Faux Health Foods
In the old days, differentiating nutritious foods from less nutritious foods was simple; fruits and vegetables were nutrient-rice, sweets and fried foods were not. However, today, this distinction is not so clear. “Healthy” products are popping up left and right on supermarket shelves. Often the products’ names and the marketing on their boxes trick many into assuming they are healthy. How do you avoid being the victim of effective product marketing? Look at the ingredient list! This is where you will find out what exactly you are eating. What you want to look for:
- 10 ingredients or less: the fewer the ingredients the better. A short ingredient list indicates that the food is minimally processed and closer to its natural state.
- Identifiable ingredients: why would you put ingredients into your body with which you are unfamiliar? If you can’t imagine making the food in your own kitchen, then you probably should not eat it.
- If your food product is covered in health claims then it is probably not so healthy. Use health claims as red flags. For example, vitamin water claims multiple health benefits including energy and health defense. It doesn’t market the sugar content and its similarities to soda. Get your vitamins from whole foods – especially those that don’t come in boxes, cans or bags.
1. Whole grains: As soon as one sees the words “made with whole grains” the product is often mistakenly thought to be 100% whole grain. However, this is not always the case. Just because a product says it is made with whole grains, it does not tell you how much whole grain is in the product. You may find that the whole grain is way down on the ingredient list (the ingredients are listed in descending order by weight) or there are many refined grains listed as well so the product is not actually 100% whole grain. If white flour, wheat flour, enriched flour or refined wheat flour (all not whole grains) is the first ingredient, that means that, by weight, there is more refined flour than any kind of whole grain flour in the product! Ideally, you want the first ingredient to be “whole grain” or “whole wheat” AND for the product to be 100% whole grain.
2. Yogurt covered snacks: While yogurt itself is an extremely nutrient-dense, healthy snack, beware of yogurt covered raisins, pretzels, and nuts. The main ingredients in the “yogurt” coating are sugar and palm kernel oil, NOT yogurt. As a result, the calories, fat and saturated fat grams really add up AND you do not benefit from the calcium and potassium that you get from real yogurt. If you are tired of plain yogurt, add toppings like nuts, dried or fresh fruit, cereal or coconut shavings. This way you can make your own yogurt covered snack and be confident that the ingredients are fresh, minimally processed and will provide you with the nutrients you need to maintain your health.
3. Granola: Granola is often equated with terms like earthy and natural. However, many modern day granolas are anything but earthy and natural. Just look at the ingredient lists to see the added sugar and artificial flavors. Yes, they are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals and may have a variety of grains. But you can meet your fiber, vitamin and mineral requirements without consuming loads of refined sugar. combine a couple of high fiber cereals and add roasted nuts, seeds or chocolate for a personalized granola or look for a granola that contains minimal ingredients and added sugars. Look at the difference in the ingredients of the two granolas below. The KIND granola (see below) contains less than 10 ingredients and each ingredient is not made of multiple components. The generic granola (see below) is comprised of various sugar coatings and syrups, oils and stabilizers.
Ingredients: chickory root extract, peanut butter flavored chips (sugar, fractionated palm kernel and palm oil, partially defatted peanut flour, nonfat milk, whey, peanut butter (peanuts, salt, soy lecithin, rolled oats, crisp rice), barley flakes, high maltose corn syrup, roasted peanuts, honey, peanut butter flavored coating (sugar, fractionated palm kernel oil, partially defatted peanut flour, peanut butter, nonfat dry milk, whey, salt, soy lecithin, canola oil, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, glycerin, maltodextrin, tricalcium phosphate, soy lecithin, salt, peanut oil, natural and artificial flavor, baking soda, color added, sunflower meal, wheat flour, almond flour, mixed tocopherols added to retain freshness.
Ingredients : Whole grains (gluten free oats, brown rice, millet, gluten free oat flour, buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa), evaporated cane juice, coconut, honey, canola oil, chicory root fiber, sesame seeds, molasses, sea salt, Vitamin E (D-Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate).
Take the time to read labels and make your own snacks or meals. Your body will be happy you made the switch!
4. Bran and Oat Muffins: In an effort to avoid ordering a bagel with cream cheese on the way to work, many have turned to what they assume is a healthier choice: muffins. Unfortunately, most muffins, even bran, carrot, multigrain, and oat ones, do not usually offer any more nutritional benefits than a bagel. In fact, some contain even more ingredients. Therefore, unless you are making the muffins yourself OR you check the nutrition label on a muffin to make sure that it has few ingredients, you may be actually better off with the bagel!
5. Fruit: Fruit is often used as a dieter’s dessert – the naturally high sugar content lends itself as the perfect substitute for sweet treats. Fruit is also full of vitamins, minerals and fiber. This does not mean that you can have an unlimited amount of fruit throughout your day or week. If you want it (fresh or dried), eat it. Leave the mindset of “free for all” behind and monitor WHY and HOW you’re eating – aim to eat all foods only when you are physically hungry, eat whatever it is that is going to satisfy you and eat mindfully so you can register when you have had enough!
6. Agave Nectar: Agave nectar is regarded by many as a healthy, natural sweetener. It is touted for providing sweetness without the unpleasant “sugar rush” and unhealthful blood sugar spike caused by many other sugars due to its low glycemic index. However, the truth is that agave nectar is just another type of processed sugar that should be limited in any diet. While it does have a low glycemic index due to its high percentage of fructose relative to glucose, that does not make it a healthy sugar. In fact, some studies suggest that consuming large amounts of fructose (like in agave nectar) can promote insulin resistance (thereby increasing diabetes risk), boost triglycerides, lower good HDL cholesterol and have other potentially harmful effects on the heart and liver. Therefore, you should limit your addition of all added sugars (high fructose corn syrup, honey, brown rice syrup, brown sugar and molasses) and stick to natural sugars like fresh fruit, yogurt and milk.
7. Enhanced Waters: Enhanced waters claim to do everything from protecting your skin, improving your mood, and upping your immunity to increasing your energy levels. The reality is that there’s no science showing that enhanced waters have more health benefits than less expensive tap water. It’s better to get nutrients through whole foods rather than supplements and taking extra vitamins doesn’t necessarily make you healthier. The biggest disadvantage is that most enhanced waters contain added sugars. Regular 16-20 oz bottles of some vitamin enhanced waters contain almost as many grams of sugar as many 12 oz cans of soda. Often times these beverages can serve as a meal supplement because they contain the same amount of energy as half a sandwich and a cup of soup. But, your body does not register the beverage as satisfying as solid food which will leave you hungry and searching for more food later on. Lastly, drinking bottled water is more expensive than drinking tap water and drinking bottled vitamin water is even more expensive. If you drink one bottle of vitamin water a day for one year, you would have spent about $400 at the end of the year. This costs more than what you would spend in a year for a daily multivitamin. Instead, reach for good old H2O.
Alyse’s Advice With all the tricky food product marketing going on, it is very important to be a savvy shopper and read food labels to ensure that what you eat is good for you. No longer can you judge how healthy a food is solely by its name.