What is "Healthier" Anyway?
Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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What is "Healthier" Anyway?

I knew this topic was destined to become a blog post because I was asked this question several times yesterday. Each was in reference to a particular food, such as, “Are vegan cookies healthier?” and, “Is natural ice cream healthier?”

My response is always the same – it depends. My favorite store bought cookies are vegan and extremely delicious. But EACH cookie provides 140 calories (from 6 grams of fat, 18 grams of carbohydrate, and 1 gram of protein). I would love to eat 4 or 5 at once, but if I did, I’d be “spending” 560-700 calories (about 30-40% of what I need for the entire day). So while my cookies are cholesterol free, low in saturated fat, and made with healthy ingredients like rolled oats and dark chocolate chips, I can’t get away with eating more than a few (unless I want to spend more time on the treadmill that is).

The same is true for natural foods. I love that the ingredient list on natural ice cream reads, “milk, cream, sugar, egg yolks, and strawberries” rather than words like “maltodextrin, polydextrose, sorbitol, gylcerin, mono and diglycerides, guar gum, and acesulfame potassium” (huh?). If you read the Diet Dish, you know that I’m a big fan of foods made with “real” ingredients. But, just like my cookies, natural ice cream is calorie dense (lots of calories in a tiny portion). One half cup (the size of a mini fruit cup) provides 250 calories (from 16 grams of fat, 23 grams of carbohydrate, and 4 grams of protein). It also provides 10 grams of saturated fat (about half of a day's maximum recommended intake) and 95 mg of cholesterol (a third a day's maximum recommended intake).

I guess my point is this – when it comes to nutrition, it’s always important to keep the big picture in mind. I definitely prefer foods that are more whole/natural/less processed, but some don’t exactly deserve a nutrition halo. And, there’s no such thing as a free lunch so to speak. Some natural foods are super high in calories, or even LDL-raising saturated fat (LDL is the “bad” cholesterol). Bottom line: in my book, cookies and ice cream made with ingredients you can pronounce are better choices, BUT you may still have to think of them as “in moderation” splurge foods.

Ok, time for today’s fun facts:
-The hand-cranked churn was invented by an American named Nancy Johnson in 1846 (but ice cream was around long before then)
-The pharaohs of Egypt had ice shipped to them
-Australia and New Zealand have the highest per capita ice cream consumption in the world
-The technical term for brain freeze is Spheno Palatine Gangleoneuralgia

Have a great weekend!

photo courtesy of National Cancer Institute
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Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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