It can be really challenging to make good decisions when you are at the grocery store. It’s hard enough to choose between, virgin, extra virgin, or organic olive oils that are all basically the same, much less decipher the food marketing campaigns companies use to entice you. This is why I’m currently in LOVE with the Fooducate app. It takes out a lot of the detective work that comes along with making healthy choices. (And it’s free!)
You can either scan a bar code, enter it manually, or search for a product by name. Each product in the Fooducate data base is given a letter grade. The really cool part is that each entry gives you the product highlights (both good and bad) so you can easily find the facts about added sugars, trans fats, artificial colors, and misleading serving sizes that food manufacturers don’t necessarily want you to see. You’re also given a list of alternatives you can look for if the original product isn’t really as great as it seemed at first.
I’ve found this app to be especially useful when buying things like cereal and yogurt: products that are always touting their health benefits, maybe a little too loudly.
I’m brand new to this iPhone app thing, so I’d love some comments about any health and fitness apps you like to use!
If a food product is marketing itself as being healthy, it’s generally not. Think about it, do kale, brown rice, and chicken breast have multi-million dollar healthy eating advertisement campaigns behind them? No. But they are all great parts of a healthful diet. Here are some claims and labels you should watch out for:
Fat Free. This does not mean calorie-free, nor does it mean low calorie. In fact, sometimes the fat free version of a product has more calories than the original! Often times the fat has been replaced with added sugars (which can wreak havoc with your weight and blood sugar) and may even have toxic tran-fat replacing some of the naturally occurring fat.
Cholesterol Free. All animal products contain cholesterol, and eating dietary cholesterol has not been linked with high blood cholesterol levels in most people. So what if there’s no cholesterol? Read the ingredients label to see what else is in it.
No High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Great! But there may be tons of sugar in the form of sugar, honey, evaporated organic cane juice, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, dextrose, fructose, or one of the other numerous aliases sugar goes by. Your consumption of added sugars by any name should be limited. Check out the nutrition information!
Gluten Free. Gluten is a type of protein that is commonly found in wheat, barley, and rye. The only people who need to avoid gluten are those with celiac disease and those who have an intolerance to gluten For everyone else, the current explosion of gluten free bread, cracker, and pasta products are not necessary, and will not help with weight loss. Many of the products have significantly more calories than the original. Gluten free doesn’t mean low carb either: rice is gluten free. You would be better off focusing on whole grains and trying to avoid refined flour and products with added sugars instead of gluten.
Natural. This means nothing. There are absolutely no regulations and guidelines for labeling products as natural. At the grocery store, a box of cookies, corn fed beef chock full of hormones, and eggs from chickens dosed with antibiotics can all carry the title of natural.
Organic. There are specific guidelines farmers and producers have to follow in order to call something organic, but that label basically only insures that certain pesticides were not applied to the produce or product ingredients. It DOES NOT mean that it is low calorie, low fat, low sugar, or healthy or not. Use common sense. A organic cupcake is still a cupcake and should be treated as such!
Are there any labels or marketing claims that bother you? Have you purchased something based on the nutrition marketing only to find out you’d been tricked?
The US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services released the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 last week, but it contained few surprises. The report urged Americans to reduce their portion sizes, reduce their intake of refined carbohydrates, added sugars, sodium, and solid fats, and increase their consumption of whole grains, vegetables, and other nutrient dense foods. Overall, it is hard to argue with the recommendations (perhaps except for the HUGE push to consume more low-fat dairy products, even in the face of lactose intolerance) but whether or not Americans will follow them is another story. You can get the full report here.
Some of my favorite statistics included in the report:
Alcohol is the #5 top source of calories for adults! It is right below soda. Grain based desserts like cakes and cookies are #1. Whoa. That’s a ton of calories consumed with no nutritional value. A diet centered on whole grains, fresh produce, lean protein sources, and healthy fats will provide all the health supportive nutrition you need while helping you maintain a healthy weight.
