Health Food is a term that is generally used to describe foods that are believed to have specific health benefits. It is generally distinct from the idea of "Healthy Food", in that there tend to be particular nutrients within health foods that are believed to be beneficial.
Because medical science is constantly evolving, there tend to be big arguments about this. Some people believe that "health foods" as such are a bit of a gimmick, and that if you just eat your fruit and veg you will be ok. Other people maintain that there are specific phytochemicals within many foods that have specific nutritional or functional benefits.
These debates tend to run and run. As with all sciences, medical science is not an exact process, and relies on experimental evidence. Unfortunately, it is very hard to perform experiments on the effects of food on human health. This is primarily for ethical reasons, but there are also practical problems to overcome: whereas it's possible to breed mice specifically for experimentation in a "clean-room" environment, human test subjects all come with an unknown history. You can monitor the behaviour of mice in a laboratory, but you cannot stop human test subjects from going to the pub, failing to take their medicine properly or forgetting about an underlying medical condition. You can feed 100 people goji berries for a month and get very different results with all of them.
Health Food vs Healthy Diet
At Healthy Supplies, we take an open-minded approach to the whole topic. So little is still unknown about the human body that it's hard to say with any certainty what is true, and what is nonsense. Nonetheless, we are not gullible, and wholeheartedly reject claims that we believe are nonsensical.
There are lots of mini-debates within the health food industry. Here is our overall approach on particular topics:
Phytochemicals are naturally-occurring compounds that are found in plants. Some phytochemicals have quite miraculous properties. For example, aspirin was created by a french scientist, Charles Frédéric Gerhardt, due to his discovery of acetylsalicylic acid in the bark of willow trees. Willow-bark treatments for pain had been used for centuries, as a form of folk medicine. It was only when the phytochemical responsible - in this case, acetylsalicylic acid - was isolated that this traditional treatment was taken seriously, and transformed into the aspirin that we know today.
Many phytochemicals are currently being researched to establish whether they are of benefit. Examples include:
Antioxidants are considered highly beneficial because they prevent essential compounds within cells from being oxidized by "free radicals". It's actually fairly well-established that this is largely true: oxidization always occurs as cells age, and is one of the major causes of cell malfunction. If this oxidization can be prevented, then age-related problems can be held back to some extent. We also know that different antioxidants have different functions within the body, so it's good to include a variety of antioxidants in your diet.
Essential oils are found in almost all plants, and have various effects on the body. For example, there are various essential oils in ginger that have a calming effect on the stomach, and oils within star anise that appear to have an anti-inflammatory effect.
Polysaccharides and oligosaccharides are complex sugar compounds. They have unexpected properties. For example, fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) are a particular group of polysaccharides that are not digested directly by the human gut, but which are usable by the "friendly bacteria" in our gut. Therefore, FOS are one of a class of foods known as prebiotics.
The term "phytochemicals" generally refers only to the chemicals that we know little about, rather than the established groups such as vitamins and amino acids which are more well understood.
Organic and non-GM Food
There is a huge debate about what the organic food movement means, and whether it is a form of health food. There is also considerable disagreement on whether or not GM (genetic modification) is a good thing.
At Healthy Supplies, we are unashamedly on the fence. There are many good things about organic food, and many items under the "organic" label are produced with loving care and to a high quality. Yet there are some suppliers who simply use the term "organic" as a marketing term.
Overall we believe that there is good and bad in all food categories, and we evaluate each food product in its own particular merits. We don't believe that "organic food" is synonymous with "health food". Even though it has its merits, there are plenty of conventionally-produced foods that are of very high quality and nutritional benefit, and it's also true that quality can vary enormously within all types of food, including organic food.
Primarily, we taste stuff, and assess its nutritional value, in order to ascertain whether or not it is a healthy food. Our primary focus is health and enjoyment, rather than the more political concerns.
We supply a range of healthy snacks and quick meals. We believe that of all food types, the snacks are the things that have the biggest impact upon our health. Many diets end in tears due to our innate need to snack, and the lack of availability of healthy snack foods. On the contrary, we believe that snacking is good, and our snacks are all picked to be good for your health. More Info >
Fruit is so obviously a good idea, that to call it a health food seems like a bit of a vacuous statement. Yet many people refuse to eat fruit. For this reason, we have sought out the best fruit-based snacks that will help even the most hardened fruit-sceptics to change their ways. More Info >