In a genuine effort to be healthy, so many of us fall prey to the notion that we can walk into our local natural foods store and everything we find inside will aid us on our wellness journey. Between clever marketing tactics which are designed to influence the consumers perception of the health benefits of a product, and mainstream diet fads which urge you to eat no-fat one minute and gluten-free the next, it’s easy to see why Americans are confused as to what eating healthy really means. To help deconstruct this confusion, I’ve put together a list of some common food items that carry false health claims so that you know what to look out for when navigating the aisles of your grocery store.
Nonfat dairy products: Nonfat and low fat dairy products are an often overlooked source of sugar and artificial ingredients. It’s best to enjoy a small portion of the whole fat version.
Gluten Free Baked Goods: Even if it’s vegan or gluten free, a muffin is still a muffin, and a cookie is still a cookie. Don’t believe that because a product label says it is gluten free that it’s healthy. Read the ingredient list to determine if it contains unhealthy starches, excess sugar, and hard to pronounce gums; if so, then it is not a healthy choice. It’s also important to remember that moderation is important even when enjoying gluten-free products.
Table Salt: Most table salt contains chemical anti-caking ingredients. Sea salt however, does not and is a much healthier alternative as it even contains many important minerals due to the fact it’s unprocessed. Pink himalayan and celtic sea salt are both incredibly flavorful choices. To justify the investment, remember, a little goes a long way. (Tip: always check the ingredients list to ensure that salt is the only thing listed.)
Fruit Juice: Fruit juice is one of the leading sources of sugar and empty calories in the average child’s diet. So many parents believe that they are doing their children a favor by serving them this sugary beverage when in fact, most fruit juices are not pure juice and contain as much if not more sugar than a soft drink. Switch to fresh vegetable juice mixed with fresh fruit juice or skip it altogether.
Energy Bars: Energy bars were initially designed as a convenient high calorie energy source for athletes, but they have evolved into on-the-go snacks for just about everyone. Energy bars often contain processed soy, exorbitant amounts of sugar, and preservatives to extend their shelf-life for as long as possible. Try making your own natural granola bars, or pack a bag of homemade trail mix instead.
Pre-made Trail Mixes: Pre-made trail mixes, even those found in the bulk section at your favorite natural foods store, are usually comprised of roasted nuts, sugar coated dried fruits, and other junk-food-like ingredients. Instead of purchasing a pre-made mix, try making your own with DRY roasted nuts, seeds, dried fruit that has no added sugar or sulphur, unsweetened shredded coconut, and even semi-sweet chocolate chips. It’s worlds healthier, and it’s fun to get creative with your ingredients. If you’re going to purchase a pre-made mix, look for one with raw or sprouted nuts, and ingredients that are as close to their natural state as possible. Here’s an example of one I feel great about purchasing.
Granola: Granola is one of the most popular breakfast foods around, sadly it is also one of the most sugary. Most store-bought granolas contain vegetable oils, crazy amounts of sugar, and sometimes even high-fructose corn syrup. Try making your own at home. Here is my favorite natural granola recipe to get you started
Smoothies: You might think that a smoothie, packed with fresh fruit and protein powder is guaranteed to be healthy, when in fact, most smoothies contain an excessive amount of sugar. Avoid smoothies blended with fruit juice, dairy products such as milk, ice cream or frozen yogurt, and commercial protein powders. Instead, opt for smoothies that contain fruits and vegetables, coconut water or almond milk, and natural protein sources such as nuts or avocado.
Frozen Yogurt: Because of its low fat, low calorie nutrition profile, frozen yogurt is often viewed as the healthier version of ice cream. In fact, frozen yogurt is much more likely to contain artificial flavorings and chemicals which lends it its unique texture. Choose fruit sorbet, or even natural full fat ice cream when that craving hits, and stick to a small portion.
Remember, real, whole foods are ALWAYS the best foods. There are so many wonderful ingredients out there, right at your fingertips. Many of which are naturally gluten free, low in fat, and contain little to no sugar. Buy as few packaged, pre-made items as you can manage. At all costs avoid foods with health claims, even if at first you just eliminate one box, bag, or can each time you shop, over time that will lead to a big shift in the landscape of your grocery cart, and your overall health!