Whether you are obsessed with eating only whole and organic foods or you are just watching what you put into your body, chances are you care very much about whether you are healthy or not. The sheer rise in the number of alternative, preventative health care services — and Americans’ growing eagerness to partake of them — clearly showcases a rising concern about health and longevity issues nationwide. So when you find out that a so-called “health food” you have trusted is not holding up its end of the bargain, it is natural to feel frustrated, angry and even betrayed. However, once you know the truth, you can do something about it — whether that is to simply stop buying that food or actively campaign against it.
The Definition of “Health Food”
To date there is no one standardized definition for “health food.” The field of human services is one of many professions working toward the goal of generating a more specific definition. The USDA dietary guidelines (2005) states: “Healthy foods do not contain ingredients that contribute to disease or impede recovery when consumed at normal levels.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) classifies a food as “healthy” if the following criteria are met.
- Low in sodium
- Low in saturated fat and cholesterol
- Contains at least 10 percent of recommended vitamins and minerals
- Does not contain elements that change the food’s nutritional profile
- Conforms to standards of identity set out for different categories (whole grains, et al)
Five Not-So-Healthy “Health Foods”
Once you know what makes a food healthy, you can make empowered choices accordingly. Here are some pointers to look for about five foods that are commonly labeled “healthy” but often are not.
You might not expect that turkey or veggie burgers are missing the very ingredients that define them, but often they are. Before buying a “healthy” burger alternative, look at how many vegetables and how much sodium is in each patty. Be sure you don’t see additives like gums or cornstarch — these mask the absence of the good ingredients.
“Low-Fat” or “Fat-Free” Foods
If low-fat and fat-free foods didn’t taste good, people would not buy them. When the fat is removed, the easiest way to add taste back in is to load these foods up with sugar, salt or artificial flavors, which can be harmful or even toxic if consumed in excessive amounts.
Many busy people rely on energy bars to deal with a schedule requiring them to skip meals or eat on the go. However, energy bars are often formulated to deliver quick bursts of energy rather than comprehensive nutrition. The best way to deliver a rush of energy is through sugar. Before eating an energy bar, check the label. Look at the first few ingredients to see if fructose, corn syrup or other sugars appear there. Also look to see how many grams of sugar the bar delivers. Many deliver up to 30 grams of sugar per bar — which means that sugar is the number one ingredient!
Smoothies began as an alternative to energy bars — another way to grab a quick, wholesome meal on the go. The trouble with smoothies is that they, too, often err heavily on the side of sugar to deliver that energy rush. The best way to avoid smoothies that contain sugary ingredients is to have yours made fresh right in front of you, sticking with fresh fruits, no-sugar fruit juices, plain probiotic-rich yogurt and nothing else.
Granola (Cereal and Bars)
Granola in its natural state is designed to contain nuts, seeds, grains, natural dried fruits and other doses of pure goodness. But many granolas today add in sugary coatings, chocolate, candies, sodium and other additives that cancel out the health benefits of the granola itself.
Armed with these tips, you are now better equipped to discern whether or not a food labeled as “healthy” will actually support your health now and in the long-term.