It’s really great that health is a big topic these days. Industry is coming to the table, and we can now buy organic meats and vegetables in supermarket chains, allergy-friendly foods are widely available, and salad bars jostle next to each other in food courts. Yet there is a risk of developing a “health halo” when it comes to certain food trends – believing that what you’re eating is actually healthier than it is. Here are five common food trends that may trip you up. Always be aware of your choices – a varied plant-based diet is a solid foundation.
I find this one particularly irritating. Whenever I see it, I know it means “packed with sugar”. Processed foods sell because they are palatable to consumers, and it is usually fat or sugar that results in this. I saw a packet of marshmallows marked as “99% fat free”. Hot chocolate mixes and snack bars are often touted as being fat-free as well. Soft drinks are technically fat-free too. To avoid this health halo, don’t buy anything in a packet, and get your fat-free foods from the fruit and vegie aisle instead.
Obviously, a gluten-free diet is essential if you have coeliac disease, or true gluten allergy. Many people feel better on a gluten-free diet (I often think this is because they are actually fructose intolerant, and are reacting to fructose, not gluten, in wheat). But many gluten-free foods are high glycemic index foods, which lead to a multitude of problems including diabetes and overweight. So if you’re indulging in gluten-free bread and pasta because you’re feeling virtuous, consider increasing the fiber in your diet and add protein to your meal to lower the glycemic load, and reduce the portions of your refined carbohydrates.
Many vegetarians are actually incredibly healthy eaters – this would seem self-evident as their diets have to be mainly plant-based. A good proportion of vegetarians also choose not to eat animal products for health reasons as well, and are well-versed in eating well. However, lacto-ovo-vegetarians can fall into unhealthy habits just as easily as non-vegetarians. Diets high in white unrefined carbohydrates, with little variety of vegetables, or a dependence on starchy vegetables, and too much high-fat dairy can lead to poor health outcomes. So if you’re a vegetarian who thinks having a McFlurry as a snack and eating lots of white bread with butter is fine because you’re vegetarian and therefore immune to poor health, think again. Include plenty of vegetarian protein in your diet (legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu), vary your vegies, and cut out refined carbohydrates and sugar.
4. “Health” foods.
Many of these irk me as they may not be a lot healthier than other snack foods. They often cater to allergies, not to health per se. And those nut bars that you can buy, masquerading as a healthy snack? It’s great to have nuts in your diet, but slathered in high-fructose corn syrup? No thanks. Buy a packet of nuts instead, and avoid any packaged “health foods”. They’re still just as processed as any other snack food.
5. Asian food.
Ok, this is a bit cheeky, but I put this in because there is a common assumption that Asian food is healthy. Truth is that Asian foods are often high glycemic index foods (hello, rice noodles??) and sauces are high in sugar and salt. E.g. eating teriyaki chicken or sushi ain’t as healthy as we think because of the loads of white rice consumed in each meal, and sugar in the teriyaki chicken sauce and sushi rice seasoning. For healthier options, ask for sauce on the side (e.g. on your Vietnamese vermicelli), cut out the rice, and have sashimi instead of sushi. Some places are starting to make brown rice sushi rolls as well – a change I fully embrace!!
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