The claims that any given food is healthy are everywhere: high fiber, no trans-fats, no cholesterol, organic, natural etc. It is difficult to make sense of all the claims that are made for food. Most people want to eat healthy foods, but knowing what makes a healthy food healthy can be confusing. For some, only raw, organic food is deemed healthy. Others, without access to organic foods and who enjoy cooked foods, struggle to select the best food from the grocery store shelves amidst all of the claims. As is often the case, the truth lies somewhere in between.
No one would argue that carrots or tomatoes fresh from an organic garden are healthy foods. Just as no one would argue that a steady diet of any brand of processed macaroni and cheese is probably unhealthy. Yet, both of these food options provide the essential elements of any healthy diet. These elements are nothing but the three familiar classifications of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Consideration of the balance of these three elements, along with a few more such as sodium, cholesterol and fiber, is what goes into recognizing a healthy food. Furthermore, no one food is healthy unto itself. It must be seen as a component of a larger diet in which foods complement each other to provide for a balanced and healthy diet.
Carbohydrates are the fuel for energy, proteins are necessary for muscle-building, and fats, well, fats in small amounts are necessary, but they also make food taste great. Fiber is associated with carbohydrates, cholesterol is associated with animal fats, and sodium is simply a mineral that makes for better flavor. Learning to balance these elements across a whole dietary plan is the essence of healthy foods. Consumers should lean toward non-sugary carbohydrates high in fiber such as vegetables - organic or not - and modest amounts of proteins from fish, chicken, and beef. They should keep both cholesterol and sodium low and lean toward good cholesterol, such as that found in olive oil.
Learning that healthy foods are packages of essential elements is fundamental to recognizing healthy foods - rely on the contents, not the packaging.