The Novice Foodie

Just eating real foods, lifting heavy things and learning about it along the way


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Just because your food is from a health food store doesn’t mean your food is healthy

Stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are great resources for healthy eating. Many products are truly organic, free from artificial ingredients, minimally processed and better for you, unlike many foods found in traditional grocery stores. But simply shopping at a “healthy store” does not mean it’s a free for all. A processed food is a processed food, whether you buy it at Whole Foods or you buy it at Kroger.

This post from Food Babe highlights some specific products at Trader Joe’s that are examples of some unhealthy foods found at a health food store. Like the front of a product’s package, the promises of a store like Trader Joe’s and Whole foods are not necessarily followed through in every product. The best and only way to know for sure if what you’re buying is indeed as healthy as it claims to be is to read the ingredients list.

Don’t get me wrong- Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are some of my favorite places to shop. They have some hard-to-find products that certain recipes call for (often at cheaper prices than a regular supermarket,) and they carry good brands of meats and certified organic produce. But for certain foods (frozen vegetables, for instance) you may be able to purchase an equivalent product at a regular grocery store for less money.

Some good rules to follow when navigating any store:

  • Look for products with the official logos for non-GMO/organic/gluten free. Companies can pretty much claim anything they want out front to get you to pick it up in the store, but they can’t put a certified logo on their product unless it’s true.foodlogos
  • Look for products with the least amount of ingredients. You think those “mixed frozen veggies tossed in olive oil and seasonings” is just that? Think again. Lots of other chemicals and ingredients are included that the front label says nothing about.
  • Shop towards the perimeters of the store. Avoid the aisles with boxes and bags and opt for the fresh fruits, vegetables and meats–items that don’t have nutrition labels at all. A bag of chips at Trader Joe’s isn’t necessarily that much better than a bag of chips from Walmart, so focus on the foods that are worth the trip.
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Nutrition Labels, continued (and a new take on “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”)

Branching off of my previous post, I recently discovered a news clip on Google + Sparks that discussed the nutrition labels companies are beginning to slap on their grocery products. While some products are using this already, (i.e. Kellogg and General Mills cereals,) it seems that there are a lot of ideas floating around but nothing set in stone yet.

Most people realize that package labels can be misleading. Will this nutrition info be misleading, too? As pointed out in the video, there are some definite advantages and important information pulled out front, but there is also equally important info left behind (like Trans Fat).

And the way that this information is presented is inconsistent and dependent on brand, as you can see in the examples shown in the video.

Maybe the next step for the FDA is to come up with a criteria that must be present on packaging, but with enough freedom so as to not limit the branding and design.

Another interesting bit mentioned in the clip was the Traffic Light labeling idea. It seems that the UK never went through with the idea, but perhaps it could be the easiest way to convey information to consumers. While you can always list numbers, adding a color code is a quick and simple way to add meaning to that number. Is X grams of sodium high or low? These are the standards that the FDA and other trusted organizations would have to standardize for labeling purposes.

For example:

Traffic light colour coding, as shown in the image above, tells you at a glance if the food has high, medium or low amounts of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt.

  • red means high
  • amber means medium
  • green means low

In short, the more green lights, the healthier the choice.

“If you buy a food that has all or mostly green lights, you know straight away that it’s a healthier choice. An amber light means neither high nor low, so you can eat foods with all or mostly amber lights most of the time. But a red light means the food is high in fat, saturated fat, salt or sugars and these are the foods we should cut down on. Try to eat these foods less often and in small amounts.”

From http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/food-labelling.aspx#Tr 

And, this just in, New York City has gone so far as to make it a law that fast food restaurants post their calorie information on menus. According to the Reuters article, the British Medical Journal report shows the results of the 2008 law to be promising. As of now, only one in six customers change their dietary habits due to the information, but there are plans to take the law to a national level.

In other news, McDonald’s is taking their own healthy initiatives a step further by creating a nutrition-focused mobile phone app and also requiring apples to be included in Happy Meals. These seem like positive changes for which I have no dispute, but I can see customers feeling less than appreciative of the unwarranted influence on their eating habits.

According to the article, “Although subject to variation depending on what’s ordered, the new meals will represent, on average, a 20% decrease in calories, the chain said.”

As for the app, it will make nutritional information more readily accessible for customers. For this, I see only benefits. It’s accessible if you want it to be. It’s not staring you in the face on the menu, and it’s not directly influencing what comes with your meal. I know I will be downloading.

See more of my favorite apps here.


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“That’s not good for you”

If the whole journalism thing doesn’t work out, I would gladly go to school to become a nutritionist /dietitian. I am continually trying to figure out what really is healthy and what is just an fad. It is very difficult as a consumer to decipher the good from the bad when it comes to foods, unless you want to spend hours in the grocery store reading labels.

For instance, I know that nuts are a great source of protein and generally deemed “good for you.” So, I started eating almonds as snacks (because I am allergic to peanuts.) I now know that almonds are actually high in fat (good fats, but fat nonetheless) and only appropriate in small doses. The better choice would be a walnut, which contains omega 3 and antioxidants.

So, where exactly do I turn for real health information? What is a credible source that can tell me what is actually “good for you?”

