ABCs of Nutrition: Stay Informed

You don’t have to be a food expert to be smart about what you’re eating, but sometimes it can be challenging to recognize information you can trust. Not only is there something in the news almost daily about cures and/or causes of various illnesses, there are also misleading health claims on a range of products.

Miracle products

I previously wrote about the confusion and disillusion that weight loss diets can evoke. Miracle products are no different in that health claims can lead you to believe your life will change overnight with the help of one bottle, pill or sip!

There many types of products which making promising claims for your health and well-being, including cleanses, drinks (e.g., aloe vera juice, coconut water, pomegranate juice), vitamins and other supplements. If one of these products is helping you feel and/or look better in some capacity, then don’t alter your routine. But also remember: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. After all, diets and miracle drugs generate over $160 billion in revenues annually, so someone is making lots of money by convincing you to buy and use these products.*

Food labels

The USDA has created a food labeling system which is meant to keep consumers well-informed about what they are eating. However, it’s easy to get lost in serving sizes, recommended portions (e.g., of vitamins, macronutrients) and lengthy ingredients lists. Be sure to read through the information carefully and look for information traps. For example, added sugars are not differentiated from natural ones (e.g., in milk or fruit) when carbohydrate grams are listed. You have to read through the ingredients lists and know which types of sugars are typically added to foods through processing, such as high-fructose corn syrup, lactose, corn sweetener and even honey.**

When in doubt, eat healthy, whole foods. As Dr. Robert Lustig, author of Fat Chance, says: “The more you’re reading labels, the more you’re buying garbage anyway.”*

Food claims

Nowadays, it’s hard to find a food product that doesn’t have a claim on the package. There’s everything from low-fat to low-sugar to low-calorie. There’s all-natural and natural and organic. There’s caffeine-free and sugar-free and the highly popular category – gluten-free.

Again, if you embrace a balanced diet, controlling portion sizes and eating in moderation, you may not need to worry about whether something is “free” or “low.” And just because it’s all-natural or low-fat doesn’t mean you should over-consume.

The moral to the story is….

Make sure you know how to read food labels, understand food and product claims and can differentiate what organic foods might be worth the investment. Whole foods are always a healthier alternative to processed foods, and there are plenty of options that won’t break the bank.

Books, classes and registered dieticians are few beneficial resources if you wish to learn more. If you are researching online, keep an open mind to a vast array of opinions.

Sources:

*Lustig, Robert. “Fat Chance.”

**http://lowcarbdiets.about.com/od/whattoeat/a/sugars.htm

Image courtesy of Guild Mortgage.

Melinda Hinson