One of several New York Times charts symbolizing the healthy/not healthy issue.
When it comes down to it, Americans don’t have a firm grip on the concept of ‘healthy’ versus ‘not so healthy’ foods. And, sadly, because of conflicting advice from assorted vested interests, most people are far from approaching the level of understanding of why this food, while it may supposedly be ‘good’ for you in ‘this’ way, is far from good for you in another way.
The New York Times devoted a great deal of time and resources to researching this subject and, sadly, came away with head-scratching concerns on top of confusion why the what’s-good-for-you subject is so, well, incomprehensible.
The USDA doesn’t help: It recently came out with a revised standard for nutritional information on packaged food labels and the supposedly-improved ones truly aren’t – leaving consumers, as they have been for years, trying to make sense of terms and quantities they can’t comprehend.
An excellent explanation of why the U.S. has so resisted going totally metric – many domestic industries already employ that system exclusively – is laid out in this Time Magazine article from 2014. Some of the stated reasons may have made a certain amount of sense at one time, but they no longer do – just as, except for its currency, the British have been all-metric since the late 1970’s.
(I happened to leave, after five years there, as the change-over was starting. The thing that amazed me most was how quickly and adeptly lovers of Fahrenheit and other non-metric units switched over. Yet even today, when I discuss something involving a measurement with a friend there, I have to do an electronic [or old-fashioned, paper-based] conversion to get ‘on the same page’ with them.
Our auto industry is all-metric. So is the military. So is the industry producing wine and ‘hard’ alcoholic beverages : 5ths and quarts disappeared some years ago, replaced by .75 liter (litre) and liter bottles. Beer producers are switching, too, albeit more subtly : Incrementally, they are making the percent-of-a-liter ID larger than the old standard ‘ounce’ measure on their bottles.
But because, except in a limited number of instances, it is impossible to produce a food package of a size that can be converted from ounces to milligrams/milliliters or vice versa in whole numbers, and because manufacturers insist on measuring sizes in quantities only vaguely approximating what people call a serving, comparisons of the value Brand A to Brand B are, at best, an exercise in futility.
So, regardless of whether Brand A or Brand B is ‘healthier’ or ‘better for you,’ it’s pretty hard to tell from packaging and serving sizes.
The Times report noted that a survey of “hundreds” of nutritionists – members of the American Society for Nutrition – revealed “a surprising diversity of opinion, even among experts.”
Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, told the paper, “Twenty years ago, I think we knew about 10 percent of what we need to know” about nutrition, “and now we know about 40 or 50 percent.”
The Times report is long, detailed and, sadly, will leave many readers none the wiser – or not much the wiser, anyway – after they’ve plowed through the entire thing.
And when reading any such report, one has to keep in mind that it refers to ‘healthy’ and ‘good for you’ foods for ordinarily healthy people. To a concerning extent, though, the findings of such studies are meaningless for ‘special needs’ people like me: I have Stage 4 Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), meaning many things that are ordinarily good for healthy people – things such as tomatoes, potatoes, beans and nuts – should seldom if ever pass my lips.
Diabetics have their own dietary issues, of course.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that some 29 million Americans have Type 2 Diabetes. That’s roughly 9.3% of the population.
Another 10% of adults have CKD.
So, right off the bat, close to one-fifth of the American population falls outside the ‘good/not good’ – ‘healthy/unhealthy’ measurements of most nutrition surveys. And that doesn’t count those with special dietary needs because they are way under-, or over-weight.
If you are fortune enough to in the larger group that can choose what you eat based on common measurements like those surveys and ‘experts’ produce, consider yourself fortunate. But keep in mind, it wouldn’t take a lot to push you into one of the ‘endangered’ classes!