Less than 5% of American adults get the recommended 30 minutes of light to moderate activity a day. Exercise does not have to occur in 1-2 hour blocks in a concrete gym. You can add a 10 minute walk to the end of your lunch break, actively play with your kids for 10 minutes, and add another 10 minute post dinner walk (which will also aid your digestion) and reap most of the health benefits of exercise. This type of activity will probably not leave you with rippling muscles and 15% body fat, but it will lower your risk of all sorts of lifestyle-related diseases.
Solid fats and added sugars account for about 35% (around 800) of the calories the average American consumes every day. A much more reasonable percentage would be somewhere between 5-15%, according to the report. Beverages alone account for about 450 of those calories. Think about this, a pound of fat is equal to 3500 calories. If you cut out 700 of these solid fats and sugar calories (you can even keep some in my hypothetical example!) you could lose 10 pounds in less than 2 months!
What’s your take on the updated guidelines? Do you think they will have any effect on people’s behavior? What about on your own dietary decisions?
I LOVE this marketing campaign!!
A group of carrot farmers has joined together and launched a $25 million ad campaign marketing baby carrots to kids and teens using the tactics of the junk food industry. This story from NPR gives all the campaign details and has the extremely awesome TV ad spot that will be running across the nation.
Will this help increase the disappointingly low consumption of vegetables in America? A report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently stated that in 2009, a dismal 26 percent of adults consumed 3 or more of the recommended at least 4 to 5 servings of vegetables each day. For the record, a serving of vegetables isn’t that large: a cup of leafy greens, a half cup of vegetables, or 4oz of vegetable juice. Vegetables (and fruits) contain numerous vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are vital to optimal health; they also contribute to achieving or maintaining a healthy weight.
How can you get more servings of vegetables into your diet? Continue reading BADASS Baby Carrots
Is honey better than sugar? What about brown rice syrup, maple syrup, or evaporated cane juice? Surely these all must be better options than high fructose corn syrup, right? The answer to that question is very complicated and controversial, but as this article from the New York Times points out, you need to be careful with ALL forms of added sugar in your diet.
I personally avoid high fructose corn syrup even though the research on the dangers of this chemically created sweeter is inconclusive. Even if scientists have not definitively linked HFCS to any more health issues than regular sugar, I feel that its presence in a food item is indicative of other low-quality ingredients that have little nutritional value. A granola bar filled with HFCS is not likely to contain a significant amount of fiber, protein, or healthy fats.
The point I want to stress here is that just because something claims it is natural, organic, or wholesome does not mean that you can eat it in unlimited amounts! Watch your added sugar intake; even natural sweeteners add extra calories and have an effect on your blood sugar (and consequently, your energy) levels!
Tucked inside the giant health care bill Congress passed last week was a small piece of legislation that will require restaurant chains with 20 or more stores to display the calorie counts of their menu items on their boards and printed menus. This move has actually been welcomed by national restaurant industry groups because it will create one federal standard and prevent the patchwork legislation currently being created by individual states and municipalities from spreading. The FDA has a year to craft the guidelines establishments must follow, so you won’t be seeing the the 860 calories next to the California Pizza Kitchen’s innocent sounding hummus starter next time you’re looking for a light appetizer until 2011.
Continue reading 2010 Health Care Bill Section 2572
Do you read the nutrition and ingredients information on the back of the packages you buy? If you don’t, or if you don’t know what to look for, you may be falling into one of the food industry’s greatest marketing traps. Companies know that many of us are trying to make healthy eating choices or be more conscientious about the ingredients in the food we eat. This is why marketers design the front of their packages with words and images that declare their products as all-natural, healthy options with only 100 calories per serving! Turn the box over and you may get an entirely different story. In fact, here you can read an article the New York Times ran in September 2009 about ten giant food companies attempting to mislead consumers in this very way through their Smart Choices program, which gave foods like Fruit Loops and mayonnaise it’s seal of approval. Ultimately, there was enough opposition to the program that many of the companies dropped out, and Smart Choices has yet to reach a supermarket near you.
The FDA currently does not have regulations in place about front of the package nutrition labeling, although after the Smart Choices fiasco, as well as some more recent problems with other food manufacturers, the agency is considering drafting some rules.
In the meantime, here are some things you can do to make sure you are indeed making wise decisions at the market: Continue reading Read the label: You may not be getting what you thought.