Perhaps Michael Ruhlman is nitpicking, but for him, when you talk about food, words matter:

I submit to you that our beloved kale salads are not “healthy.” And we are confusing ourselves by believing that they are. They are not healthy; they are nutritious.

They may be delicious when prepared well, and the kale itself, while in the ground, may have been a healthy crop. But the kale on your plate is not healthy, and to describe it as such obscures what is most important about that kale salad: that it’s packed with nutrients your body needs. But if all you ate was kale, you would become sick.

“ ‘Healthy’ is a bankrupt word,” said Roxanne Sukol, preventive medicine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, medical director of its Wellness Enterprise. “Our food isn’t healthy. We are healthy. Our food is nutritious. I’m all about the words. Words are the key to giving people the tools they need to figure out what to eat. Everyone’s so confused.”

 

The food industry’s use of common words we think we know the meanings of only serves to confuse us as consumers. Are we eating real food, or is that plastic-wrapped cheese slice a “cheese product?” Are those “chips” or “crisps” in that Pringles container? Which sounds worse: “mechanically separated meat” or “pink slime?” (They both sound gross!) Which leads Ruhlman on another semantic rant:

“Refined” is another critical food word. Generally, refined means elegant and cultured in appearance, manner or taste, or with impurities removed. Yet that is what food companies have been calling wheat from which the endosperm and bran have been removed, leaving what is in effect pure starch, devoid of the fiber, oils, iron and vitamins that make wheat nutritious.

That’s not refined, “that’s stripped,” Dr. Sukol said — flour stripped of the nutrition that makes it valuable to our bodies but that reduces shelf life.

Because it has been stripped, we must “enrich” it. “Enriched.” “Fortified.” Good, yes? To make rich, to make strong. Food companies added the iron they took out during the refining process, but not enough of what we need.

 

Ruhlman says “better information and clearer shared language defining our food” would help us make smarter, more nutritious food choices:

We will be healthy if we eat nutritious food. Our food is either nutritious or not. We are healthy or we are not. If we eat nutritious food, we may enhance what health we possess.

This is not a judgment on what you choose to eat. If you hunger for a cheese product grilled between bread that’s been stripped of its nutrition, along with a bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup (made with tomato paste, corn syrup and potassium chloride), fine. It was one of my favorite childhood meals. Just be aware. Buy fat-free half-and-half if that’s what you like; just know what it is you’re putting in your body and why.

 

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