When you think about “healthy food” what comes to mind? The thought might conjure up particular words like organic, raw, kale, superfood, or vegan, or perhaps images of bland steamed vegetables with boiled chicken or a #saddesksalad pop up in your head. Although there are nearly as many different definitions and opinions of what actually constitutes “healthy” as there are people out there, we all have some construct or idea what “healthy” looks like. The majority of people may not know how they learned or exactly why spinach is more healthy than a Boston Crème Doughnut, but somehow they know. This is possible because we have we have established what are formally known as heuristics, or more commonly referred to as rules of thumb, educated guesses, or common sense.
I have been reading a fascinating book by Nobel Prize winner, Daniel Kahneman, entitled Thinking, Fast and Slow which is about the different mechanisms that we have for cognition. Usually when I think about thinking (metacognition is something I actually engage in quite often), I tend to consider what Kahneman refers to as “System 2” thinking which is systematic, logical, deliberate, and slower. It is engaged in activities which require some level of attention and focus. This type of thinking however, is only engaged when its counterpart, System 1 requires backup. “System 1” is fast, near automatic, intuitive, and emotional. It relies upon heuristics which are essentially shortcuts to help us think and process information more effectively and simplify our world. Although this is not necessarily a benefit at all times, such as in instances of stereotyping or jumping to conclusions unnecessarily, it is quite often efficient and necessary to deal with the countless stimuli that we face in our day-to-day interactions. We want to have an automatic reaction to a sudden loud noise, be able to recognize by someone’s expression that they are angry, or know to stop at a red light. Heuristics are developed over time, shaped by our experiences and exposure to new and different information.
The issue is that we are often quite unaware or at least underestimate the power and use of heuristics throughout our daily decision making, problem solving, and cognition. We might not know why or even realize that we are making assumptions. According to Kahneman’s work, a common mental shortcut that we take is an availability heuristic which occurs when we draw conclusions about probability based upon the ease with which examples come to mind. If we are asked to estimate the frequency of an event, we try to retrieve examples and relevant information from our memories and if the retrieval is easy, fast, and fluent – we will judge the frequency to be high. This led me to consider ways in which we may be influenced by availability heuristics when we think about what eating healthfully entails.
If we have a perception that healthy eating means restrictiveness, plain or dry foods, or wilted greens and a miniscule filet of fish (backed by our poor experiences of such tasteless concoctions) it is not difficult to see why we think that healthy eating means boring, sad salads. Conversely, if we think just because something is labeled as organic, gluten-free, or a superfood that it is automatically healthy we can also run into issues (I previously wrote about health halos here). In more ways that we can even imagine, the way we think shapes our opinions, beliefs, likes and dislikes. If you think eating healthy has to be blah and tortuous or outrageously expensive and time-consuming, it very likely will be. I would like therefore to propose another alternative which entails expanding our understanding and definitions of healthy foods to make such a diet an part of a long term sustainable lifestyle. We can in fact reshape the heuristics that we rely upon in making food choices.
By trying new and different flavor combinations, adding in more vibrant colors and tastes, we can expand our experiences and definitions of what healthy entails. After about 2.5 years of eating a mostly paleo and whole30 diet, I have a much different view of what is healthy and even what is food. Processed foods don’t appeal to me because I know that more healthy options actually taste better, never mind the multitude of other benefits they confer. Eating healthy never feels restrictive to me and I don’t ever miss eating Chips Ahoy cookies or even real Italian gelato. If I wanted to eat them, I can and I would, but through the process of rethinking food and forming new heuristics, I am genuinely happiest when I have as many whole and minimally processed foods. I am not consigned to eating that proverbial boiled chicken with steamed broccoli, because I know that healthy eating includes many bright colors, interesting sauces, and rich flavors.
I also have found it fun to recreate many meals which are not generally included in the standard versions of healthy, such as this spin on a classic Fish and Chips. I skip the dairy, the gluten, the vegetable oils and deep frying, but still end up with a crispy and tasty dinner option which is quick and easy to make (“quick and easy” being another common area of misconception when it comes to healthy food heuristics). If you like the original, I am confident you will like these fish and chips. So try them! Expanding our experiences and view of what healthy food truly is and means leads to a sustainable life which is not restrictive, boring, bland, or unattainable.
- Cod 1lb. (450 g)
- Egg 1 each
- Tapioca Flour .5 cup (60 g)
- Shredded/Desiccated Coconut .5 cup (35 g)
- Paprika .5 TSP
- Garlic Powder .5 TSP
- Sea Salt .5 TSP
- Black Pepper .25 TSP
- Melted Coconut Oil .5 TSP
- Sweet Potatoes 2 large or 3 medium
- Melted Coconut Oil 1 TBSP
- Sea Salt and Black Pepper to taste
- 1 Batch of Paleo Mayo
- Chopped Pickles .33 cup (50 g)
- Chopped Capers 2 TBSP
- Minced Fresh Dill 1 TBSP (or 1 TSP Dried)
- Black Pepper .25 TSP
- Preheat the oven to 400 F / 200 C and line a baking sheet with parchment paper
- Slice the cod into thin long strips - whatever shape and size you desire the final fish finger to be
- In a small bowl, whisk the egg
- In a separate bowl combine the remaining dry ingredients (tapioca flour, coconut paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper)
- Dip the pieces of the fish one at a time in the egg to fully coat, shake off excess
- Then dip into the dry mixture, rolling to coat well and shaking off any excess
- Place on the parchment paper baking sheet and repeat for remaining fish
- Then drizzle the melted coconut oil over the top and move to the oven to bake for approximately 5-6 minutes. Carefully flip and bake for another 5-6 minutes.
- You can make these one the fish starts baking at the same oven temperature (400 F/ 200 C)
- Slice the potatoes in half lengthwise and then each half lengthwise again.(you can peel first if you want to, but I like these with the skin on)
- Then slice each of the quarters into small .5 inch sticks/fries
- Toss in a bowl with the coconut oil to coat and then season with desired spices, mixing well.
- Place the potatoes on a foil lined baking sheet in the oven for about 15 minutes.
- While everything is baking, make your tartar sauce by first preparing the Paleo Mayo
- Then mix the remaining ingredients into the paleo mayo using a rubber spatula to combine well. Serve as a side dip to your succulent fish!