You can’t turn on the news, go onto social media, or stroll through the grocery store without seeing extreme health claims made in favor of, or against, certain foods and diets. With new nutrition “buzz” words popping up everyday, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. We want to help you be a smart consumer and learn how to make sound, educated choices when it comes to you and your family’s health. So, what buzz words should signal a red flag? Here are our top 7:
The term “gluten free” is used to describe foods made and processed without gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Originally, gluten free products were created as an alternative choice for those with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that affects about one percent of the population. Over the last decade, there have been multiple articles, books, and “experts” claiming that gluten can have a negative impact on our health, despite the lack of research done to support this claim. In an effort to keep up with this new information, food companies have capitalized on the “gluten free” label, and it’s now slapped on foods that never actually contained gluten to begin with, like juice and yogurt.
Since gluten is the protein responsible for holding bread-based products (like breads, cookies, cakes, and pasta) together, most gluten free alternatives contain extra binders and sugars to try to match the taste of their gluten-filled counterparts. Not to mention, gluten free foods can be up to four times the price! Bottom line: the “gluten free” label can be reserved for those who have celiac disease, or a gluten allergy. For all others, eating a “gluten free” diet has no definitive health benefit.
Luckily, the low fat craze has died down (as other fads have taken it’s place), but plenty of food manufacturers are still sporting a “low fat” label, especially when it comes to dairy, like milk and cheese. The verdict is in, and fat is nothing to fear! Eating full fat versions of all your favorite foods actually provides more health benefits than eating their fat-free or low fat counterparts. When you remove fat from a food, you also remove the flavor; many manufacturers find a way to add that flavor back by adding extra sugar. While sugar is nothing to fear, it’s important to note that these foods are labeled in a way to make you assume they are healthier, or “better” for you, but they are actually about the same in regards to nutritional benefits.
This one is pretty new, and unlike “gluten free” and “low fat” that have strict guidelines they have to follow in order to use that label, the word “clean” is pretty elusive. Many articles use this word to describe foods that are all “natural” and made without artificial ingredients. This word seems to offer up a “health halo”, meaning foods that are described as “clean” might sound like they are healthier, but again, offer no proven health benefits.
This is my least favorite. When the word “skinny” pops up on the front of a food package, likely to illustrate that the food is lower in calories, a big red flag should go up! First, “skinny” does not equal healthy, just like any person’s body size does not dictate their health. Second, since most of these foods are lower in calories, they are usually also lower in overall nutrients, and likely won’t keep you full for more than an hour. Go with the “regular” version and you’ll likely feel more satisfied.
I always joke and say a “super food” should be a food that you think tastes super! Again, this term is used to define a wide range of foods and is not regulated at all. Anyone can label a food as a “super food,” although this term is typically used to describe foods that are concentrated in vitamins and minerals. While there is nothing inherently wrong with foods labeled as “super,” there is also no evidence to support their glorified health benefits. If you happen to like these foods, eat up! If not, there are plenty of other nutritious foods to choose from that suit your taste preferences and nutrition needs.
Food is your body’s main source of fuel! The only reason you should feel guilty for eating a particular food is if you stole it! When a food is labeled as “guilt free,” it implies there are other foods that you should feel guilty for eating. It’s important to remember that food choices are not moral choices. You are not a “good” person if you choose a “guilt free” food, or a “bad” person if you eat something that might be perceived as a “guilty pleasure”.
This word has been introduced to our food system more recently. At first, it was used to describe ingredients that were typically found in more processed foods (like preservatives). This word is just created to instill fear, and promote diets and programs that are supporting specific diets. Yes, of course you should avoid eating or drinking toxic non-food compounds, but as long as you’re getting food from a farmers market, grocery store, restaurant, or food pantry, it is safe to eat!
The bottom line here is, there is no need for labels to dictate your food choices. When you focus on eating for nourishment and enjoyment, you’re able to meet your body’s nutritional needs, while also finding pleasure and satisfaction from your food. It’s a win-win!
What other buzzwords are you aware of? Let us know in the comments below!