With more than a third of the United States’ population considered obese and diseases like Type II diabetes, heart disease and cancer becoming the most predatory killers among adults, people should be and are taking a good hard look at what goes into their bodies.
Unfortunately, so are companies who create junk food. As the market trends towards “healthier” foods, companies that create products that are in no way, shape or form healthy are trying to find a place for their product to fit in amongst the rest. By using creative food marketing and strategies, they create a misleading marketplace.
It can be very confusing for consumers who aren’t educated about healthy eating and how to effectively make lifestyle changes. Marketing and junk food companies know you want to eat healthier and that in fact — you’ll pay more to do so — and they want to capitalize on that. In the next two years, they stand to gain over a trillion dollars in sales for healthier foods. But should you be picking up what they’re putting down?
Here are some things to consider if you’re trying to make healthier eating choices for yourself and your family.
There is a difference between eating healthy food and making healthier food choices and these companies know it. Most food that comes in a box or bag isn’t all that healthy to begin with. These foods tend to be heavily processed, packed with preservatives, and high in unhealthy carbohydrates, fats and sugar. Of course, this doesn’t apply to EVERY food found in a box, but it’s a stereotype for a reason.
Is it great that we have healthier choices now? Yes! There will always be an event — a birthday party, a cookout, a tailgate — where the traditional foods are not all that great for you. Is it great to have store bought quinoa chips or juice with 50 percent less sugar at a time like this? Sure, because the reality for most people is that you aren’t going to eat 100 percent healthy all the time and having healthier options can only be a positive. (And honestly, the stress of trying to eat healthy ALL the time is often more harmful than just eating the dang cookie.)
However, it’s important to understand that just because something is a healthier option — sweet potato chips are better than regular, deep-fried potato chips and a light beer may be better calorie-wise than a regular beer — it doesn’t make it healthy, and it doesn’t mean it’s something you should be eating every day or even every weekend.
Being in a Health Food Store Doesn’t Mean It’s Healthy
Many “healthy” grocery stores carry lots of non-healthy foods — in fact, most of them have bakeries and carry things like sweets and junk food. It may be a little more expensive and it may be slapped with a label like “gluten-free,” but that doesn’t make it good for you. Follow the same advice in health food store that you would in a regular supermarket — stick to the produce sections, the meat counter, and stay out of the aisles.
Because food companies have so much to gain from the healthy trend, they’re ramping up the use of health buzzwords to trick you into buying their products…oftentimes, products that aren’t much better for you.
Be aware of words like simply made, all natural, organic, gluten-free, from nature, fresh, healthy heart, whole grain and more. In fact, ignore labels all together and flip around for the ingredients label before you determine whether something is healthy. And if it says low calorie, fat-free or sugar-free? Put it down and back away.
Is the item packed full of ingredients you’ve never heard of or can’t pronounce? Does the nutrition label look like processed carb and sugar party? If so, it most likely isn’t good for you, despite the natural, green or light-colored label that implies it was made in someone’s home kitchen.
Oftentimes, you will see products advertised alongside each other from the same company, one of which is the “normal” kind and the other of which is the “healthier” version. The next time you’re in a supermarket, pick them both up and compare their ingredients and nutritional content. You’ll find that ingredients like sugar and flour are all considered “all natural” and that in most cases, the healthier version is about the same as the regular version or that the difference is so slight, it doesn’t make an impact on your health.
Sugar is Sugar
It doesn’t matter if it’s table sugar, all-natural cane sugar or the types of sugars found naturally in foods like fruit and milk. Sugar is sugar, and it’s bad for you.
The recommended intake of sugar a day is six to nine teaspoons — about half of what’s in a soda. Keep this in mind when you’re trying to eat healthier.
There Are Certain Foods That Just Aren’t Healthy
There are certain foods that no matter how you dress them up or apply health buzzwords to them, they just aren’t healthy. Soda, candy, junk food and fast food simply should not be a part of your diet and only enjoyed every so often. You’ll find that the less you eat these sorts of things, the less you crave them and the better healthy food tastes.
What Should I Eat?
I wholly endorse eating real foods and lots of them to be healthier and to feel better in general. It's best to focus on eating lots of nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits, accompanying them with quality carbohydrates, proper hydration, and adding in high-quality meats (for omnivores) to meet nutrient needs and promote energy balance. USE YOUR OWN KITCHEN.
Ready to address your own eating and wellness patterns?
Check out two fresh, summer lunch recipes!
Balsamic Chicken Berry Salad in a Jar
2 tablespoons raspberry vinaigrette* (buy or make your own)
¼ cup quartered strawberries
½ cup cooked quinoa
¼ cup blueberries
1 cup diced or shredded grilled or baked chicken breast
¼ cup goat cheese crumbles
½ avocado, diced
2 tablespoons toasted almonds (we love toasted sliced almonds)
1-2 cups arugula
Make the mason jar salad by adding the ingredients to a 16 ounce mason jar (or equivalent) in the following order: dressing, strawberries, cooked quinoa, blueberries, chicken, goat cheese, avocado, arugula, almonds. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days until you’re ready to eat. When ready to eat, simply pour ingredients into a bowl or onto a plate and enjoy! Feel free to double the recipe to make 2 mason jar salads.
Notes To make vegetarian: sub 1 cup chickpeas or 1 cup cubed, cooked tofu.
Strawberry Kale Salad
For the dressing:
1 batch cilantro lime dressing (buy or make your own)
For the salad:
6 cups finely chopped kale, stems removed
1 heaping cup halved strawberries
1 avocado, sliced or diced
1 cup corn, raw, grilled or sauteed (I prefer raw off the cob or grilled)
1/2 cup feta crumbles
¼ cup thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup shelled roasted and salted pistachios (or sub toasted sliced almonds)
Optional protein add-ins:
8 ounces bacon, optional
2 grilled chicken breasts
First make your cilantro lime dressing. You can find the recipe here.
Add your finely chopped kale to a bowl. Remember you want to REALLY chop the kale very well. Pour the dressing over the kale and use tongs or clean hands to massage the dressing into the kale; you REALLY want to get it mixed well, so toss together for a few minutes to help break down the kale. Allow the dressing to sit with the kale for 15 minutes or longer to help the kale marinate with the dressing.
Finally add your strawberries, avocado, corn, feta crumbles, sliced red onion, pistachios to the bowl with the kale. Give it a gentle toss with tongs to combine everything. Serves 4. Salad will keep well in the fridge for 1-3 days.
Notes To make vegan: leave off feta or use a plant based feta crumble. If you want to make this a full meal or more heartier, I suggest adding some chicken or salmon.