Monday, March 26, 2012

Healthy is not a woman eating cereal in yoga pants...

adj \ˈhel-thē also ˈhelt-\
: enjoying health and vigor of body, mind, or spirit : well 
Why do so many people let marketing and advertising ploys tell them what healthy is? Guess what, that 30 something white woman with perfect skin and a veneer smile sitting in yoga clothes on her living room floor enjoying diet smart cereal probably more than she enjoys sex has likely never actually eaten a bowl of whatever cereal she's promoting. She's a paid actress and doing a damn fine job convincing the American public that she in fact got that amazing body, skin, teeth and hair simply by over enjoying that bowl of obnoxiously crunchy cereal. That commercial in combination with some fancy lettering on the cover of the box and a prescription style checklist of 'ingredients' like high fiber and whole grains leads you to believe that you are making the best choice of your life by purchasing this cereal and eating it every morning.  If a company has to spend millions to convince you the product is healthy, there is a really good chance it is not a good choice at all.

Taking the step to decide for yourself what is healthy is very empowering. If you really care about your health and the health of your children or loved ones then read the ingredients list and know how to read nutrition labels. Education is the most effective weapon anyone can have to fight obesity.

The grocery aisle is a scary and confusing place. It has taken me years to learn the technical language of the ingredients list and I am still confused from time to time. Thankfully there are many resources that can help you navigate your way through the artificial jungle and help you make healthy choices.

There are 4 things to consider when buying food at the grocery store: 
  1. If it doesn't have a label it is good for you. Keep the dirty dozen and clean 15 in mind when choosing produce, but for the most part fresh fruits and vegetables are always a good choice and you do not need a label to prove it.
  2. Daily nutritional requirements. Yes there are all natural, organic choices that just exceed your daily nutritional requirements. Read the nutrition information and take note of the suggested serving size. I tend to scan first to the calorie count, then to sugars and finally to sodium. Some fats are good so don't shy away from a product just because it isn't fat free, it should all contribute to your overall daily nutritional requirements as part of a well balanced diet.
  3. Actual ingredients list. If you stop at the nutrition information you're still missing a lot of key factors when deciding if a product is healthy or not. A diet coke may check out ok as far as nutrition labels go, but is a terrible choice for your overall health. It is crucial to familiarize yourself with potentially dangerous sweeteners, preservatives and artificial colors and flavors and avoid these at all costs.
  4. Everything in moderation and balance. Too much of anything is never a good idea. A wide variety of nutritious foods will give you the necessary vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay healthy and strong.
An app to help you along the aisle

Fooducate iPhone App
I know there are several apps now available to help you understand nutrition labels and translate ingredients and I will be honest I have not tried all of them, but I am very fond of this one. Fooducate goes beyond just reading labels and helps you decode the advertising on the front of the box with warnings such as "'Natural' is an unregulated term!" or "Look out! Not 100% whole grain." You can also view comments that other people have submitted about the product and add products to your own grocery list. Fooducate gives me resources and information on controversial ingredients like BHT which is an additive used as a preservative. This app will also recommend products that are similar to your choice but may have received a higher overall grade. Best of all it was free.

Eating is all about choices and does not have to make your life miserable. There is always a 'clean' alternative to the junk food you love the most. Educate yourself.


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