If you’ve noticed lately, there has been a surge in the number of “health foods”. Heart healthy oils, low fat dairy, high protein eggs, magic berries and more are on the rise. Just about 50 years back, this wasn’t the case. Back then people just ate food. Eggs were eggs, butter was butter and milk was milk. There weren’t ad campaigns and commercials talking about how a specific ingredient or a particular food protected you against disease or made you healthy. Why? Because it isn’t true.
Just like there is no magic bullet or Santa Claus, there is no one food that can magically fix all your health issues. Every food item has something good in it and that is why it is classified as “food”. And it ends there. But food manufacturers stretch this too far in order to sell. Either they highlight only the nutrients (beneficial components) and hide the anti-nutrients (detrimental components) in their food product or they make ingredient related inferences that aren’t accurate.
Take breakfast cereals for example. You see on the box in big beautiful letters, phrases like “with real fruit!” It is true that it contains bits of real (dehydrated or freeze-dried) fruit, but it also contains a truckload of sugar and a few too many preservatives, additives and chemicals. Of course these are printed on the box too, but not in big colourful block letters on the front but in fine print somewhere in the back or the bottom of the box. This can be “misguiding”.
Take a product that says “with the real goodness of milk!” Milk contains nutrients that are good for you. But does this mean that every food product that contains milk is healthful? Absolutely not. Why? Because a food item may contain milk (say, milk chocolate), may also contain a host of other ingredients that are detrimental to health.
Realise that all food products are made using real food and hence contain something that is beneficial but they may also contain a hundred other components that are detrimental to your health which makes the net effect of the food negative. So next time, when you buy boxed foods, be sure to get the full story. Turn the box around to read the ingredients and look for the following.
The lesser the total number of ingredients, the better. If a product contains more than 12 ingredients, throw it out.
The first few ingredients matter more because ingredients are meant to be listed based on percentage composition. If the first five ingredients aren’t healthful real foods, you might as well skip what is inside and eat the box.
The word “sugar” may appear only once but watch out for the aliases. Maltose, dextrose, glucose, honey, cane sugar, caramel, syrups, dextran, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, sucrose etc. They’re all sugar and are equally notorious.
If you see agents, chemicals, numbers or ingredients you don’t recognise, it belongs in a lab or in the trash, whichever is closest.
Forget the latest superfoods and pseudo health products. Eat “real” food instead. Organic produce, pre-soaked lentils and legumes, free range meat and eggs, farm fresh dairy and fermented grains are, and always will be, the real deal.
Always remember — food is cooked in a kitchen and served on a plate. Not made in a lab and sold in boxes. Keep the old style grocer close and the new age food manufacturer afar and you won’t need your doctor on speed dial.
(The writer is a certified nutrition and fitness expert.)