Walk through any grocery store for more than two minutes in search of the latest "health food" and you'll quickly discover that very little is off limits in the "good-for-you" market. I've always enjoyed grocery shopping - probably more so now that I've got children. For the most part, I've always been able to ignore the foods that have no inherent nutritional value. Now that my kids are old enough to know what they like to eat, however, it's become more challenging to just walk past a colorful bag of cookies with a smiley face glowing back at me (and them).
Having worked in marketing for years, I'm familiar with a little term pros in my field banked on to sell a products geared toward children. It's called "the nag factor," and it's a strong as ever - believe me! I never worked with food products, but let me tell you, there is a reason why grocery shelves are stocked with specific "kid foods" at a level that meets your child's eye. Children are children, and they want what looks appealing, colorful and fun. It's our job as parents to stear them in the right direction - away from junk food - and toward healthier choices (at least most of the time).
Adults are big kids with bigger bellies
To marketers, adults are big kids looking for something that appeals to them. Millions of dollars each year is spent on figuring out what makes you, as an adult, tick. For the most part, everything you see on the grocery store shelf has been strategically placed - hoping to catch your eye. Brands try to out-market their competitors sitting next to them with sale prices, newly developed packaging and, more than ever today, "healthy" ingredients.
Some of these healthy ingredients are actually healthier. For example, a lot of brands have completely removed trans-fats from foods. This was a step in the right direction. Healthy fats, particularly coconut oil, are becoming much more prominent and recognized for its health benefits - added to a broad spectrum of foods.
A lot of healthy ingredients, however, are added to unhealthy foods. It would be nothing short of awesome if a healthy ingredient canceled out an unhealthy ingredient. If this were the case, the cupboards in my kitchen cabinets would be stocked full of refined crackers and cookies with the hopes that one golden nugget of nutrition would make it better.
Here are a few healthy ingredients that are added to foods (with added cost), that probably have very little, if any nutritional value added. They include:
- Flax Seeds: They are indeed good for you...if they're raw and freshly ground...and in your oatmeal or cereal, not sprinkled and baked on a refined cracker. Raw and freshly ground is optimal. Flax Seeds that have been heated or ground days or weeks earlier lose all their power.
- Omega 3s: I love omega 3s. Love them. They're an essential fat, which means our body needs it, but doesn't make it. We need them badly in our diet badly. But unless they're kept refrigerated, having never been heated (i.e. pasteurized), those omegas will do your body no good. Watch out for box foods that boast "omega 3s." You'll pay a lot of something that will do very little. If you're in the market, check out my favorite brand, Nordic Naturals .
- Acai Berry: Say it with me: AH-SI-E. This berry is great. Like the ingredients above, the power of this berry is delicate. Since there origin of the berry is the Amazon, getting it from tree to table takes some time. Acai should be carefully processed. The best luck I've had with acai has been in freeze dried form . Good luck if you think you're going to get even a smidge of the benefits from a bottle of sugary juice or even an energy bar.
- Fiber: We should consume about 35 grams of fiber each day. The average American, and many of my clients, take in anywhere from 8-12 grams. We need more. Some fiber-filled bars are really good. Others...not so much. If you've been good all day and want to splurge - and happen to find a bar that happens to have an extra shot of fiber, go for it, but don't substitute these bars or sugary cereals for the real deal: vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
- Yogurt: Maybe it's the mom in me, but I notice yogurt as an ingredient in a lot of things that might otherwise not be so bad. For instance, almonds are an good snack food. If you're in an absolute pinch, raisins are even ok in small amounts. But when they're slathered in super-sugary yogurt knocks them down from the "good" category to "poor." They're essentially the same as candy. Keep in mind, plain yogurt isn't quite the same as the yogurt used to coat almonds or raisins.
- Energy Drinks: Very rarely does anyone need to consume an energy drink. Often times you'll end up drinking something that 's closer to a soda with a little sodium in it (packaged as electrolytes). Generally speaking, if you're working out more than 90 minutes non-stop, you might need to refuel with a something. Instead of reaching for a Red Bull, consider packing a a healthy protein snack or drink instead.
- Protein Bars: I can't say I don't eat protein bars. On occasion I do, but they don't contain soy. Soy is not a healthy food, but is ardently marketed as one. Two of the biggest crops in the US are soy and corn. Unfortunately, a vast majority of those crops (95%+) are genetically modified. It's highly likely that the organic soy on the market has been cross-contaminated with the genetically modified version. Genetic modification aside, no other culture (including Asian cultures) consume soy the way we do. So much of the soy we eat has been chemically-derived. Some experts suggest eating a "small" amount of soy is ok. Unfortunately, soy is omnipresent in nearly all packaged foods that aren't specifically labeled as "soy-free." My advice, if you can find a protein bar that is soy-free, ok - great! Here are a few companies that make such bars. Organic Food Bar, Perfect Foods Bar, Vega Whole Food Bar. Note: these bars may contain Omega 3s or flax seeds. They've been cold-pressed, which prevents oxidation of the oils in them. Just in case you were wondering.:)
I'm not a perfects eater, but I am very good. I try to eat healthy most of the time, but strictly reserve that padded 20% for my grandma's baked brie wrapped in filo with cranberry sauce around the holidays, the scoop of ice cream on a hot summer Saturday, and of course, the ocassional glass (or two) of wine. After all, I'm not crazy.
It is, however, incredibly important to pay attention what goes in my body - and my family's - most of the time. Less ingredients vs more goes a long, long way.
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