What Is the Essence of Healthy Food?

The following is an excerpt from Doctor Stillman’s online course, “Practical Wellness.” To find out more or to subscribe, visit StillmanMD.com.

Practically any type of food or means of preparing food can be healthy, but the devil is in the details. Diet and nutrition have been studied so intensely that it is important to consider what people agree on and why. First, that the revolution in our food industry has created new foods that we don’t truly understand, and it is these changes that together have created unhealthy foods that masquerade as healthy foods. The cheeses, meats, grains, vegetables — any food — on your table is markedly different from those your ancestors consumed. Second, the healthiest people in the world eat diets that are extremely diverse, and that those diets vary greatly from one region of the world to another. Third, there are many flaws in modern nutrition research, which means that every day there will be new headlines, but the basic rules remain the same. What I am writing about in this guide and in guides like it are the basic rules.

One thing is certain, we may innovate new foods, new ways of processing, preserving, and raising foods, but we do so with uncertainty with regards to how it will affect our health. Gluten is a good example. The rates of celiac disease are increasing rapidly, likely due to a combination of factors. No one can tell you what the exact health consequences of genetic engineering of wheat, changes in the use of pesticides or fertilizers, or different processing and preservation methods will be. Add to this the fact that any of these variables will be affected by an endless number of other variables in your life — how much you exercise, what other foods you eat, your genetics — and you end up with an infinite degree of uncertainty.

And there is nothing wrong with that. Why? Because you don’t have to figure out how to eat genetically engineered, processed, and artificially preserved wheat. That’s not your goal. Your goal is to eat a diet that will empower you to live a full and wonderful life. Could modern wheat be a part of that?

Ultimately, what you eat is a personal decision based on your own perceptions about the risks and benefits of different foods. People choose to weight information differently and base this on such a wide array of factors. There is no substitute for working out the right diet for yourself with a qualified practitioner.

The short story is that whole, minimally processed, fresh foods are the key to a healthy lifestyle, eaten in proportions that they are found in nature. Unfortunately, few people have the time, money, or interest to actually realize an ideal diet, whether it is veganism or a ketogenic diet.

That is why humanity invented packaged foods — convenience. What is important to understand about food processing and packaging is that it can make our foods healthier, or degrade them, even making them toxic.

So now that I’ve broadly defined what a healthy diet is, I want to go over how I approach your average product on the grocery store to figure out how it fits into such a diet.

The rest of Doctor Stillman’s course, Practical Wellness, is coming to StillmanMD.com soon. Subscribe now to stay up to date with Doctor Stillman’s work.