Healthy or healthful?

Healthy or Healthful?Nutrition Bootcamp: Writing Edition

There are two words that can cause tons of mixups for almost everyone who works with food and health — doctors, dietitians, counselors, nurses, educators, etc. Those words are “healthy” and “healthful.” When do you use “healthy” to describe something? When do you use “healthful?” The “healthy” vs “healthful” debate has a simple and easy answer, which we have outlined for you below. Get ready to stop wondering when to use which word!

“Healthy” is used to describe things that are in a good state of health. For example, a person who does not have any problems with his or her health is considered healthy. A stalk of broccoli that is green, firm, and clear of signs of rot is also healthy.

“Healthful,” on the other hand, is used to describe things that promote good health. So cutting out trans fat from your diet is really “healthful.” Fresh fruits and vegetables are also “healthful.”

There you are. An answer to all questions about when to say healthy and when to say healthful. Ready to test your knowledge with a quiz? Because we've prepared a special one just for you! And don't worry, we've also listed the answers at the bottom of the page.

Healthy vs Healthful Quiz!

  1. Balance your plate with fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean protein, and whole grains for a _____ life.
  2. Want to get _____? Try a bit of moderate physical activity every day.
  3. Build a _____ diet with plenty of plant-based foods.
  4. In this day and age, there are many apps that promote a _____ life.
  5. Try the following _____ habits to improve your daily life!
  6. Pack a _____ lunch each day.
  7. _____ people generally eat balanced meals and get some exercise.
  8. It's possible to dine out in a _____ way, if you know what strategies to use!
  9. Here are 6 _____ snacks to try.
  10. Let's get _____ today!

Healthy vs Healthful — The Answers

  1. healthy
  2. healthy
  3. healthful
  4. healthy
  5. healthful
  6. healthful
  7. healthy
  8. healthful
  9. healthful
  10. healthy

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Stephanie Ronco has been editing in a professional capacity for the past 10 years. In addition to her work as an editor, Ronco has also served as a ghostwriter and writing tutor.

A voracious reader, Ronco loves watching language evolve and change.

When she’s not delving into her latest project, Ronco can be found teaching acting classes, performing in community theater, or sailing with her husband.

Healthy vs healthful

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Healthy or Healthful?Перед нами два однокоренных слова, два прилагательных healthy и healthful, образованных от английского слова health (здоровье) с одинаковым значением – «здоровый», но поскольку слов два, то наверняка между ними есть разница. Как и когда правильно употреблять “healthy” и “healthful”? Взаимозаменяемы ли они?

Некоторые специалисты английского придерживаются строгих правил и настаивают на том, чтобы прилагательное healthy применялось только к кому-либо, кто отличается хорошим здоровьем, или чему-либо, что развивается правильно или находится в хорошем состоянии:

  • Children should eat fruit and vegetables to be healthy. – дети должны есть фрукты и овощи, чтобы быть здоровыми.
  • We must live in healthy environment – мы должны жить в здоровой среде.
  • Japan can be proud of its healthy economy. – Япония может гордиться здоровой экономикой.
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Прилагательное healthful, с другой стороны, нужно употреблять только для описания чего-либо, что способствует физическому здоровью, например, здоровая еда, здоровый образ жизни и т.п:

  • One should eat healthful food to stay young – нужно есть здоровую пищу, чтобы оставаться молодым.
  • What healthful ingredients do you use to cook your lunch? – Broccoli and spinach. – какие здоровые ингредиенты вы используете для приготовления своего обеда? – брокколи и шпинат.

Но это по правилам. А как обстоит дело в действительности? Должны сказать, что большинство англоговорящих людей в обоих значениях используют именно healthy.

Даже в New York Times можно прочитать о “healthy children” (здоровых детях) и “healthy breakfasts” (здоровых завтраках), а вот healthful — довольно редко.

Поэтому мы не будем проводить строгую грань между двумя словами, а будем придерживаться примеров из жизни и использовать прилагательное healthy (здоровый) в любом контексте.

Что беспокоит лингвистов, так это то, что healthy все чаще занимает в предложение места наречия образа действия (как?):

  • In our program we’ll teach you how to eat healthy – на нашей передаче мы научим вас питаться (как?) хорошо (в смысле — полезно для здоровья ).
  • We decided to eat healthy at the New Year. – мы решили питаться правильно в Новый Год.

Только немногие в этом случае скажут “eat healthily”, а большинство использует healthy, превращая его тем самым в наречие.

Healthy or Healthful?

4 Comments on Healthy vs healthful

Healthy vs Healthful

Healthy or Healthful?

A reader wonders about the use of the adjectives healthy and healthful:

Would you please do a segment explaining how, when, and why “healthy” and “healthful” should be used correctly. My tentative belief is that people are “healthy” or not so; and that foods are “healthful” or not so. Am I correct?

  • Many speakers like to draw a strict difference between these two adjectives, but it’s not necessary.
  • The argument
  • Some speakers insist that healthy must be applied only to someone or something that enjoys good health:

The healthy children ran and played in the sunshine.

Every country desires a healthy economy.

Healthful, on the other hand, is to be used only to describe something that promotes or contributes to bodily health:

The parents petitioned the school authorities to provide more healthful school lunches.

The healthful ingredients include broccoli and cabbage.

The reality

When it comes to standard usage, healthy is used with both meanings by the majority of speakers and writers. In The New York Times, for example, one may read about both “healthy children” and “healthy breakfasts.”

Both adjectives have been in the language for a very long time. The first OED citation for healthful with the meaning “wholesome, health-giving” is dated 1398. The first example of healthy with the same meaning is dated 1577.

If making a distinction between healthy and healthful gives speakers a sense of satisfaction, then they should do so. However, they needn’t criticize the majority of speakers who use healthy with both meanings.