The latest in nutrition seems to be organic and natural foods, such as those offered at Whole Foods Markets. The concept makes sense, that the less processed the food product, the less chemicals you consume and the better it is for your body. But beyond that is where I fail to find clear guidelines.

Tips listed on the Whole Foods Market include:

Plant based

  • Simply put, eat mostly plants
  • No matter what type of diet you follow — including those that incorporate dairy, meat and/or seafood — eat more plants, like raw and cooked vegetables, fruits, legumes and beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains
  • Eat a colorful variety of plants to ensure you’re getting the best nutrients for your body, which leads to feeling satiated

Real food

  • Choose foods that are whole, fresh, natural, organic, local, seasonal and unprocessed
  • Eliminate the consumption of refined, highly processed foods and foods void of nutrients, such as artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, sweeteners and hydrogenated fats

Low fat

  • Get your healthy fats from plant sources, such as nuts and avocados
  • Minimize extracted oils and processed fats
  • If eating a diet that includes animal products, choose leaner meats and seafood as well as low-fat dairy products

Nutrient dense

  • Choose foods that are rich in nutrients when compared to their total caloric content; also known as foods with a high nutrient density
  • Build your menus around plant-based foods to ensure highly nutrient-dense meals
  • Choose foods with a wide spectrum of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants
  • Look for the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) scoring system to guide you on healthier choices

The tips have been reiterated countless times, but to really put them into practice takes more than a list of ideas. I am in search of one-on-one, customizable, personal counseling to guide me to healthy eating. Resources I am aware of are of course MyPyramid.gov and the FDA, and Cleveland Clinic Health, however, they do not provide the personalization for my peanut-allergy, fish-loathing, mushroom-and-onion-disliking self.

So, digging deeper into the Whole Foods website, I noticed more specific guidelines for the “20-39 year old woman,” which are as follows:

Protein

Reproductive health and sexual function depend on a healthy diet with adequate nutrient intake, including sufficient amounts of protein.

Protein builds and maintains muscle tissue and helps the body to heal and repair itself.

Protein is found in abundance in fish, beef, poultry, wild game, eggs, dairy products, soybeans, and legumes.

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)

A number of studies have found that B6 relieves PMS symptoms and decreases the intensity and duration of menstrual cramps.9

Not stored in the body, Vitamin B6 needs to be replaced by whole foods or supplements within eight hours. Good dietary sources include meats, eggs, whole grains, leafy greens, nuts, and seeds. Vitamin B6 is generally available in a multivitamin formula or a basic Vitamin B complex.

The RDI for Vitamin B6 is 2 mg per day.

Folic Acid (folate)

An adequate supply of this B vitamin is important for women, in particular during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Studies have shown that supplementation with folic acid around the time of conception can reduce the risk of having a child with neural tube defects.10 Folic acid is also extremely heart-friendly.

Folic acid is found in leafy greens, citrus fruits, beans, and wheat germ, and is generally available in a multivitamin formula or a basic Vitamin B complex.

According to The National Academy of Sciences, all women of childbearing age need to have 400 micrograms daily (600 micrograms when pregnant).

Iron

Many young women do not get enough iron, a critical mineral that can be lost while menstruating.

Iron is necessary for good energy as it increases the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. Fatigue, weakness, pale skin and lips, and a tendency to feel cold may be signs of iron deficiency anemia.

A diet including iron-rich foods (such as, liver, lean red meat, shellfish, and dried beans) may also be complemented by a supplement.

The RDI for iron for women in this age group is 15 mg (30 mg when pregnant).

Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus)

Grown in Mediterranean countries and central Asia, vitex has a long history of medicinal use. Well-respected as a woman’s herb, vitex was recommended by Hippocrates for a wide variety of conditions.

Although it does not contain hormones, vitex acts upon the pituitary gland to increase progesterone production and helps with regulating the menstrual cycle. One study found that women taking vitex have significant relief from symptoms ranging from breast tenderness to cramping and headaches.

Chaste Tree is available in herbal and supplement form.

And on the Cleveland Clinic Site:

If you are trying to watch your weight…

Watching your total caloric intake is important when trying to lose weight. Finding foods high in fiber can help make you feel fuller longer and helps prevent between-meal snacking. Reading food labels for serving size is also an effective measure towards weight loss.

While these tips are helpful, I am still on the look out for straight guidelines about what to eat, like specific foods to buy at the store.

Today, I visited the Whole Foods Market for the first time upon recommendation from a co-worker. Although I enjoyed a place where I know most anything I pick up is probably “good for me,” I was overwhelmed with healthy choices and options. Problems I have with grocery shopping:

  • What specific products should I be looking to incorporate into my diet? So you say ____ is “good for you,” but what is the BEST kind? What, out of the ten options on the shelf, should I put in my cart?
  • What actually tastes good? You say flax seed is “good for you,” but how can I sneak it into my diet in a way that actually tastes good? I have definitely had my share of healthy foods that end up tasting terrible.

I wish I could just have a personal health guru by my side to make me a shopping list of delicious, healthy, affordable products. But until that day, please share any resources to help make good decisions!