What’s it worth?

I am a believer in quality when it comes to food. For me, it’s a big, big part of “achieving optimal health one bite at a time.” I strive to maximize quality not only in the unprocessed foods (fruits, veggies, meat, dairy, grains, nuts and seeds, healthy fats) that make up most of my diet, but in the few processed foods I choose to eat.

While I aim to eat healthy about 90 percent of the time, there are some foods I really enjoy that are not healthy by any stretch of the imagination. I’m talking fried foods, desserts full of butter and sugar, pastries. You get the idea.

Fortunately, I’ve reached a mental place where I can have my cake and eat it too, so to speak. Sometimes, there is actual cake involved. But first, I ask myself “Is it worth it? Is it really worth it?” Because each time you eat something unhealthy, you are taking a step away from optimal physical health. But there is something to be said about the mental health perk that can come from a worthy indulgence in a delicious but otherwise not-quite-healthy food. It’s a trade off, which is why it needs to be worth it!

Here’s an example: Fried chicken. Tastes sooooo good but is soooo not healthy. So what do I do? I maximize quality and minimize quantity and frequency. Twice a year, on Super Bowl Sunday and one gloriously sunny day in the summer, the husband and I pick up two-piece white meat dinners from Ezell’s, with sides of coleslaw and (real) mashed potatoes. If you live in or near Seattle, I’m sure you’ve heard of Ezell’s. (Oprah’s a fan, too.)

Just sitting here now, I’m salivating a little. My next taste of that crunchy, savory goodness is at least a few months away, but that’s OK. Gives me something to look forward to. And when the day comes, I’ll really enjoy it and feel no guilt. And start looking forward to next year’s Super Bowl!

Lest you think the rest of my no-fried-chicken days are rife with deprivation, think again. My lunchtime big salad with extra veggies, lean protein, avocado and homemade vinaigrette was completely enjoyable, as was every other healthy thing I ate today. It’s about balance. Lack of balance is a big reason this country is dealing with epidemics of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. So many “treat” foods have become “everyday” foods. Sad, because not only do those foods become less special, but it’s ruining our health!

Here’s another example for you. There’s a locally famous inexpensive burger place that had become a once-a-year summertime treat that I would really look forward to. But last summer, something funny happened…the burger and fries did not taste as good as I remembered (the chocolate shake still rocked, though). “Well, this is it,” I said to my husband. “I’m not coming here ever again…it’s not worth it.” I would have been much happier with a grilled burger (without a bun) and a big salad at home. Perhaps with beer.

Flash forward to Christmas. Faced with my mother’s most excellent, I-could-give-you-the-recipe-but-then-I’d-have-to-kill-you homemade gingersnaps, I ate way more than I should. But they were so good, and I knew exactly what was in them. Plus, I eat so little sugar anymore that my can’t-eat-anymore point came much sooner than it once would have. I created some balance by watching my portions of other foods and maxing my fruit and veggie intake during the rest of the weekend visit. When it was over, my jeans still fit just the same.

While I will not eat cheap supermarket bakery cake (the kind with the frosting that leaves a gross greasy film in your mouth) or cookies (so not worth it), I did eat a lot of gelato in Buenos Aires last year. We frequented the best gelato place in a city known for gelato (there’s a big Italian influence in BA) and the husband and I always shared (note the two spoons, above) and we walked a lot and we were eating a lot of fresh fruits and veggies (note the fantastic salad, below). It is a part of our vacation that we still remember fondly. Divine indulgence + balance = health and happiness!

So the bottom line is that it’s possible to enjoy decadent and unhealthy foods from time to time while still being healthy and maintaining a healthy body weight. Just make sure your chosen treats are the best of the best, that you take the time to really savor them, and that you balance them out with a consistent intake of healthy eats. That’s worth it!