Most grocery stores these days have a health food section, full of boxes, jars and bottles of “healthy” fare, along with a whole lot of advertising and labeling on the packaging.
But just because something is found in the health food aisle does not mean it is automatically good for you. In fact, it could be downright unhealthy.
Here are 3 things to be aware of when shopping for healthy food.
1. Foods labelled “No trans fat”.
The good news is, partially hydrogenated oils (which are the main source of trans fatty acids) are close to being declared as not recognized as safe by the FDA after a recent preliminary determination. When the final determination happens, foods with trans fats on them will have to get FDA approval to be sold, and subject to more stringent rules.
Until this is finalized, you should be aware that foods containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fats are allowed to be labelled as trans fat free. Recently, an analysis of several thousand packaged food items by the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene found that 9% of these foods contained partially hydrogenated oils, and more alarmingly, 84% of these foods listed 0 grams of trans fat on their ingredient list.
2. Gluten-free foods.
Gluten free diets are the rage these days. Certainly there are many out there who have Celiac disease or who are sensitive to gluten, and it can be very helpful to have a grocery aisle full of gluten free foods.
However, when buying in to the convenience of pre packaged gluten free food, you may be trading off some health benefits. Gluten free convenience foods are often full of extra fat and sugar to make up for the lack of gluten – a protein found in certain grains like wheat, barley and rye – because gluten adds texture to foods.
Additionally, many gluten free products are made with rice flour, which has been known to have alarming levels of arsenic.
3. Foods labelled Organic/No Antibiotics
Organic food, in an perfect world, would be the ideal. But just because a food is labelled as organic doesn’t mean it is chemical free. Organic farmers are allowed to use certain “natural” pesticides such as copper sulfate and rotenone, and sometimes in greater doses than synthetic pesticides. Unfortunately, these “natural” chemicals have been linked to a wide variety of diseases and aren’t all that much better for you than the other common pesticides that are found on conventional foods in trace amounts.
With poultry, you should know that birds can carry the organic label but may have been given antibiotic injections while still in eggs or on their first day of life. So you should also look for an “antibiotic free” label along with that organic label.
As for antibiotic free food – be aware that unless it comes with a “USDA Process Verified” label as well, you can’t believe the claim 100%, as “antibiotic free” is not an officially approved claim.
So if you’re trying to overhaul your diet, rather than buying a lot of packaged food from the health food aisles, try instead to cook from scratch as often as possible, make sure you really read your labels, and shop local farmers markets for fresh ingredients where you can talk to the farmers and really find out what is in your food.