What Do We Really Know About Food?
Throughout history just about every other food or drink in the alphabet from abalone to zinfandel has been claimed to have health benefits. While some of these foods are easier than others to identify as being healthy, good marketing and bad science often blur the line between foods that promote health and those that just promote sales.
If It’s All-Natural Then It’s Safe
Just because something is natural does not mean it is good for you. Many substances such as anthrax, cyanide and cobra venom are all-natural, but that doesn’t mean they’re safe for human consumption. Granted, all-natural products are probably the healthiest food products you will find, but a product’s “all-naturalness” is not the determining factor in whether it’s healthy or not.
Other more important attributes of a food are its freshness, how it was grown or processed and how far it traveled to get to you. For example, a rotten apple, an apple drenched in natural pesticides and an apple from halfway around the world are all considered “all-natural,” but none of them are going to be as nutritious as a fresh apple from a local, organic and sustainable farmer.
If It’s Organic Then It Must Be Good for Us
Michael Pollan adroitly explained in his best-selling book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” that even organic can be done poorly. For example, he mentions that cows who eat organic corn will produce organic beef, but then astutely adds that cow’s evolved to graze on grasses, not on corn.
Even if the corn is organic, it leads to decreased omega-3 fatty acid content in the meat and a less healthy lipid profile of the cow’s fat stores when compared to an organic grass diet. Organic produce can also be covered in environmentally unfriendly organic pesticides. However, when organic is done correctly it can decrease pesticide exposure and reduce environmental impact compared to conventional techniques, and also give people the peace of mind that their food is close to what nature intended.
If It’s In The Health Food Store Then It Must Be Healthy
People are often tricked by deceptive marketing techniques. For example, a person consuming a store-bought vegan dessert made of nuts, sugary fruits and vegetable oils may think she is eating something healthy, when in reality she is still consuming a high-calorie dessert. The vegan dessert may be more nutritious than a traditional dessert, but it isn’t really promoting health like a health food should, it is just less harmful than a conventional dessert.
Baked chips and fruit juices also fall in this category of deceptive health foods. They are healthier options than deep-fried chips and soda pop, but they are still processed foods that are high in carbohydrates and calories, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain and associated metabolic disorders.
You Can Believe The Food Labels
Food labels only tell a little bit about a food. They tell about the food’s ingredients, but not usually in the exact amounts. Food labels also describe a food’s macronutrient profile protein, fat and carbohydrates and some of its micronutrient profile vitamins and minerals but food labels have limited space on them and understandably cannot fit all of the information about a food.
However, sometimes the most important information regarding the health and nutrition of a food is the information that is not on the label. For example, the phytonutrient profile, pesticide content, genetic modifications and processing techniques used are all absent from a traditional food label; but this information is vital to making an informed decision about your food choices.