The sicker the population becomes, the more demand there is for ‘health foods’ and attractive marketing jargon like ‘organic’ and ‘all-natural’ which grab our attention and influence our choices. The health food industry is BIG business and I completely understand how it is seriously confusing for consumers knowing who to trust. The market is flooded with health ‘food products’ you may think are healthy, but when you look beyond the advertising claims and wholesome packaging, they are anything but.
As many of you know, my food philosophy is quite simple. I do my very best to focus on feeding myself and my family ‘low human intervention’ or ‘low HI’ foods. These are foods with no (or little) processing, like fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, whole-grains, eggs, legumes etc; These foods fuel the body and microbiome (the super important bugs that live in and on our body) and also maintain our genetic integrity (our diet contributes to the way our genes express themselves).
But as a busy mum, I do understand that sometimes we need to ‘outsource’ certain foods and snacks and the ‘health food’ industry can help to bridge the gap. So the intention of this post is to help inform your choices and remove some of the confusion around misleading health claims.
Many of the products below reference sugar. When looking at labels, it’s good to remember that 4.2g of sugar is about 1 teaspoon. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends we consume no more than 25g (6 teaspoons) of free sugar per day. Many of the products below, alone, contain more than this daily allowance. I personally try to limit any single item to no more than 1 teaspoon per serve. If you’d like more info on the various types of sugar and how to consume it mindfully, click HERE.
I also make reference to vegetable oils a lot and know this – it is NOT healthy. Vegetable oils are products of industry and they do not support our health in any way (in fact quite the opposite). For more about vegetable oil, click HERE. For a list of the healthiest fats and oils to consume and cook in, click HERE.
Health food ‘products’ you think are healthy but they are not…
Muesli bars and protein bars
These are very often a minefield for both sugar (often in the form of dried fruit), toxic vegetable oil and additives. I’ve written in great detail about the pitfalls of these bars, so click HERE for the full low down.
Swap In – I prefer to make my own bars (there are heaps of recipes for all sorts of muesli and protein bars on the website). An hour or so of baking each fortnight ensures my freezer is stocked and ready to go when desired. If you can’t make your own, find a brand with the least sugar, vegetable oil and additives.
Granola or muesli
Most store bought granola and muesli has more than the WHO recommended daily 6 tsp of sugar in one small serve. Many are also laden with toxic vegetable oils and preservatives (such as sulphites).
Swap in – I make my own granola or toasted muesli. It is seriously simple, takes 5 mins to throw together and then bake in the oven (I do a big batch every couple of months and store in an airtight container).
Dates (and dried-fruit) based snacks
I’m bound to upset a few of you on this one, but hear me out. First and foremost, dates are a high-fructose fruit and as such they stimulate the appetite and desire for more sweet stuff, as well as inducing fatigue and poor concentration. I also find kids become vegetable fussy when eating too much fructose and are also more susceptible to illness. So many of the unwell kids I’ve treated over the years have experienced significant health improvements for removing date based bars and bliss balls from their diet. If not organic, most dried fruit also contains preservatives and rancid vegetable oils.
Swap in – one of the sweet recipes on my website as none of them contain dates.
Store bought Acai bowls and yoghurt parfaits
Two words – sugar bomb!! Unless you’re making it yourself, be warned. Most of these so call ‘healthy bowls’ are blended with fruit, fruit juice, honey and then topped with granola. I’ve read an average of 50 grams of sugar (that’s 12 teaspoons of sugar) is in one serve – eeeekkk! The same goes for bottled, pre-made smoothies.
Swap in – make your own and control exactly what you add. Recipe inspiration here.
Soy and nut milk
Be very careful to check the ingredients on your non-dairy milk alternatives. Many contain vegetable oils, carrageenan and loads of sugar so choose your preferred brand carefully.
Swap in – a home-made nut milk or choose a store bought milk without sugar or vegetable oils.
‘Low-fat’ or ‘diet’ anything
Whenever I see these claims on labelling I run a mile. ‘Low-fat’ and ‘diet’ products are generally heavily processed and contain any or all of the following – sugar, vegetable oil, additives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners and unrecognisable ingredients. I’ll take my milk full-fat, just the way nature intended thank you very much!
Swap in – full-fat, un-processed, real food the way nature intended.
Vegan spreads, cheeses and snacks
You need to be very careful here as SO many vegan spreads, cheeses and snacks sport a list of ingredients worth avoiding. Vegetable oils, flavour enhancers and genetically modified soy are very common. Just because it’s vegan, doesn’t mean it’s healthy, so please choose very carefully.
Swap in – Stick with the coconut or nut based dairy alternatives. Cashew cream recipe here. Make your own vegan snacks, that way you can make it whole food based and truely nourishing.
Again check the ingredients of your gluten-free goodies. Are they made with recognisable, real food? Some gluten-free pastas for example are a combination of a heap of starches and thickeners, where as others are simply rice and quinoa.
Swap in – gluten-free products with only ‘real’ food ingredients.
Many don’t contain vegetables at all, rather a heap of franken-foods, highly-processed soy, vegetable oils, preservatives and additives.
Swap in – Choose carefully, brands need to include recognisable ingredients or make your own.
Pre-cut fruit and vegetables bags
I know they seem convenient, but they are treated with preservatives to prevent them from rotting. Plus, once cut, their nutritional value is compromised. Throw in the carbon foot print, plastic storage and inflated cost, it’s best to buy fresh.
Swap in – fresh produce (or frozen if you really must).
Iced tea, 100% juice, sports drinks
Many people choose these beverages over soft drink but they are no better than the fizzy stuff.
Swap in – unsweetened coconut water, kombucha, keffir, fresh lime soda, home made ice tea.
Navigating the many types of protein powders available is tricky business. Many brands are derived from feed-lot, grain-fed cows (also often fed GMO’s), highly processed soy proteins and contain franken-sugars, fructose, maltodextrin starches (aggravate blood sugars and the GIT), additives and more yuk ingredients.
Most also contain absolutely no plant fibre, good fats or micronutrients (vitamins and mineral) so nutritionally they are incomplete and not at all reflective of a well rounded, whole food meal.
Swap in – a whole foods based protein powder. I personally find protein powder is very convenient for making a sustaining smoothie and my favourite brand is this one from 180 Nutrition.
Food that is cooked by a human, in the kitchen, is always superior to food made en-mass in a factory by a large corporation. Watch out for additives, preservatives, vegetable oil and sugar.
Swap in – If frozen meals are something you rely on, perhaps cook in batches, portion and freeze. Than way you can ensure you have full control over the ingredients in your meals.
If you are looking for ways to improve your diet and health, take a look at this post for a back to basics guide of simple food swaps that will positively impact on your health, without the stress of being on a diet. Anyone can make these simple swaps and in my experience, it’s often these micro changes that can have the hugest impact on ones long-term health.