Balancing the good and bad: What makes a healthy content diet?

There’s no denying that when it comes to food, we are what we eat. What we consume has an impact on our ability to think, our mood and our overall health.

At Intelligent Ink, we’ve learnt that the same goes for content.

The content we read, watch, and listen to has an impact on the way we think, and can have a far-reaching impact on our success in life. For example, reading has been proven to have a significant effect on stress reduction, helping with depression, and reducing the chance of developing Alzheimer’s – whereas prolonged television watching is associated with health issues like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. That’s why content consumption should be about balance – the same way that food is! We want to be consuming a combination of pieces that educate us, connect us with others, support our beliefs, and challenge our thinking – but we also want to consume things that bring us pleasure.

In the internet age, there’s almost too much content to choose from – so we’re consuming a lot of it! The average person reads, watches or listens to over 12 hours of media every day. So, what should you be filling your 12 hours with?

The content pyramid

Much like with the well-known approach to healthy eating, a healthy content diet for the most balanced consumption is best understood with a simple pyramid model. Faris Yakob has created a pretty comprehensive pyramid in this blog, which outlines the content that we should be consuming the most and least of. Everyone’s own pyramid is going to look a little different depending on their interests and passions, but the general idea remains the same.

Image of a pyramid with media outlets spread across different layers

Credit: Faris Yakob


The bad

The content that can be generally classed as ‘bad’ for you and should be consumed virtually never is the stuff that relies on ‘fake news’ or divisive, propaganda-like content for attention. These sources simply can’t be relied on to be truthful, or to provide you with balanced or accurate information. They often rely on feelings rather than facts, and are rarely held up to an external standard. And they also often push a single agenda.

In Yakob’s model, the bad often includes ‘echo chambers’ – places that largely feed their audience’s opinions back to them. Twenty years ago, that might have just covered tabloid newspapers and the occasional rolling news channel (often paid, rather than free-to-air); now they can be found wherever shock and outrage journalism, unchecked biases and sensationalist stories push for space.

Echo chambers become spaces where alternative ideas aren’t considered and where existing views are intensified. And while someone’s echo chamber might be relatively harmless, other echo chambers can be more extreme. We only have to look at how forums like 8chan and Reddit fuel extremism, or how the internet spreads misinformation, to know that echo chambers are dangerous.

We’d do well to be reading pieces that challenge our thinking and maybe argue a view very different from what we believe in. Reading, watching and listening to ideologies that are different from our own not only broadens our thinking and mind, they can often help us become more assured in our argument.

Only getting your news from one site, or always reading a platform that pushes the same agenda? You might want to reconsider. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

The okay

A lot of internet content is being consumed passively ­– we can all identify with scrolling through social media or watching Netflix absentmindedly. While that might be a good way to unwind, none of that content is really sinking in. That’s why this content is ‘okay’ to have – fine, but pretty passive.

However, if we aren’t engaging with a piece of content entirely, then we aren’t learning anything, and it isn’t helping us to become better people.

One thing we want to make clear here is that we’re not recommending getting rid of this subset altogether! We don’t need to be always ‘on’, and it’s okay to tune out for a while. Social media is also a way for us to connect with our friends and family and pursue our interests, and television and gaming are awesome ways of having fun and relaxing. Just try to limit the amount of mindless scrolling you’re doing. You could even try to set a time limit on certain social media you know that you lose a lot of time on.

Like the food pyramid suggests – it’s all about balance.


The great

The best content for us to read, watch and listen to is the content that educates us. It helps us engage directly with the world around us. Consuming intelligent content helps us to think critically, be a greater person and approach life with passion.

For Yakob, the content that should fill up most of our plates are the news sources that deal with original fact reporting and minimal biases or agendas. To get an idea of the type of news you’re consuming, have a look at the handy infographic below.

Credit: Media Bias Chart

Great content also includes information that nourishes the brain and helps enrich our lives – like hobbies, education, and art.

Think thought leadership; think fiction, non-fiction, and books that blur the line; think in-depth articles; think meaningful documentaries; think podcasts. So many of these hold great ideas, stories and inspiration that we can access.

While intelligent content will be different for everyone depending on their interests, it should always be pieces that challenge and advance your thinking and fuel your passions and thought processes.

And there’s proof that consuming smarter content makes us more intelligent too. According to Thomas Corley of Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals, people with a higher annual income read for self-improvement, education, and success – whereas those less well-off read primarily for entertainment. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world read multiple non-fiction books every week.

But while educating content is great, there’s no way anyone can be consuming it all the time! Articles and eBooks can be overwhelming to the brain, so it’s always good to give yourself a balance. Take the team at Intelligent Ink ­– Christina loves parenting podcasts and stand-up comedy, Verity loves romance novels and interior design TV shows, Dave enjoys listening to audiobooks on long walks and playing PlayStation in an evening, and Ellie loves a bit of reality television. We all have the books, music and shows that we like because they make us happy, help us to relax and give us a bit of a break.

It’s all about variety

Like the good old food pyramind says, it’s all about variety. Content is like food – if you’re always eating the same thing, you’re probably missing out on a whole heap of other important nutrients that are necessary to keep your body strong and healthy.

Likewise, consuming different content keeps the brain sharp and alert. The process of switching up a habit, known as interleaving, has been proven to double the rate in which a person can learn and process new information. Giving your brain a stretch and reading something different will have you thinking sharper and more quickly. I tend to alternate between reading non-fiction and fiction books to not only keep my brain active, but also to keep me feeling excited and engaged with what I’m reading.

Consider everything you watched, read or listened to yesterday – how much of it was enabling you to think smarter? Was it challenging your beliefs, teaching you something new, igniting your passions?

Everything we come across in life shapes us in some way. A lot of things that affect us we can’t control – but we do have control over what we’re reading, watching and listening to. Focus on a balanced diet, and consume mindfully.