Health Foods – Good For You or a Rip Off?

You’ve seen the headline grabbers, you’ve seen the advertisements in the supermarkets – “low-fat,” low-sugar,” high fibre,” “natural,” “no added sugar,” etc.  Are they as beneficial to you as they lead us to believe, or are they simply a drain on the purse strings? 

When looking at these products, it’s important to read the actual ingredient list rather than just the claims on the front of the packet or jar.  An interesting example would be that of  humble peanut butter.  The oil in the peanut is the most nutritious bit, but when you buy low fat peanut butter, you are buying the same number of calories but with half the fat, which is usually substituted with sugar.  Eating nuts in their entirity is good for us.  In fact some studies show that people who eat nuts tend to have lower body weight and nut consumption is also associated with a reduction in heart disease.

With regard to high energy drinks, promoted as being able to give you long lasting energy, this is simply nonsense.  They will give a quick burst of energy and then you will hit the deck, so to speak.  The key to maintaining energy is to keep blood sugar stable with a good mix of proteins and carbs, not a massive hit of sugar in one go!  These drinks are of no use to anyone nutritionally and are loaded with calories.   In fact in some areas of the country, the police are so concerned with the sale of these drinks to kids, usually of a Friday night, that they want them regulated in much the same way as alcohol.  Not surprisingly the police report that they cause hyperactivity in these youths which then leads to anti-social behaviour.  The marketing of these products has been very clever in that the kids seem to view them as “super cool” which doesn’t help matters but does show the power of marketing.  Shame it couldn’t be put to better use.

Another worrying trend is the consumption of vitamin enhanced drinks or water.  If one has a varied diet one wouldn’t need to buy these over priced drinks.   In fact they really could be bad for us as recent studies have shown that there is an association between certain commonly used vitamin and mineral supplements and increased death rates!

Instead, drink water!  Out of the tap, filter it, buy it in a bottle if you prefer, just drink it!  Eat fruit, veg, whole grains and nuts.

Meal replacement bars such as Slimfast are deemed “healthy” in the most part by the unsuspecting public, again due to the way they have been marketed.   Truth is, you’d be almost better off eating a chocolate bar!  These meal replacement bars are a calorific minefield mainly made up of sugar with a bit of protein or fibre and if you’re lucky, a few vitamins thrown in for good measure!  AVOID!  Eat a bit of chicken and some veg and you’ll do yourself a whole lot of good!

People get really confused between “wholegrain” and “multi-grain” thinking they are one and the same.  This is not necessarily so.  People who eat whole grains tend to have lower rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancers and are less likely to be overweight compared to those who eat refined grains.

Make sure you select a whole grain such as whole wheat, whole oats or brown rice.  It is also best to eat this as the only grain on the list of ingredients.   Consider eating an egg for breakfast with a good quality sausage, tomatoes and a slice of rye bread.  This would be far better for your health than the vast array of refined starch and sugary breakfast cereals we are expected to buy in the supermarkets.

Let’s have a look at the Go Ahead brand of biscuits.  Their web site says their products are “good” for us and do not contain any artificial colours or additives.  However, they do contain a large amount of artificial sweeteners.  We really would be better off eating a simple digestive or rich tea biscuit once in a while if we fancy it!  One could even stretch to a fig roll every now and then!

The list is endless.  Be careful of baked or “low-fat” crisps.  The are nutritionally poor, full of calories and made from refined grain or starch.  Instead a Ryvita would be a better choice for a snack that can easily be jazzed up with sweet or savoury toppings.

Bottom line is that all of these products are a real money spinner.  Have you noticed the price?!  Stick to the basics and you won’t go far wrong and your body will thank you for it – and your wallet might too!

Helen West, a clinical dietician who works here with me at the Weightmatters practice can help with any questions or help you may require with nutrition.