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Is it Healthy?

When people find out that I'm a dietitian, they find a certain compulsion to either confess their poor eating habits or beg for validation of what they're eating. I frequently get asked some version of "is this healthy?" or "which is better for me?"

My answer to them is usually not what they want to hear. Not because they are eating poorly, but because it's not as simple as yes or no. It's all about the big picture of your diet. I firmly believe that any food can be incorporated into a healthy diet - some foods are just "bites" or "special occasion" foods.

So when you ask whether something is healthy or not, it's all about what else you're eating, and how much of it you're eating.

To clarify this point, let's take two foods, popsicles and spinach. 

Is a popsicle healthy? It depends on what you're NOT eating when you eat a popsicle. Meaning, if a popsicle is your dessert, and it's a substitution for ice cream, it's probably a really good choice for you. But if eating a popsicle is the only way you eat fruit, then maybe I would hesitate to call that a healthy choice.

Spinach - who would ever say spinach isn't healthy?! Well, this is an example of too much of a good thing is still too much. If you were eating spinach to the exclusion of other foods, it would no longer be healthy. You need variety in your diet. You need fat, protein and carbohydrates. You need a wide range of vitamins and minerals. Spinach provides a lot, but certainly isn't a complete food.

It also depends on what chronic conditions you may have, or what your nutritional goals are. A healthy food for a diabetic might include sugar substitutes like Splenda(R) or Equal(R). But for someone who is trying to cut out chemicals in their diet, they might see the "real sugar" version as healthier.

So in some ways it's all relative. But I realize that most people are looking at general health or weight loss. For a look at how to create YOUR healthiest plate, check out MyPlate.