Walk down the aisle of any supermarket these days and you’ll be bombarded with “health halos” – aka industry terms for marketing jargon that appear on products to try and conceal what’s inside. Often, those words are a ploy to keep you from noticing what ingredients are missing. All those “packaging promises” can persuade you to buy and eat some incredibly unhealthy stuff. And I do mean stuff. By the time ingredients are manipulated and processed into the form of crackers, cakes, cookies, and more they no longer resemble food. Sure, companies try to pump nutrients back in (more on that below), but your stomach isn’t fooled—it digests all that stuff as it truly is, empty calories that are then stored in your body as fat. Here’s what might be hiding behind some of the most common label call-outs.
Low-Fat, Non-Fat, and Fat-Free
The Scoop: When fat is removed, flavor gets sucked out along with it, so these words are usually a sign that sugar or some type of artificial sweetener or unnatural flavor agent has been added in to make it taste better. Which means downing a non-fat yogurt could be introducing your body to unhealthy chemicals and extra sugar. Don’t be so quick to shun fat—your body actually needs some in your diet from healthy sources to function. Plus, new evidence suggests that an increase in the consumption of low-fat and fat-free items has recently caused obesity to rise in America.
The Suggestion: Plain 2% Fage yogurt offers a little bit of healthy fat and it doesn’t have any artificial sweeteners, fillers, or preservatives.
No High Fructose Corn Syrup
The Scoop: This is a fun one to find. A lot of companies made the switch from HFCS back to regular old table sugar when people began to learn about the dangers of this highly processed corn sweetener – namely, eating copious amounts can encourage insulin resistance and increase your risk of diabetes. But sugar and other natural sweeteners can bring the same health risks if you don’t limit your intake, which means treats with this label aren’t doing you any favors. Not to mention, sugar from your diet is stored in fat tissue—so eating or drinking stuff loaded with sugar or HFCS can make you chubby.
The Suggestion: Although, items made with sugar aren’t exactly healthier than those with HFCS – sugar is still a treat! Mini, 8-ounce cans of Hansen’s natural soda help keep portions in check.
The Scoop: Brownies, beef jerky, imitation cheese—lots of products are touting a gluten-free label these days, but just because they’re not made from wheat (gluten is a protein found in wheat that can cause immune system breakdown and gut distress), doesn’t mean they’re good for you. That goes for items like breads, pastas, and cereals, too. Whether they’re made with regular flour or rice flour, the stuff inside that box or bag is highly processed (hello, refined carbohydrates!) and doesn’t offer much in way of nutrition. You’re better off having a bowl of cooked whole grains, like quinoa, kasha, or brown rice instead.
The Suggestion: Try this recipe using Tru Roots Quinoa because it’s organic and non-GMO certified.
Almond & Apricot Quinoa Cereal:
½ cup Quinoa
1 cup Almond Milk, unsweetened
½ cup Almonds, chopped
1/3 cup Dried Apricots, chopped
Thoroughly rinse and drain quinoa in cold water. (Washing away the natural saponin that clings to the seeds is a must-do. Skip this step and you’re risking a tummy ache.) Put quinoa and almond milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to low, cover the pan and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until all of the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa is done. (The grains will be soft and translucent, with little rings.)
Mix in almonds and dried apricots.
Makes 2 servings.
Made with Real Fruit
The Scoop: The first question you should ask when you see this statement is, “How much?” Often, the answer is found at the very bottom of the ingredients list (under a bunch of not so great stuff) and the amount is laughable. If you’re looking for a fruity snack, have a piece of real fruit, like an apple, banana, or plum. Not only will your taste buds be pleased, you’ll be filling up on easy-to-digest fiber and vitamins, too.
The Suggestion: Fresh, whole fruit, like a Dole Organic banana, is always a better option than a “made with real fruit” snack.
Enriched with Vitamin...Most of the nutrients found in grains get lost in the refining process that turns them into flour. Even more vitamins and minerals are displaced when that flour is baked into loaves, flakes, clusters, and more. In an attempt to make the stuff nutritious again, companies enrich or fortify the flour by injecting vitamins back in. The same thing happens with milk and dairy items, beverages, and other products. Any number of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients can be added into processed foods—some popular ones are vitamins C, D, and B12, iron, and protein. But again, your tummy isn’t easily tricked. Many of those added nutrients aren’t absorbed during the digestive process, and the stuff gets broken down into what it actually is: refined carbohydrates. Those go straight to your thighs, and the vitamins that were slipped in along with them typically go out the backdoor.
Kimberly Daly is a Healthy Lifestyle Expert and Author of the hit blog Some Kind of Runderful. – http://SomeKindofRunderful.com