The usage that pains my grammar nerve is this:

How to Eat Healthy

New Year’s Resolution to Eat Healthy

A few speakers may say, “Eat healthfully,” but the online evidence suggests that healthy is about to morph into an adverb.

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Keep learning! Browse the Misused Words category, check our popular posts, or choose a related post below:

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"Healthy," "healthful," and "health food" | Ask The Editor

  • Ask the Editor
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  • “Healthy,” “healthful,” and “health food”
  • Answer

Editor Emily Brewster compares and contrasts the words healthy, healthful, and health when used in the context of food:

Both healthy and healthful are used to describe food that is believed to be good for your health, but healthy is by far the more common choice in the phrase healthy food. 

Since the late 1800s, usage commentators have been telling English speakers that only healthful can be used to mean “beneficial to health of body or mind” or “good for your health,” but this is simply not true; healthy has been used in this way since the middle of the 16th century. In short, then, both “healthful food” and “healthy food” are correct, but “healthy food” is by far the more common collocation, even in published, edited text. 

As for health food, this term actually functions as a compound noun with a somewhat more specific meaning than “healthy/healthful food.” It's much more common than either healthy food or healthful food in English.

Health food is defined in Merriam-Webster's Advanced Learner's Dictionary, as follows:

: a food that is believed to be good for your health : a food that has no artificial ingredients [noncount] ▪ He eats only health food. ▪ She shops at the health-food store. [count] ▪ The restaurant offers a variety of health foods.

A healthy or healthful debate

Autumn has arrived and the battle against catching colds has officially begun. The recent weather with its cold winds and heavy rain showers makes it even more difficult to fight off colds.

Vitamins and staying dry seem to be the only defense mechanisms which should guarantee getting through autumn and winter without sneezing and coughing. What should do the trick is to eat healthy food and lead a healthy lifestyle.

(Check out Ana’s suggestions on But wait a minute. Healthy? Or is it healthful?

While browsing the web for current usage problems, I came across various blog entries and articles about the difference between healthy and healthful. To be completely honest, I am not even sure whether I have ever used the word healthful before, but apparently I have been continuously misusing healthy according to prescriptivists’ views.

The Merriam Webster Dictionary explains the difference.

If something is beneficial for your health, it is healthful. Thus, it would mean that you are eating healthful, rather than healthy food.

Healthy on the other hand means that something or someone is enjoying good health. So unless your vegetables have not led a healthful lifestyle, they cannot be considered healthy. Do you get the difference?

From a historical perspective, the OED shows that healthful was used before healthy, but its use became already rare in the 16th century.

Interestingly, the use of healthy in the sense of healthful has been accepted in the past. Even the Merriam Webster Dictionary states that healthful and healthy can be used synonymously.

So why then revive the strict distinction between healthy and healthful? It is time for a healthy or healthful debate.

healthful vs. healthy on

Healthful describes something that will create good health, like apples, yoga, and fresh air. Healthy describes someone fit, trim, and utterly not sick.

Healthful food and exercise fills you full of health! Healthful has meant something that will create good health since 1398, and that remains the main definition of the word:

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Choosing the most healthful foods for your family is no easy task. (Time)

Tilapia crusted in pulverized plantain chips, with sweet maduros on the side, was a relatively healthful departure. (New York Times)

Healthy is used to describe someone or something that enjoys all that good health. If you're healthy, whether you're a tree, a bank account, or a human, you're well, thank you very much. Here are some healthy tidbits from the news:

Any team interested in Sizemore will need to be convinced he is, finally, healthy again. (Washington Post)

Healthy forests are built to withstand severe natural disturbances. (New York Times)

This word pair, healthful and healthy, has been causing debate for over a century. The question is whether these adjectives can both be used to mean conducive to good health.

This is what gets some word mavens' blood boiling. Healthy, they say, cannot be used to mean conducive to good health.

But according to the Oxford English Dictionary, healthy has been a synonym for healthful since its earliest appearance in print… in 1552.

So it's OK to use healthy and healthful as synonyms for conducive to good health: have a healthy snack or a healthful one. But if you're referring to someone who enjoys good health, however, use healthy because it'd be weird to call a person healthful. Save healthful for the granola and healthy for your personal trainer.

Things that are healthful are good for your body, mind, or overall well-being. Your dinner of barbecued potato chips, ice cream, and slices of cheddar cheese might be delicious, but it's not very healthful. Continue reading…

Healthy means having good health. It's the opposite of sick, but also can mean “doing well” in a general sense. You can have a healthy attitude, or be served a healthy portion of food. Continue reading…

Healthy or Healthful?

Healthy versus Healthful: The problem is that some people insist that you can’t say your salad is healthy; you have to say it’s healthful because only healthful can mean “conducive to good health.

” The thinking is that only a living thing can be healthy—if we’re in good health, you and I can describe ourselves as healthy. Healthy is a personal characteristic, but things that are dead, things we consume, aren’t healthy anymore.

If they’re good for us, they’re healthful.

Here’s a joke from an 1895 usage guide that played on this kind of thinking: “The physician implied precise English, when, to the inquiry whether oysters were ‘healthy’ at certain seasons, he replied, ‘I have never heard one complain of an ache or an ail.”

That was the thinking in the 1800s when usage and etiquette writers railed against healthy and recommended healthful or wholesome. (Of course these were the same people who said you should call a woman’s garment a gown instead of a dress.)

Healthy has long been used to describe things that improve your constitution. The Oxford English Dictionary shows that healthy has been used to mean “healthful or wholesome” since the 1500s.

Yet, the rule makers railed against healthy in the 1800s, and it was in a battle against healthful for dominance for many years.

Ultimately, though, people voted for a healthy diet instead of a healthful diet.


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