Consumers are buying and eating foods that are deemed “healthy” when in reality they are not as great as they seem. Don’t let your guard down, but educate yourself about today’s common health halos.
Gluten free The term “gluten free” has become a cultural phenomenon. Many people associate a gluten free diet with weight loss and health. In reality, unless you have celiac disease, gluten is not the enemy.
Jane Brody writes in the New York Times about people who react badly to gluten who are actually sensitive to a long list of foods containing certain carbohydrates.
Gluten is a protein derivative from grassy grains such as wheat, barley and rye. It can be present in in beer, soy sauce, ketchup, and many other products. People buy gluten free bread, pasta, and mac & cheese hoping that it is healthier when, in reality, it has the same (if not more) number of carbs and is just way more expensive. One example is Annie’s gluten free Mac and cheese vs the Kraft version. Annie’s has 270 calories, 4 grams of fat, and 51 carbs while Kraft has 260 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, and 47 carbs.
Fat free, low-fat, or reduced fat What’s often in place of the fat? Sugar. Many lower fat options use sweeteners and other compounds to recreate the taste of fat. Low fat products are not always the best option. One example is Skippy Natural Peanut Butter and Reduced Fat Peanut Butter. The Natural peanut butter has 16 grams of fat and 6 grams of carbs with 4 ingredients; peanuts, sugar, oil, salt. The Reduced fat version has 12 grams of fat and 15 grams of carbs with a laundry list of ingredients. Opt for the higher fat (it’s mostly mono and poly unsaturated) and skip the additives.
Natural The term natural has not been defined by the Food and Drug Administration and is primarily a marketing term that means little. Although some natural products would be the better choice to their non-natural predecessors, don’t be fooled by food labels. Tyson has a line of “100% Natural Chicken Nuggets” which, although a step in the right direction, still contains a few questionable ingredients and are breaded/fried.
Organic Much like gluten free, organic does not necessarily mean healthier, although this continues to be widely debated. There is a whole line of organic snacks for kids that have virtually the same nutrition profile as their non-organic counterparts.
With assistance by Kelly Katzman, nutrition intern
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