The Spectrum of Healthy

Last week, I was hired to set up a table and answer nutrition questions at a health fair for a large corporation in Pennsylvania. My display was titled Supermarket Savvy. . . since health starts where you buy your food and supermarkets are tricky to navigate for healthy items. It was a ton of fun (since I’m an Integrative RDN and love to geek out on nutrition Q & A and share useful information).

On my table, I had several different products ranging from kale to granola bars to Halloween candy . There were lots of great questions from employees like “should I eat gluten free?” and “should I avoid GMO foods?”

But, the question that they asked over and over as they picked up different products on the table was “is this healthy?” My response was “turn it over and read the ingredients and nutrition label. . . do you think it’s healthy?”

The tricky (and in my opinion really fun) part about nutrition is that there is a REALLY BIG gray area between healthy and not healthy foods.

If we were to compare kale to a candy bar for example, that’s pretty easy, The Spectrum of Healthy | www.erinharner.comunless you’re trying to mess with me.

Comparing an apple to apple sauce to apple cider to apple juice to an apple flavored gummy worm. That’s a little harder. It’s clear the apple is healthy and the apple flavored gummy worm isn’t, but what about the apple sauce and apple cider and apple juice in the middle?

All foods fall somewhere on “the spectrum of healthy” and this drives some people nuts. They just want to know “is this healthy?” or the real question “should I eat it?”

To help answer these questions, I shared a really cool new tool with them, and I would love to share it with you. It’s called Food Scores: Rate Your Plate, and it’s put out by the Environmental Working Group (the same folks who publish the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen food lists. The tool factors in nutrition, ingredients, and processing of the food or food-like product to come up with a score from 1 to 10 or best to worst. Here’s an example for a Cashew Cookie flavored Lara Bar:


Food Scores














Check it out for some of the foods in your pantry, fridge, or freezer you’re not so sure about. Leave a comment with what surprised you!

Erin Harner

Erin Harner is an Integrative Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), author, and speaker based in Ithaca, NY. Erin melds functional medicine and culinary nutrition to help her clients uncover their unique diet and confidently cook healthy nourishing meals that meet the needs of their whole family. Learn about Erin's services and connect on Instagram.

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