What do we consider "healthy"? Is it instant porridge and orange juice for breakfast? Organic cookies? Salmon salad? Yogurt with fruit? Vegan, gluten free or low fat?
Unfortunately the word HEALTHY is fashionable nowadays. We hear the word healthy so often, that we are no longer sure what is healthy anymore. Or even worse, we consider healthy products that they are not.
It is very easy to get lost in the jungle of “healthy” information, especially when food manufacturers are manipulating it so often. But once we know the food nutrition basics, we will no longer be confused of fooled.
Most often we consider healthy:
Organic farming relies on practices and regulations designed to minimize the human impact on the environment, very strict limits on chemical synthetic pesticide and synthetic fertilizer use, livestock antibiotics, food additives and processing aids and other inputs, prohibition of the use of genetically modified organisms.
According to European Union regulations, every time you buy an organic apple from your local supermarket, or choose an organic wine from the menu at your favorite restaurant, you can be sure they were produced according to strict rules aimed at respecting the environment and animals. This is clear. Organic is good for us. Every time, if possible, we go for organic. But are there any dangers?
Yes, there are. And the biggest danger’s name is Sugar. I was sure – when I buy from the ORGANIC shelf, I don’t have to look through the labels anymore. And I was wrong. It’s all good with the organic fruits and vegetables, but when talking about Organic product, you have to be careful. No surprise that organic cookies are packed with sugar, but I was shocked to know, that my favorite organic yogurt contained 35 grams of sugar and starch!
Same with other processed organic foods – if oil is organic, it’s good, but if it's refined, organic doesn’t matter anymore. If we see a cake or pastry made with organic margarine and sugar, it’s the best to skip it.
Homemade is often a synonym for healthy and it should be! We all enjoy dinner or lunch in a restaurant to try something new and to be inspired, but only when we prepare meals at home, we can be sure about ingredients and their quality. Homemade food saves money, allows us to choose ingredients, avoid added sugar, food allergies and sensitivities, ensure, that food is fresh and nutritious.
It all depends on what we cook. Homemade food can be as dangerous to your health as fast food if you use poor quality ingredients, deep fry on refined oils, use GMO containing products, sauces and spice mixes packed with additives and flavor enhancers, add sugar, white flour, margarine – this is no longer a healthy meal.
Gluten free products became a massive business. It was created for people with the celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, so the main goal for gluten free products was to replace gluten. But tricky thing is that gluten gives stickiness to a dough, pleasantly chewy texture to pastry, allows to form crust. And it is not easy to replace. Often various additives, sugar, starches are used. So gluten free products were not created to be healthy, but just to be gluten free.
This doesn't mean that gluten free products cannot be healthy. There are many great brands on the market. Just you have to be careful and read the labels. And the best thing is to choose naturally gluten free products.
Sugar free products are becoming very popular. But they are still sweet and various sugar substitutes are used. Some of them are very dangerous to our health so we have to stay alert every time we see “sugar free”.
Most dangerous sugar substitutes are aspartame, saccharin, neotame, acesulfame potassium and sucralose.
Sugar alcohols – Erythritol, Maltitol, Mannitol, Sorbitol - aren’t absorbed well by the body and cause an allergic reaction for those who have a sensitivity to it. In addition, it has gastrointestinal side effects that include bloating, gas, cramping and diarrhea. You may not have these side effects, but you better don’t over use sugar alcohols.
Stevia is considered to be the safest sugar substitute as it comes from natural source – stevia plant leaves. But there are some reports that stevia is affecting women’s menstrual cycles. The concern is that stevia is highly processed. Basically it is quite safe to use small amounts of stevia, just don’t overuse it.
So the best thing is to go for the moderate amounts of naturally sweet things – dates, maple syrup, honey, fruits.
Low fat/Low calories
Low fat myth was very popular for a long time based on calories counting diets, as fat has 9 kcal per gram and carbs just 6 kcal/g. You can read more about it here and here. The problem is that food’s taste is in fat and when you remove it, food becomes tasteless. Then you have to add taste back somehow, and the best way to do that is to use food additives, flavor enhancers and sugar/glucose. So when you see low/reduced fat product, show extra care reading through the label.
If you have decided to become vegan - that's great. You can find more and more vegan products in stores and there are loads of vegan restaurants and cafes. Vegan products try to imitate usual animal origin products, such as cheese, sausages, yogurts, milk and that is not easy, because a lot of things have to be replaced. And the most common animal based ingredients' replacer is soy. And soy, especially in large amounts, has two dangers. First, 90% of soy is genetically modified. You must always look for organic or non-GMO soy.
Second, soy contains large amounts of biologically active compounds called isoflavones, which can activate estrogen receptors in the human body. This can cause reduced estrogen activity due to the isoflavones blocking the actual, or it can lead to an increased estrogen activity. For women it can cause disruptions of the menstrual cycle, can increase the multiplication of cells in the breasts. For men having significantly elevated levels is not normal. Soy may interfere with the function of the thyroid.
There are also more risks concerning vegan food, which is trying to imitate the usual foods. Food additives, preservatives, flavor enhancers, high sugar / glucose are used to create a regular taste from the tasteless material. Therefore, if you decide to become vegan, change the attitude in general - do not try to restore the traditional animal based dishes (sausages, eggs, bacon, steak or panna cota) with soy and other substitutes. Try new ones made from vegetables, nuts and whole grains, experiment, create new eating traditions.
- Trust organic, but beware of organic products and ready meals – read labels for sugar content, refined oils and starches, avoid fried food
- Prepare your meals at home – this way you can be sure what you eat; choose the best quality ingredients and cook healthy, fresh and nutritious food
- Choose naturally gluten free products and ingredients
- Never use artificial sweeteners, use small amounts of sugar alcohols and stevia and choose naturally sweets things – dates, fruits, honey
- Avoid low fat or reduced fat products
- Avoid GMO soy, use moderate amounts of organic soy