Being a Food Science major and Nutrition minor, I often find myself being asked by friends, family, and acquaintances the question, “Is this healthy?” or, “Is this unhealthy?”
This is a tough question to answer because, the word “healthy” is extremely vague and can provide many connotations. What is beneficial to one’s health more or less depends on what that individual lacks.
According to Forbes Magazine, consumers are demanding more healthy options and are even willing to pay more for foods that are marketed as supposedly “healthy.” Because “healthy” is so generic, many popular health claims are also extremely vague and can sometimes be ridiculous.
Gluten Free, ______ free, etc.
This includes fat free, calorie free, sugar free, etc.
Why are we paying more for foods to not have certain things? Why hasn’t “money free” or “charge free” become a thing yet? Fat free along with gluten free are among some of the most misleading food labels on the shelves.
Huffington Post explains that even many gluten free people do not even know what gluten is. Why do people avoid things when they don’t know what they are and what they actually do to their bodies? Unless you have Celiac disease, gluten should not be a concern.
I always say, the only food, if it is considered a food, that we can relatively get completely free, is water. Water is gluten free, sugar free, calorie free, protein free, GMO free, fat free, carbohydrate free, and usually free of charge.
Fat makes you fat, right?
We actually need some dietary fat for certain vitamins to be absorbed into our bodies. For example, milk and many dairy products have fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A,D, E, and K) which cannot be accessed by our bodies without fat, so fat free dairy isn’t the most functional for our bodies after all.
In addition to nutrient absorption, fat directly affects serotonin levels, the hormone that makes us feel happy, in our brains. Eating enough fat is essential for maintaining a positive mood.
Nothing about how humans live is natural! We seem to be the most uncomfortable species on this planet. We build boxes that we call buildings to spend time in, boxes that we call vehicles to transport ourselves in, boxes to store our belongings, and seem to do everything in our power to keep nature out.
A food product in itself is already unnatural for a multitude of reasons. I don’t see a nice ripe bag of potato chips ready to be picked off of a tree to be eaten. Just like health, “natural” is also a highly relative term and when used in a claim, we can never be too sure what it actually means. Even the FDA cannot define what natural means on a food product.
A lot of products claim to have “whole grains” but often have the whole grains so processed or mixed with a plethora of other processed ingredients, that the end product has the nutritional equivalent to a non-whole grain version of the ingredient. For example, whole wheat pasta does not differ very much in the glycemic index to regular white flour based pasta.
Another point that comes up is whether whole grains are actually better for you. This is another answer that depends. If you need the quick energy such as in preparation for a race, it would not make much of a difference whether you ate brown rice or white rice. You just need the starch and glycogen stores and either choice would provide you with available energy to perform.
So, what does it all mean?
All in all, I believe that “health” is different for each consumer as an individual and he or she should shop based on his or her particular needs. We should all just learn to enjoy our food and stop being so self-conscious about what we eat. Figure out what does our individual bodies good and what doesn’t, and base our diets around that.
Health claims are there to guide us and most definitely not one sided. But one thing is for sure, we need food to stay alive and maintain bodily functions. So remember, no matter what you choose to eat, you will be doing yourself a favor.