble, which means that if you get too much of it you don’t simply piss the rest out (as with water-soluble vitamins like our friend ascorbic acid).  Too much vitamin A in your diet can lead to, among other things, liver failure and birth defects.

Did you read that with proper comprehension?  You can overdose on spinach.

Now let’s get back to that brownie.  Brownies don’t have a heck of a lot to recommend them.  I mean, I guess you can get some fibre and protein from the nuts, and chocolate’s got some good things itself — and a full-fat brownie won’t hammer your blood glucose levels the way a can of Coke might — but brownies aren’t exactly your go-to food for filling out your daily micronutrient needs.

But suppose you’ve already done that — I dunno, maybe you had a spinach salad with lunch — and you’re ogling that brownie for dessert.  Would it be unhealthy for you to eat it?  Of course not.  Not (necessarily) even if you’ve already met your calorie budget for the day and a huge chunk of brownie would put you well over.  You’re not going to get fat, creaky, and diabetic from a single chocolatey treat.  If you do it every day, you might be having words with your waistline and Islets of Langerhaans, but one damn brownie isn’t gonna be a problem.

8 Responses to ““Healthy” isn’t one-dimensional”

  1. 1 Not Sure
    May 6, 2010 at 20:33

    “…but one damn brownie isn’t gonna be a problem.”

    Maybe not, but if you eat one (I think that’d be enough) of those KFC meatwiches, you’re surely going to an early grave. I know it’s so- I heard it (over and over and over again) on tv.

    They wouldn’t lie to me, would they?

      • 3 Not Sure
        May 6, 2010 at 20:44

        Ok- you got me. I guess it was just a wee bit too obvious, no?

        So- no news from tv for me. I get all mine from the intertubes. Or is that interwebs? Anyway, you get the drift. Better check how late KFC is open tonight- hate to get there and find them closed. Hasta la vista, baby!

        • May 6, 2010 at 20:47

          Ok- you got me. I guess it was just a wee bit too obvious, no?

          If you’d thrown in something about how the Huffington Post said it was, uh, killing union workers in New Orleans I might’ve bitten. :-)

          • 5 Not Sure
            May 6, 2010 at 20:52

            “If you’d thrown in something about how the Huffington Post said it was, uh, killing union workers in New Orleans…”

            You say that like it would be a *bad* thing. ;-)

            Relax, Teamsters- it’s just a joke. Besides, I was one once myself (a Teamster, that is). Well, maybe both- you could ask around.

  2. 6 Andrew C
    May 6, 2010 at 20:40

    Nothing pisses me off more than when someone tries to sell something diet as “nutritious”! Something that is diet typically has less sugar and fat in it. Sugar and fat being nutrients. So a diet anything would be LESS nutritious than the full-calorie version. I also get a big kick out of people saying high-calorie foods are unhealthy. Since I am under my target weight, I’m actually healthier eating that brownie than not! :)

  3. 7 CrankyProf
    May 7, 2010 at 04:45

    Part of the problem is that the idea of moderation is pretty much a joke to most people. Throw in the fact that self-control and personal responsibility are considered dirty concepts, as well.

  4. May 8, 2010 at 00:50

    I think the reason that brownies have a bad reputation and spinach has a good one is that there are lots of people that are likely to overeat brownies, but not many who will overeat spinach.

    Interestingly Vitamin A poisoning might be “worse” that obesity, which could make that law an example of unintended consequences as well. ;-)

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