Shopping for healthy foods can be a minefield of confusion nowadays with claims like ‘All Natural’ and ‘Low Fat’ boldly slapped across labels. To the untrained eye opting for the Non Fat or No-Sugar version may sound like a good idea, except it’s not. Here are the most commonly used phrases that are not in fact healthy and what you should be looking out for instead.
The ubiquitous All Natural tops the list simply because it’s so ridiculous. What does All Natural even mean? Apparently, not much. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t even define it, therefore food manufacturers won’t get in trouble as long as their products do not contain added colors, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. They can however still load up with preservatives such as sodium and the dreaded high fructose corn syrup, arguing that it’s derived from corn and therefore considered ‘healthy’. High fructose corn syrup is one of the most toxic substances you can put in your body. Be sure to run a mile if you see it listed on the ingredients of that Granola Bar you were about to buy.
Free-Range doesn’t automatically imply the chicken was able to roam around the farmyard at will. The USDA definition of Free-Range simply states: ‘Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.’ There are no specific requirements which define space, duration of time spent outside and quality of access. Look for companies who describe the exact conditions their animals are kept in. My Go-To for eggs is Nellies (http://nelliesfreerange.com/) who score top marks for their humane practices.
Ah, the 80’s… the decade of my birth and iconic movies such as Back to the Future, Goonies and the Terminator, but also the decade that erroneously demonized fats and created a wave of ‘Fat-Free’ foods that did nothing to combat obesity or heart disease. Fast forward to 2016 and whilst there has been a shift back to eating (good) fats, the shelves of many supermarkets across the world still bear the burden of Fat-Free foods. Why is Fat-Free bad? Because in most cases the fat is substituted with sugar, which contains twice as many calories and creates an inflammatory response in the body, setting the stage for Diabetes, Cancer, Heart Disease and so on. Be sure to check the calorie and sugar breakdown of the full fat version versus the non-fat equivalent before you buy.
The word Grain is healthy but Multi is not. When buying breads only go for the one’s labelled as whole grain or 100% whole wheat. It’s not enough if it says multigrain or made with whole grain. Whole grain breads have more fiber and have not been subject to a refining process like white bread for instance, which is stripped of all the nutrients found in the grain. Better still, buy bread fresh from the bakery in your grocery store, this way you can be sure it has no preservatives which unfortunately still crop up in pre-packaged whole grain breads you find on the shelves.
No Added Sugar
If you are trying to cut carbs you may opt for the No-Added Sugar cereal, but since some foods contain naturally occurring sugar (fruit, cereal, milk) you’re not avoiding carbs. In some cases they also contain a carbohydrate known as maltodextrin, thus the No Added Sugar label doesn’t mean a product is calorie or carbohydrate-free. Instead, opt for nutritionally dense foods such as dark leafy vegetables and make a breakfast omelette with chopped vegetables rather than a sugar-free cereal bar.
Zero Trans Fat:
Trans-Fats AKA hydrogenated, manufactured, highly inflammatory, bad-as-can-be Fats should be avoided at all costs. They are commonly found in most margarines, baked goods, vegetable oils and anything that has a shelf life of more than one week. It’s no surprise that manufacturers are quick to whack on a Zero Trans Fat label to boost sales, though in reality this is untrue. Unfortunately, a product can be classified as Zero Trans Fat provided it contains less than 0.5g per serving. If you were to have two servings then you would get a good amount added to your diet. Check for words on the ingredient list such as hydrogenated oils and shortening, which mean Trans Fat is still present.
How much do you read labels? Do you know if your eggs are Free-Range? What about the Low-Fat cookies you thought were healthier? Be conscious of any food labelling which sounds too good to be true and educate yourself on the deceptive wording often used. Your body is a temple, treat it that way.
As always, Pushing for Health xx