An Easy Mistake To Make In Healthy EatingMar 23, 2022
I love working with people around learning to eat a healthier diet in a sustainable way.
If you want your healthy eating habits to be sustainable, it's important to learn more about nutrition, how to shop, and how to cook as you make gradual changes.
In the world of SO much conflicting advice around diet, I really aim to keep things simple.
I'm a firm believer in focusing on eating mostly whole foods.
Eliminating as much of the packaged & processed foods from your life as possible & eating a lot of plants is the core of eating a healthy diet in my opinion.
But, let's face it, for most of us, there will always be some packaged & processed food in our kitchen.
There's something that comes up a lot when I am coaching people that seems to surprise people, and I think it's really important.
It's an easy mistake to make:
Believing the health claims on food packaging.
I want to make this very clear:
Health claims on food packaging are marketing, not sound nutritional advice, and are often misleading.
The packaging on food is not a source of education on what's good for your body. It is meant to sell you the food that's in the package. That's it.
Whole foods like apples do not proclaim "I'm great for gut health & energy!" They don't need to. We look at an apple and know that it's a wholesome food for us.
Just because something says it's organic, gluten-free, fat-free, paleo, low calorie, or any other various claims does not necessarily mean it's healthy.
In fact, sometimes it's almost the opposite.
Here's one really great example:
In the 1980s, the medical industry began to demonize fat in food when a correlation was made between higher fat diets and high cholesterol which leads to heart disease.
During this time period is when 'low-fat' and 'fat-free' options began filling the shelves of grocery stores with claims of being 'heart-healthy' foods.
What also happened during this time frame is that these food manufacturers started adding more sugar to packaged foods. Why? Because without fat, food just doesn't' taste as good. Adding more sugar helped them deliver a better tasting processed food that they could proclaim was 'low-fat' & 'heart healthy'.
What happened then? The rate of diabetes increased fourfold in the next 3 decades.
We know now that sugar is also detrimental to heart health too.
This is just one example.
To give you some more tangible examples:
Organic - This simply means there were no pesticides used in growing most of the ingredients. This IS a good thing and I'm often going to choose organic over conventional food, but there are a lot of foods with an organic label on them that are also full of sugar, preservatives, and other questionable ingredients that you don't want to be eating much of. Just because it has an organic label does not mean it's a health food.
Gluten-free - This simply means that the food does not include gluten. It doesn't mean that it's a healthier food than food containing gluten. It will be healthier for you of course if you have a gluten sensitivity. It may contain more nutrition in some cases if it's made with more veggies or legumes, but often these food are still highly processed foods with a lot of questionable ingredients. Looking at the other nutritional information is important.
Fat-free or low-fat - SO often if a food touts this label it is going to have extra sugar in it. Sometimes a lot of extra sugar. A great example is the small individual-sized servings of flavored fat-free yogurt. They seem like a healthy food right? They can often have more sugar than a candy bar.
Paleo - The paleo dietary theory has been a popular one over the past years. Previous to this, the Akins, macrobiotic, the zone, weight-watchers, south beach....the list is long. When a dietary theory becomes popular, food companies will jump on the bandwagon to use this in their marketing, AKA the label on the food. Again, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's a healthy food.
One more time - health claims on food packages is marketing, not nutritional advice to listen to.
One of the biggest favors you can do for yourself when food shopping is to hold the above statement as a mantra in your head. When you pick up a package of food and see a health claim, flip the package around and read the label.
Here are a few basic tips for label reading.
1) Check out the nutrients. If the nutritional content boasts a bunch of zeros, you are eating nutritionally deficient food. You'll be eating food & calories without actually fueling your body with anything that it needs.
2) Check out the sugar content. Since fat was demonized in the 80s and everyone's sugar intake ramped up, we have learned more about how much chaos sugar has caused our bodies - including diabetes, heart disease, inflammation, fatty liver, weight gain, etc. As a guideline, know that 4 grams of sugar equals a teaspoon. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25-36 grams of added sugar per day. Most Americans eat so much more than that.
3) When buying packaged/processed foods, look for the shortest possible ingredient list, with ingredients that you recognize as food. Ingredients that you can pronounce, and know what they are.
4) Some of my most avoided ingredients: high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and food coloring/dyes. When you see these ingredients on a package, it's not a food that is healthy for you, regardless of the claims on the packaging.
5) Aim for buying as little packaged food as possible. None of the whole natural foods (as seen in the image) need labels for ingredients, nor do they need health food claims to sell.
6) If you find that you have a favorite packaged food that isn't a healthy food you want to be eating anymore, look for a healthier substitute. You don't need to give up everything that you love. You can often find a much cleaner substitute.
If you are looking to eat healthier, and tend to eat a lot of packaged & processed foods, know that you do not need to change everything at once.
In fact, I don't recommend it, as sometimes making big changes all at once can backfire, and they don't end up lasting. Slowly begin to purchase less processed food and more whole foods. Begin to read labels more often. Find healthier substitutes for your favorites, and choose packaged food more wisely as time goes on.
Wishing you health & energy,
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