Struggling with your weight? Clever marketing by food manufacturers who are more focused on the size of their pockets than the state of your health may be hoodwinking you out of focusing on things that will actually help you.
Society’s interest in healthy eating has grown exponentially, mirrored closely by the number of so-called “health foods” multiplying in our shopping aisles. Yet the number of people struggling with their health doesn’t seem to be decreasing, at all. Kind of ironic, right?
Walking through the health food section at your local supermarket can be both an exciting and bewildering experience. So much wow-factor! Look at these colourful products— they have no cholesterol. This one doesn’t have any sugar. That one is gluten free, lactose free, paraben free, mercury free, all natural, and organic. This one is made from distilled moonbeams and unicorn droppings. Surely these newly discovered foods should now form the essential part of every diet? The trouble is that many options are either non-foods, or unhealthy foods described in a way that makes them seem better than they are.
Here are five of our top so-called ‘health foods’ you think are helping you lose weight or eat better and why they may not be as nutritious as you think.
Rice cakes and corn thins seem to many to be a diet snack food staple. However, because they contain no protein or fat, lack fibre, and are a high GI food, they do very little to curb your appetite or improve your health. Understanding glycaemic index gives us a few clues as to why this is.
Glycaemic index (GI) rates carbohydrate foods according to how quickly they raise your blood sugar levels. Carbohydrates that break down quickly during digestion, such as rice cakes, have a higher glycaemic index. High GI foods do not promote satiety and fullness and can leave you feeling hungry even moments of eating them. High GI foods can lead to energy ups and downs as the carbs hit your bloodstream quickly (AKA The Sugar Hit!), but it doesn’t last for long, leaving you often craving more food. Diets rich in high GI foods have also been shown to increase abdominal fat due to high levels of a hormone called insulin being released by your body, which can then tell your body to store fat.
SWAP FOR: Vitawheat, Ryvitas or wholegrain crackers.
GRANOLA BARS/MUESLI BARS/BREAKFAST BARS
Many granola bars and breakfast bars contain comparable amounts of calories, sugar and fat to confectionary bars! Oh no! Hoodwinking! Shoppers are fooled by clever marketing taglines such as ‘wholegrain’, ‘no artificial colours or flavours’, and ‘source of fibre’. They don’t notice that many bars on the market contain upwards of three teaspoons of added sugar and are lacking in fibre and protein, which means you’ll be facing the massive mid-morning munchies.
Take for example the popular Belvita Breakfast Biscuits. One serve (4 biscuits) has less protein than one egg (3.7g), contains three teaspoons worth of three types of added sugar (11g), which is nearly your daily added sugar allowance (16g). And, it has a long list of ingredients indecipherable to the average consumer, including a number of artificial additives.
SWAP FOR: Carmans Original Fruit Free Muesli Bars, which contain nearly five grams of protein, just over one teaspoon of sugar and a good serve of heart health fats per bar.
Frozen yoghurt is basically ice-cream in disguise. Despite widespread health claims most frozen yoghurt contains minimal amounts of protein, calcium or probiotics and is jam packed with added sugar. While frozen yoghurt may sound like a healthy choice, nutritionally it is very different to the natural Greek yoghurt you’ve been munching on for afternoon tea, and very similar to ice cream. The problem is most frozen yoghurt contains little or no protein, calcium or probiotics, and is also packed with sugar despite its healthy claims. Take for example bulla 97% fat free frozen yoghurt which contains three types of added sugar- liquid sugar, reconstituted juice and glucose, which means around 20% of this product is sugar!
SWAP FOR: Black Swan Naturally Sweetened Greek Yoghurt.
LOW-FAT NUT BUTTERS E.G. PEANUT BUTTER
We should all know by now that fat is not the devil and that including healthy sources of fat in our diet is essential for good health. When food manufacturers removed the fat from a product they often have to replace it with something just as tasty such as sugar, chemical sweeteners or other harmful additives. It is for this reason that reduced-fat peanut butter may not be such a healthy choice. Whilst both regular and reduced-fat peanut butter contain similar calories, the reduced-fat option has more sugar and often in the form of syrup solids, sugar and molasses. But isn’t cutting back on fat good for our health? No, not always. Regular natural peanut butter is high in heart healthy monounsaturated fats and switching to the low fat variety only saves you ~4g of fat per two tablespoons.
SWAP FOR– Nut spreads that contain 100% nuts in the ingredient list including natural peanut butter e.g. ground peanuts with no added oils or sugars.
LOW-FAT SALAD DRESSING
Salad and vegetables are extremely healthy, however they don’t always provide enough flavour and therefore we turn to a humble bottle of low-fat salad dressing. Have you ever looked at the back of the food label to see what ingredients are hiding in there? A brief inventory may include salt, sugar and whole list of preservatives and additives! Furthermore, carotenoids, a special class of nutrients found in high numbers in veggies are fat-soluble. That means that they must be eaten with some source of fat (e.g. avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds) in order to absorb the nutrients effectively. Low fat and high in salt, sugar and additives isn’t going to help you absorb those carotenoids!
SWAP FOR: Your own homemade dressing! Extra virgin olive oil mixed with lemon juice, apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Being awake to clever marketing ploys by food manufacturers is essential if you want to avoid being hoodwinked into consuming things which appear healthy, but fall short in many areas, or contain ingredients that you were actually aiming to avoid.