From what I found, healthy can have the meaning of healthful, moreover the Oxford dictionary consider them as synonyms since 1552 (according to an unverified source). However, there still seems to be a big fuss about healthy being used in place of healthful.

I did not know about healthful until fairly recently and have been using healthy with the very meaning of healthful in a lot of occasions without being told that I was off.

Therefore, I would be glad if you could show evidence that healthful is not a word redundant with healthy.

Nota: I am aware that there are two questions addressing this very problem on ELU but the answers were lacking solid conclusions.

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    "Healthful" is not a word I would ever use. I would expect to see it in advertising medical preparations and nowhere else. It appears 1553 times in GloWbE, against 146158 times for "healthy".
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 12:17
  • @ColinFine That confirms that healthful is clearly not an every-day word. Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 13:08
  • 2
    My mother taught me a lot of prescriptive rules when I was little, and she taught me to say healthful instead of healthy in that context. But it sounds strange, so I stopped doing it after she stopped making me do it :-) I don't think I ever say healthful in any context.
    – user230
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 6:41

1 Answer 1


If you want me to produce evidence that healthful is not redundant with healthy, I'm afraid that I have to disappoint you.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary,

healthy has three meanings related to physical wellbeing:

  • ​strong and well

  • showing that you are strong and well

  • good for ​your ​health

healthful has just one meaning:

  • helping to ​produce good ​health

Healthful covers only one of the possible wellbeing-related meanings of healthy - the third one. This meaning can only be applied to things that promote health (foods, exercise etc). Its meaning and scope of usage are therefore identical to healthful.

This NGram demonstrates that, if there is "a big fuss about healthy being used in place of healthful", the people who are making the big fuss are fighting a losing battle.

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    Thank you for your answer. I can now forget both about healthful and the fuss around those two words. Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 13:06

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