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To my ear, healthful does not sound right. This could well be geographical bias on my part. Is it now a valid alternative to healthy? Does it have another meaning?

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How does the distinction between healthy and healthful compare to other noun-y, noun-ful, and noun-ish constructs? – oosterwal Jan 31 '11 at 22:01
healthful : healthy :: nauseating : nauseous. QED. Vote to close. – Phil N. Jan 30 '12 at 23:09
up vote 12 down vote accepted

Healthy means "in a state of well-being."

Healthful means "promoting or contributing to one's healthiness." (Apparently it used to be a suitable synonym for "healthy" but I don't believe it is widely considered such anymore.)

So, to re-word the old adage, you could say that an apple a day is healthful; but you wouldn't say that you are healthful unless you're trying to convince a reluctant cannibal to consume you.

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So the "healthy eating" we are always being hectored about should really be "healthful eating"? – Brian Hooper Jan 30 '11 at 9:48
I've never once heard healthful used as a word in British English. Perhaps within other dialects, though? It may have died out in usage here. Sounds a bit jargony, in any case. – Noldorin Jan 30 '11 at 12:49

I suspect it's a cromulent neologism.

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Good use of "cromulent"! – AAT Jan 30 '11 at 22:15
You might have thought to embiggen your answer a little, though. – Robusto Jan 31 '11 at 0:02
@Robusto: Using teh google? Meh. – Andrew Grimm Mar 4 '11 at 9:16

To my ear, "healthful" refers to something that promotes health, like a "healthful diet" or a "healthful climate," whereas someone who eats a healthful diet has a better chance of being "healthy." In everyday speech, we often hear "healthy" used (incorrectly?) in place of "healthful."

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