Not-So "Healthy" Choices
Sunday, August 8, 2010
LifeTime WeightLoss in Nutrition, Tom Nikkola, all-natural, low-fat, organic, whole grains

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

“No consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking Vitaminwater was a healthy beverage.” So says Coco-Cola attorneys after the company was sued by the Center for Science in the Public Interest for “deceptive and unsubstantiated claims.”(1)  According to a CSPI news release, “the company claims that Vitaminwater variously reduces the risk of chronic disease, reduces the risk of eye disease, promotes healthy joints, and supports optimal immune function, and uses the health buzz words such as ‘defense,’ ‘rescue,’ ‘energy,’ and ‘endurance’ on labels.”(2)  In reality, the drink is little more than sugar water with added nutrients.

With the case against Coca-Cola as strong as it is, it’s likely other companies may face similar lawsuits for unsubstantiated claims. Millions of people at any given time are looking for a way to lose weight, and with over 48,000 products found at a grocery store, it’s easy to be misled by the claims made on many products on store shelves. Below is a brief summary of some label claims you may want to pay more attention to.

Low-Fat / Non-Fat / Fat-Free

As many previous articles (including Low-Carb Beats Low-Fat…Again) have discussed, there has been little to no evidence to show a low-fat diet supports long-term weight loss better than other styles of eating. In fact, there appears to be more evidence to show that low-fat diets create other nutrient deficiencies or may increase overall calorie intake. At any rate, “low-fat” labels are put on foods because there is still a perception that fat is bad. Most of the foods labeled as low-fat have added carbohydrates, often as sugar, and salt to improve the taste from the absent fat.

All-Natural

Some foods are certainly better for you when they are naturally made, but many packaged products labeled as “all natural” contain natural ingredients which are not healthy for you. As an example, many products which have “natural” sweeteners contain honey, agave nectar or pure fructose. The honey used in processed foods (and found in the cute little bear) is highly processed and has a high concentration of fructose, as does agave nectar. Fructose has been connected with a variety of health issues. In a study published this month, it was shown to increase the rate of growth of pancreatic cancer.(3)

Fructose isn’t the only “natural” ingredient to stay away from. Many prepackaged, processed foods can be labeled as “all-natural” but that does not mean they are good for you. As a general rule, if it comes in a box, it probably doesn’t promote health or weight management.

Sugar-Free / Low-Sugar

As people become more aware of the problems with sugar intake, more and more products will be tagged with “sugar-free” or “low in sugar.” While it’s a good idea to limit sugar intake, some of these products may use more complex carbohydrate sources, or sugar alcohols, which will still result in a higher total carbohydrate intake.

Contains Whole Grains

The US Dietary Guidelines call for an increase in whole grain intake. The science behind the need for more whole grains is far from conclusive. In addition, there is a big difference between eating whole food grains such as quinoa, oats and rice, and the small amount of whole grains added to processed foods like bread and cereal. If you’re attempting to increase whole grain intake, do it through whole foods instead of processed foods with added whole grains.

Organic

Organic foods have become increasingly popular. As a general rule, organic whole foods like produce and meats are a better option when they’re purchased as organic. However, a product that has the organic logo on it does not automatically mean it’s healthy. Many organic breads and cereals have a similar effect on blood sugar and insulin as non-organic breads and cereals. If it’s a decision between two similar products, the organic option is likely to be free of chemicals, so it’s a better choice between the two. The main point, though, is that a processed food with an organic label doesn’t mean it’s going to help you manage weight or promote health.

Summary

Remember that packaged foods are made to generate sales. If you’re not well-informed about nutrition and its impact on your metabolism, you may become misled by the label claims on a package. The healthiest foods rarely have much of a package on them at all. Vegetables, fruit, fish, meat, poultry, nuts and seeds don’t come with much advertising space on them. The irony is the foods we’ve been manufacturing in recent years carry label claims to say they are healthy, yet the foods we’ve been eating for millions of years don’t. The more your diet consists of whole foods, the less you’ll need to be concerned about whether it’s good for you.

References:

  1. John Robbins. The Dark Side of Vitaminwater. The Huffington Post. August 8, 2010
  2. CSPI. Lawsuit Over Deceptive Vitaminwater Claims to Proceed. CSPI Newsroom. July 23, 2010 (http://www.cspinet.org/new/201007231.html)
  3. University of California - Los Angeles. "Pancreatic Cancers Use Fructose, Common in the Western Diet, to Fuel Their Growth." ScienceDaily 5 August 2010. 8 August 2010 (http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2010/08/100803092150.htm)

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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