5 Pitfalls Of Commercial “Health” Foods

It could be said that we are in the midst of a food revolution. There is more information available than ever before about the link between diet and wellbeing, prompting consumers to ask more questions about the food they buy. This is undoubtedly a positive step, but it doesn’t come without hurdles.

Food producers are responding to the trend, but not always with health as the primary objective. Many are producing products to fit labels such as “low-calorie”, “low-fat”, “zero-sugar” and “gluten-free” to appeal to the rise in health consciousness. But when you look beyond the label, these foods have often been manipulated via heavy processing, artificial ingredients and unhealthy substitution, to the point that the headline benefits are outweighed by the effects of this engineering.

To help you navigate today’s commercial “health” food offering, here are 5 potential pitfalls to be aware of:

1.     “Low-fat” doesn’t guarantee fat loss

A gram of dietary fat contains 9 calories compared to the 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates and protein, so it’s understandable why people associate low-fat foods with weight loss. However, often when naturally occurring fat is removed from a food, it is replaced with something else to maintain taste and texture. The replacements can often be high calorie, heavily processed, and/or artificial. In some cases, these ingredients can actually interfere with metabolic pathways essential for weight loss. And this “low-fat” trend overlooks the fact that healthy, natural fats are rich in vital micronutrients and can help encourage weight loss by actually supporting metabolism, hormone balance, energy and satiation levels. Check ingredient lists to know exactly what you’re getting and ensure that you are making room for healthy fats in your diet, even if you are trying to lose weight.

2.     “Sugar-free” can be chemical-heavy

Similarly, when sugar is removed from food, manufacturers have a problem to solve with flavour. The solution often involves artificial replacements which increase chemical load. Chemicals in the diet behave destructively towards cells, burden the liver and interfere with physiological processes which can lead to low energy, dull skin and hormone imbalances. Look beyond the headline label and check the credentials of the sugar substitute.

3.     “Gluten-free” is not always healthier

The explosion in the popularity of gluten-free diets has led to a corresponding rise in gluten-free foods on the shelves. But gluten provides the particular texture and taste of foods which naturally contain gluten (such as bread), so manufacturers have to add alternative ingredients to mimic this taste and texture.  As a substitute for gluten’s role, manufacturers use a combination of fats, sugars, binders, fillers and thickeners. For those for whom a gluten-free diet is not a medical necessity, any benefits from choosing gluten-free foods may be outweighed by the negative impact of these replacement ingredients. If you want to try going gluten-free, choose foods that are naturally so (such as quinoa or buckwheat).

4.     Not all juices are equal

There is an enormous array of juice products available on the market these days. However, commercial pressures (such as maximising shelf-life or lowering costs) mean that there is a wide divergence in the real health benefits of these juices depending on how they are produced and what they contain. Always check the ingredients to see if sugars and artificial flavourings have been added. Also check the shelf-life; anything more than a few days means that the juice has been treated to destroy bacteria, but the processes involved in such treatments can also destroy much of the natural goodness contained in fresh fruits and vegetables. Opt for fresh untreated juice where possible.

5.     Pre-chopped fruit & veg may be chemically treated

To appeal to the time-poor, retailers now stock pre-prepared fruit pots, salads, courgetti, cauliflower rice and much more. The nutrients in fruits & vegetables begin to decay as soon as they are picked. The process accelerates once they are chopped due to oxidation. To keep prepared fruit & vegetables looking fresh, manufacturers may also treat them with various chemicals.  So as well as the natural reduction in nutrient content that comes from the extended time that it takes to get these products on the shelves, they can also increase chemical load. Aim to eat fruits & vegetables as soon after they are chopped or peeled as possible.