A Nutritionist Reveals: Things You Think Are Healthy, But Aren’t
The marketing surrounding food products and trends can be highly deceptive - relating a product to great health is a powerful selling tool that is often used. As a consumer, it can be really hard to distinguish fact from fiction. Here are a few foods you might have thought were supporting your health, but are actually low nutrient or high sugar foods hiding behind clever marketing.
Jess: Don’t get me wrong, we love smoothies! They are an easy way to cram a lot of nutrients into a portable meal. However, sometimes the smoothies purchased from supermarkets or cafes are not at all supportive of optimal health. Too much fruit is the number one problem that I see with commercial smoothies. Yes, fruit is full of vitamins and minerals, but it is also incredibly high in sugar (namely fructose). While sugar from whole fruit is fine in moderation, the problem arises when 3-4 servings of fruit are included in just ONE smoothie. Too much fruit at one time can cause a rapid spike in your blood sugar levels, which in turn causes your body to produce a large amount of insulin. This insulin burst can result in the body storing the sugar as fat to be used later (which can be helpful if you’re highly active, but a hindrance to your heath goals if you’re not). This process also puts a tremendous amount of stress on your liver, which is busy enough as it is processing other substances in your body. When choosing ingredients for a smoothie try to limit the amount of fruit used and avoid using extra sweeteners such as honey or maple syrup when you are using fruit. Ideally you want to stick to 1-2 servings of fruit in a smoothie, and where possible use low sugar fruits such as berries, papaya and apricots.
Jess: Muesli bars are a lunch box staple for both adults and children alike, and why not? They are a convenient on-the-go snack, are generally quite affordable and often marketed as a nutritious option. What most people don't realise is that most store bought brands of muesli bars are very high in added sugars, whether in the form of table sugar, honey, corn syrup or dried fruit. Some brands contain as much as 3 teaspoons of sugar, which is half of your daily recommended intake. Try to look for brands that contain less than 5 grams of sugar per bar and are made from whole food ingredients - or even better, make your own at home so you can control the amount and type of sweeter used. Here on Recovering Raw Gem has created some beautiful Super Green Vitality Bites, which are the perfect replacement for store bought muesli bars and also contain spirulina to regulate blood sugar. They also taste amazing, so you win in every way!
Rice Cakes and Crackers
Jess: Rice cakes and crackers are a favourite snack for many people who follow a gluten-free diet or are on a weight loss programme, yet they are actually very low in nutrients. Rice crackers contain carbohydrates, a tiny bit of fibre, and not a whole lot else. They are generally made from white rice, which has had the brown husk removed. This husk is where the majority of the nutrients and protein in rice is stored. If you are choosing to eat rice crackers then look for brown rice varieties, or even better options to look for are crackers made completely from crushed nuts and seeds or gluten free whole grains such as buckwheat.
Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Fat-Free, Vegan, Organic…
Jess: Labels can be misleading and are often used as a deceptive marketing tool. Always look beyond what the manufacturers are telling you and search for what they might not be telling you. Just because the packet states that it is organic, gluten-free, vegan or similar doesn't automatically mean that it is a healthy option. I urge you to become a back-of-the-pack label reader – this means flipping the packet over and looking at the ingredients. When reading the back of the product packaging, all ingredients that you recognize mean it is likely a good option, while numbers, additives, preservatives, and other bizarre, unknown ingredients are all signs that you should put the product back on the shelf. On this note, if the second or third ingredient is some form of refined sugar (white table sugar or agave syrup in particular) then it is a good indication that this product will not support your health. Look for food that is as close to how it comes in nature and has undergone minimal processing.
Foods that are naturally gluten or dairy free will always be better options than foods that have been recreated to be this way. For example, gluten-free crackers and bread are often made using refined flours such as white rice, inflammatory oils including canola and sunflower, gums, and fillers. Regular, high quality bread only contains 3-4 natural ingredients, and for that reason a homemade or bakery fresh loaf of wheat bread is actually going to support your health more than an overly processed, bought gluten free loaf (despite the fact that everyone seems to think gluten is to be avoided at all costs at the moment). There are exceptions to every rule!
Jessica Giljam-Brown (BSc)
Jess is a qualified holistic nutritionist, earning her degree in Human Nutrition from Massey University in Auckland. Passionate about helping people achieve their wellness goals, Jess specialises in: weight loss, acne, thyroid issues, sleep problems, IBS and other digestive issues, food intolerances, PCOS, endometriosis, stress and pregnancy nutrition. She is available for one-on-one consultations. For any questions or to make a booking, please contact email@example.com.