I’ve been answering questions on Quora regarding food & health. Occasionally they’ll make their way here!
I honestly think that today’s understanding of ‘healthy’ is impacted more by marketing than any real effort to properly educate ourselves on the fundamentals of health.
99% of the time I hear the word healthy, somebody’s complimenting a salad-bearing plate, or the jogger adorned in their newest flouro kicks. Yet, these things in excess are NOT healthy. And so, they are not inherently healthy.
Rather, ‘healthy’ occurs in your body. It is a consequence of what we do to promote proper bodily function. This isn’t a one-size fits all solution. Different people do well under different circumstances in different times of their life.
I think we ought to evolve beyond this *unhealthy* dichotomy of ‘good vs bad’, and explore the ‘if’, ‘but’ & ‘whens’ behind health.
So, what is healthy?
Wow, that’s a big question. The myriad pathways & functions within your body work best within an optimal range. Instead of picking apart that untidy beast, maybe we should work by process of elimination?
Unhealthy is degeneration. It’s the unraveling of your crisp new birthday suit, thread by dangling thread.
Read: ageing. As we age (beyond our peak), our body’s become fragile.
Aging refers to the biological changes that occur during a lifetime that result in reduced resistance to stress, increased vulnerability to disease, and an increased probability of death. 1
So, maybe a health-promoting diet should seek to work against the forces of ageing?
Forces of Ageing: How does the biological clock tick?
There are two fundamental forces at play here: programmed ageing, and also ageing as a result of damage.
The damage theory is pretty straight forward; live fast die young. The more damage we accumulate over the course of our lives, the faster we age.
A solution to this is easy enough, reduce the amount of damage done. The obvious candidate here comes in the form of an anti-oxidant. Yet just as we saw before with excessive salad and jogging, an unbalanced approach is not healthy. In fact, supplementing with anti-oxidants during exercise will lessen the beneficial adaptation that results form exercise. 2
The programmed theory however implies that the body comes with a best before date – largely due to the changing expression and protection of our DNA. In this respect, one could consider a healthy diet as a dance, moving in step with your evolving genetic expression.
I think we can all intuit that a baby needs different nutrients to a teenager, to middle-aged, or menopausal woman.
Healthy is HARD to pull apart
Unhealthy is easier, pretty much just ageing
Ageing happens with damage, and… age
Don’t eat stuff that will damage your body
Do eat stuff that will make you more resilient to damage, and appropriate for your age
1. Intermittent fasting dissociates beneficial effects of dietary restriction on glucose metabolism and neuronal resistance to injury from calorie intake, R. Michael Anson, PNAS May 13, 2003 vol. 100 no. 10
2. Antioxidants: what role do they play in physical activity and health? Clarkson PM Thompson HS . Am J Clin Nutr. :637S-46S.