Wellness is having a moment these days. Don’t get us wrong, we love that healthy eating and taking care of yourself is finally receiving the attention it deserves, but given its popularity, everyone is trying to make $$$ off of the trend. This means, more and more “healthy” products are lining the shelves of our grocery stores. While not true universally, a lot of these “health” foods aren’t actually all that healthy.
Take, for example, granola. The majority of Americans believe that granola and granola bars are healthy. In reality, commercial granola has enough added sugar to rival that of a piece of chocolate cake. But as a consumer, it's difficult to understand when granola and granola bar packaging is slapped with health claims like "natural", "whole grain" and "heart healthy," giving them a "health halo."
It can be very confusing as a consumer to distinguish between the good stuff and the crap, which is why we have 4 things to look out for next time you are grocery shopping…
Check the label
Ideally, we should be eating fresh food as much as possible, but understandably, there will be times when a packaged food is necessary for ease and convenience purposes. When this is the case, start by scanning the nutrition label for both the amount and quality of the ingredients. Select foods that have a limited number of ingredients (5 or less is a good reference point) and these ingredients should be things you have heard of before or can pronounce. If the food contains a long list of ingredients that sound like something you might hear in a science lab, put the food down and step far, far away.
Be Wary of ‘Fake’ Fiber
Eating a high fiber diet is so important for many reasons including weight maintenance, cardiovascular health and digestion. For this reason, many companies are adding fiber to everything from ice cream to cereal. In these foods, fiber is added in either a synthetic or extracted form, rather than it’s naturally-occurring form. A lot of these added fibers haven’t shown the same beneficial physiological effects in the body like their naturally-occurring counterparts. They are often added into foods that are high in sugar and low in vitamins and minerals with the hope that the high fiber content will attract the health-conscious shopper. You are smarter than that! Get your fiber from natural sources like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
Uncover the Hidden Sugar
Thanks to a new FDA labeling law, which requires companies to list added sugars on the nutrition label, added sugar won’t be able to hide as easily in the future. Until we reach the final deadline for the labeling law (2020 for large manufacturers and 2021 for small manufacturers), watch out for seemingly innocent foods like low-fat yogurts, granola, pasta sauces, nut butters and dried fruit, which while all seemingly healthy, often include a moderate (or not so moderate) amount of added sugar.
Gluten-free ≠ Healthy
Many people believe that if a label reads gluten-free, it must be healthy. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Like the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing, many gluten-free foods are actually junk foods high in fat and sugar and are therefore, no healthier than their gluten-full junk food counterparts. Unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, gluten-containing foods, especially whole grains, can be an important part of a healthy diet.
The Bottom Line
If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. A carton of ice cream that’s only 250 calories?! It’s probably full of synthetic sugar, which your body doesn’t recognize and therefore, may leave you craving sweets again shortly after you’ve put the spoon down. Your body is built to process real, whole foods but when it comes to digesting fake crap, it is just not equipped.