These days the supermarket can be a tough thing to navigate when you're trying to figure out what food is healthy and what is not. Just because the package has a pretty field on the front or a totally jacked guy endorsing it doesn't say anything about the product inside. The adverting agencies and the food industry work hard to make you buy as much of their product as possible. If that means making you think it's healthy or “tricking” you into believing it's doing something it's not that's fine by them. Now you could say this makes them a big, bad, evil corporation, but in truth it's just a business that's doing their job, which is to make money. It's your job to be an educated consumer and its my job to give you the tools to make the right choices. Today I want to go over some common things you may see on food packaging and talk about what they really mean.
First if you see phrases like; all natural, healthy, fit, sports, nature, fresh, handmade, or artisan, they don't mean shit. There is no board or governing body that looks into products claiming to be “healthy” or “natural” and those terms are very much up for interpretation, so what you think would be an unnatural ingredient, they may see as totally natural. A study by The Journal of Marketing Research found that people tend to eat more when a product has words like fitness on the label, and end up moving less. Subconsciously when we eat foods labeled “healthy” or “fit” we feel like we've made an effort to be improve ourselves but the truth is that specific food may not be the right choice and there's no saying if we are any closer to our health goals. You may feel all warm and fuzzy drinking a sugary carbonated beverage because it says natural and has a pretty flower on the side, but your gut can't see that and will have the same reaction as if you were drinking the cheapest off brand soda.
The next thing I want to talk about is gluten free foods. Now this can be a hot button topic so stay with me please. First if you have celiac disease it is very important to avoid gluten. Keep in mind that about 1% of americans have celiacs, if you think you have celiac please please see a docter, don't just assume and self medicate. If you feel better when you don't eat a lot of bread or wheat based products then you probably have a wheat intolerance or leaky gut syndrome, which is not actually related to gluten. Wheat is in a lot of stuff we eat and many people become over saturated and intolerant to it. Now unlike celiacs disease leaky gut or wheat intolerance is completely reversible and you can easily treat it and go back to eating wheat again, in moderation of course. If you think eating bread that's labeled gluten free will be healthier then regular bread and/or help you lose weight then you have fallen pray to a marketing campaign. A bread or pasta product that is labeled gluten free is no more healthy then regular bread, in some cases it is more processed. Gluten is simply a protein that is found in wheat, barley, and rye. If you just feel better not eating bread I would suggest focusing on going grain free not gluten free, this includes things like rice, oats, wheat starch, corn meal, and buckweat, which are all gluten free but are not going to help heal a leaky gut or wheat over saturation.
Ok we made it through gluten and you didn't get mad at me and stomp off, lets get deeper and talk about organics. I love organic food and try and eat organic as much as possible but I also know that organic does not mean healthy. Just because a product is organic that does not mean it's macro nutrients are any better then a non organic product. An organic box of crackers may be just as processed and full of unnecessary calories then a regular box of crackers. Organic does however mean less pesticides and it has been shown to improve the micro nutrients. If your focus is to lose ten pound eating an organic apple vs a non organic apple, or a organic soda vs a non organic soda, it's not going to make a difference. However if you are looking to lower the amount of chemicals in you life, and eat a higher quality of food, organic is probably a good choice for you. When you get into meat, eggs, and dairy you want to look for grass fed or pasture raised for the same reason. Even more then organic, which may just mean a slightly better food pellet, animals that get to eat fresh grass and can walk around in the sun produce a product that has much better micro nutrients.
Alright lets talk about carbs. Now I don't have a camp on carbs, I don't believe carbs are evil and going to kill you and I don't think a low carb diet is a stupid trend. I think the amount of carbs you eat should depend on you goals, how they make you feel, your lifestyle, and how much you enjoy bread. All that being said once you've decided how many carbs you want in a day it shouldn't be a complicated puzzle to track them, enter net carbs. Net carbs is a fancy term the food industry puts on the front of some products (completely unregulated by the FDA) when they have subtracted the fiber from the total carbohydrates. Now there is some logic to this, fiber is digested differently then a sugar based carb and is a good thing to have in your diet. However it's still a part of the total calories you are consuming, fiber carbs aren't magic invisible calories that don't count. Whether you want to track net carbs or total carbs is your choice but I suggest making an informed decision and going with the FDA regulated numbers on the nutrition label and not the glitzy promises on the front of the package.
Lets step away from the edge for a moment and talk about an easy one, serving size and the nutritional label. The nutritional label on the back of a package is FDA regulated, so the food industry can get away with a lot less. This is where you want to look for true information. Now one way that a company may try and bend the truth is with the serving size it is giving. A serving size does not mean that's the amount you should eat or that's what most people eat, it's just the amount they used to get their numbers. The food industry might know that most people eat half the box of mac and cheese but they also know if they tell you that would be 900 calories you will probably move on and find something else for dinner. So they tell you its only 300 calories and hope you won't see that they also say there are six servings in a box.
So what have we learned today? When we go to the supermarket we are going to look right passed the glitz and glam on the front of the package. We are going to turn it over and look at the truth by reading the black and white fact of the ingredient list and the nutritional label and we are going to make good, well informed choices that fit OUR goals.