Think Americans Are Getting Healthier? Think Again

Think Americans Are Getting Healthier? Think Again

By Toby Amidor, Jan. 9, 2015 | 10:38 a.m. EST

These three healthy trends have got the wrong definition of “healthy”

(US News) It’s the start of a new year, when many Americans make resolutions to get healthier. Over time, however, what constitutes the term “healthy” has become skewed. Much of the nutrition and health information disseminated to the public comes from media overhype, pop culture icon endorsements and health-focused social media cupcakes that possess the power of persuasion.

So what’s the harm? Well, our health! We live in a country thwarted with obesity and chronic disease, which is costing us a fortune. To become healthier, we need correct information dispensed in a way that isn’t exaggerated or embellished so every individual can truly make the healthiest choice for him or herself.

Here are several popular trends that aren’t necessarily making you a healthier person.

1. Food Elimination

Restaurant owners are now jumping through hoops to provide customers an array of options due to food avoidances. Common requests include gluten-free, dairy-free or vegetarian options. Grocery stores now provide a plethora of choices that have been specially formulated for these individuals. Oftentimes, the terms “food allergy” and “food intolerance” get tossed around to explain the avoidance, but most people do not understand the difference, nor do they get properly tested for either one.

A food allergy is when the immune system mistakenly considers a harmless food protein a threat and attacks it. According to the organization Food Allergy Research and Education, approximately 15 million Americans have food allergies. A combination of tests is used to diagnose a food allergy and the culprit food must be avoided. Some people do outgrow a food allergy, so it is important to retest for them regularly.A food intolerance, on the other hand, is a gastrointestinal issue brought on when you eat more than a tolerable limit of food such as milk or gluten. The culprit food can still be enjoyed in moderate amounts. For example, studies show that people who have lactose intolerance can enjoy up to 1 cup of milk or yogurt, which is about 12 grams of lactose. Again, proper testing should be done in order to determine if a food intolerance exists.

Many people avoid foods because they claim to be intolerant or because they feel the food or food group is unhealthy. Fruit, wheat, dairy and eggs are some products that are commonly avoided. Sometimes multiple food groups are avoided. Take Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook “It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great,” in which recipes are based on a diet that avoids dairy, eggs, sugar, shellfish, wheat, meat, soy, caffeine and alcohol. The problem with such a strict diet is the lack of variety. The fewer food groups you consume, the less of a chance you have to take in essential nutrients your body needs to function. Eliminating even one food group can put a person at risk for nutrient deficiencies. With the elimination of multiple foods and food groups, then, an individual is at a much higher risk for a poorly balanced diet.

2. Focus on Sustainability

Organic, non-GMO, grass-fed and locally-grown are some important terms defining how food is grown. However, just because you buy everything organic or choose to toss GMO foods from your pantry doesn’t necessarily mean you are eating healthier. A pantry filled with organic cookies and high-calorie products that are labelled “organic” isn’t considered healthy and can lead to an overindulgence in fat and calories, and a deficiency in important vitamins and minerals. If you choose to focus on how food is grown, that should go hand in hand with the types of foods you choose to buy. Balance and variety are still important – no matter how a food is grown.

3. Superfoods

The term superfood is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and is used loosely to market foods. Many so-called superfoods are touted as having magical powers and, if promoted by the right people, fly off store shelves. For example, Dr. Oz stood behind raspberry ketones and green coffee – and the public is still eating it up (pun intended). There is obviously no one food that has super powers – or we would have all been eating it by now. Additionally, emphasis on one food takes away from the fact that a healthy diet should be well-balanced and include all the nutrients your body needs. And let’s not forget that many of these foods cost a pretty penny. Usually, if a food sounds too good to be true, it is. If you choose to include foods like quinoa, chia seeds, acai berries, coconut oil, goji berries or kombucha tea in your diet, you still need to eat a well-balanced diet inclusive of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, healthy fats and low-fat dairy.

Bottom Line: Good nutrition means feeding your body the nutrients it needs to keep you healthy. To do so, choose a variety of foods from all the food groups. Foods that are low in good-for-you nutrients and high in calories, sugar and saturated fat such as cookies, cake and chips should be minimized. If you are unsure you are following a healthy diet or want to check about the latest hype you read about, make an appointment to see a registered dietitian. These nutrition professionals are well-versed in the science behind many of the claims and can help you make healthier choices. To find a dietitian in your area, go to and click on the green button that says “find a registered dietitian.”