Ever hear someone mutter healthy mumbo jumbo and it makes you cringe inside? Welcome to my top 10 pet peeves when it comes to health and nutrition. If you think these are healthy, think again.
Don’t fall for this popular nonsense. Take a look at these 10 misconceptions:
Natural is the same as organic. Not even close. “Natural” can still refer to minimal processed foods. Your “all-natural” blueberry yogurt does not guarantee it will have real blueberries in it. That mysterious “natural flavors” label might as well read “artificial chemicals for your flavor enjoyment”. Companies are getting smarter by using words like “all-natural” and “wholesome” for products that can still contain corn syrup, modified starches, and additives. Organic foods, on the other hand, have legal implications and must follow a set of strict processing, handling, and production standards determined by the USDA. These foods are generally free of pesticides, chemicals, and preservatives.
Rule of thumb: How do I know if the food I’m buying is organic? Look for the seal of approval.
Gluten-free is healthier for me. Only if you have a gluten intolerance. This one drives me nuts. I don’t get it. Unless you have celiac, an intolerance, or have been told by a medical professional to follow a gluten-free diet, don’t put yourself through that. Trust me, most of us who have to be gluten-free would rather eat gluten! Truth is, many gluten-free foods are still highly processed, loaded with starches, and low in nutritious value. Gluten-free foods can wreak just as much havoc on your system as eating gluten in the first place!
Rule of thumb: If you still enjoy the thought of being gluten-free, choose foods that are naturally gluten free (oats, buckwheat, rice, produce, etc.). Browse some gluten-free recipes here.
Superfood means super healthy. Superfood, shmuperfood. I don’t buy it. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no one miracle food. If there was, we wouldn’t need such a wide variety of nutrients and vitamins. Or have a variety of tastebuds, for that matter. Sure, certain popular foods do have their health benefits. But so do a lot of other foods. Goji berries may be packed with phytochemicals, but so are blueberries. You don’t see anyone jumping on the blueberry bandwagon. That’s because blueberries aren’t exotic and can’t be sold for $15 a pint.
Rule of thumb: A balanced diet will do you more good than consuming a few superfoods in excess! So what should you eat if you want to be healthy? A chocolate-kale-coconut-goji-berry-chia seed-acai-red wine smoothie sprinkled with turmeric, of course.
Raw foods are more nutritious than cooked. Not always. While some foods are more nutritious when eaten raw (like broccoli), others need to be cooked in order for you to benefit from their nutritious value. Carrots, asparagus, cabbage, mushrooms, tomatoes, and spinach all release their vitamins when cooked that you otherwise would not receive in the same degree if you ate them raw!
Rule of thumb: Have a bit of both in your diet!
Decaf means it’s caffeine free. Not even a little. If you think you can avoid caffeine by drinking decaf, think again. As a barista, I had to warn people that decaf coffee still has traces of caffeine. One cup of Seattle’s Best decaf coffee can have up to 29 mg of caffeine. And while “decaf” refers to the process of removing caffeine, “caffeine-free” means the original source never had any caffeine to begin with.
Rule of thumb: If you want to be caffeine free, go for the stuff that’s free of caffeine.
Non-dairy, dairy free and lactose free are all the same. Yeah, no. These terms are frequently tossed around but knowing the difference is important if you have food sensitivities! Non-dairy generally refers to a dairy substitute (like creamer) but can still contain dairy proteins like casein and whey. Dairy free is an unregulated term referring to products that are supposed to be just that. Lactose free refers to a product that has removed the dairy sugar, lactose, but may still contain dairy proteins. It’s also possible for foods labeled “lactose free” to include the added enzyme, lactase, to help you digest the dairy sugar.
Rule of thumb: Always check labels and ingredients!
“Lactose intolerant” means I must avoid all dairy. While we’re on the subject, no. Being lactose intolerant means you are unable to digest the sugar, lactose. But just because it’s in the dairy food group doesn’t mean it has enough lactose to cause problems.
Rule of thumb: Choose dairy foods that are low or virtually free in lactose. These include butter, sour cream, and hard cheeses (swiss, cheddar, parmesan, mozzarella, etc.). Check out some of my low lactose recipes here!
If I have a food sensitivity, I must be allergic. Negative. A true allergy is an entire immune response while a sensitivity is usually contained to the digestive system. Not to say you don’t have real symptoms but here’s the difference: My cousin and I both struggle with the same food. When I eat corn I may experience symptoms like bloating, pain, indigestion, and fatigue. But when my cousin eats the same thing, she breaks out into hives, her throat completely swells shut, and she worries about anaphylactic shock. Yeah, not the same thing.
Rule of thumb: You may have a food sensitivity but that does not mean you’re allergic. Don’t confuse people. For the sake of all true allergy sufferers out there, don’t pretend you’re one of them if you’re not.
Fat-free or low-fat is always a better choice. Choosing fat-free dairy or dessert has to be healthier than the full-fat version, right? Wrong. While applauding the food industry for removing the fat in our foods, we still demand that it taste the same. The result? Companies replaced the fat content with other things: like hydrogenated oils, trans fat, high sugar content, and additives. Replacing fat with chemicals is not always a better choice.
Rule of thumb: Fat does a body good. You need it for insulation, transport of vitamins, and energy. So choose low-fat over fat-free or eat full-fat in smaller quantities!
Skipping meals will help me lose weight. Or just make you feel like you know what. Skipping a meal causes your blood sugar level to take a nosedive. Without enough calories for fuel, your body goes into starvation mode to conserve energy. Your metabolism slows and you become tired, cranky, and moody. Enter brain fog. Make a regular habit of missing meals and that weight loss you were hoping for might just be in the form of muscle, not fat, as your body looks for alternative energy sources.
Rule of thumb: Lose weight by eating smart. Focus on eating the right kind of calories instead of counting them; ones that will provide you with essential nutrients needed for optimal health. Quality is more important than quantity. Choose nutritious meals, smaller portion sizes, and exercise!