Often, the more we use a word, the more elusive its meaning becomes. Such is surely the case with the word “healthy.” When trying to pin down exactly what the term means, you might seek out so-called “healthy recipes.” You don’t have to look far to find a slew of them online, and our website is no exception. These recipes earn their badge of health in a myriad of ways. Some of them are plant based, vegetarian or vegan. Others swap out perfectly harmless ingredients for their exotic — and often, more expensive — counterparts (i.e, flour for almond flour or sugar for monk fruit). 

While there’s no problem with adding more vegetables into your diet or trying something new with your food, recipe creators and consumers alike should stop chasing the elusive idea of healthy. Here’s why:

“Healthy” is different for everyone

Some people feel their best eating more carbohydrates than protein. Others feel their best eating a diet high in fat. And others might never even learn the difference between a carbohydrate and a protein — and that might be for the best anyways.

Truth be told, we are all suited to different combinations of micro- and macronutrients. We often feel our best when we allow our natural cravings to take over and eat what our bodies crave — not our roommates,’ or friends’ or parents.’

Our dietary needs are shaped by a variety of factors, many of which we’ll never fully understand — our genetic makeup, the diet of our ancient ancestors, the activities we enjoy, our menstrual cycle, our taste buds. The list goes on and on, but the important takeaway is that we should eat what we crave and what makes our bodies feel best — not what the internet says is healthy.

It perpetuates the myth of “good” and “bad” foods

When food is neutral, we are able to make choices based on our own distinct needs. Our choices become muddled only when we sort food into different camps based on arbitrary markers of health. 

Yes, some foods are more nutrient dense than others. But nutrient density is only one metric that we can use to define our food. It is healthy for our food to provide us a sense of pleasure, nostalgia, comfort or joy when we eat or cook it. These feelings can’t be defined from a nutrition label, but when we lean into them, the myth of “good” and “bad” foods start to dissolve.

There are better words to describe food

Written language was born from the symbols used to label and store grain and ferment beer; food writing is a tradition as old as time. In our species’ long history of food writing, describing taste, texture and smell proves to be one of the enduring challenges for food writers. After all, what words exist to describe saltiness or bitterness? But this challenge offers an opportunity for creativity.

Describing a recipe as “healthy” is a boring cop-out when so many other words exist, waiting to be plucked off the shelf like that bag of almond flour you bought once and never used again. I’d rather learn a recipe that is crisp, hearty, savory, creamy or tangy. 

“Healthy” doesn’t sound so appealing.

Contact Sarah Siegel at [email protected].