It seems that every day, there’s a new story promoting healthy foods that you must eat. The list varies somewhat, but typically includes unsaturated oils like olive oil, hummus, whole grains, coconut oil, “natural” sugars, nuts, and dark chocolate. Because we see these lists so frequently, we become convinced that there’s something to these foods. With a few exceptions, these foods do have health-promoting properties and offer healthier alternatives to more traditional choices like refined grains, margarine, etc. But, will making these foods part of your daily routine make you healthier, thinner, fitter…? Ask yourself these questions:
- What should I used this food to replace? A pet-peeve of mine is that many articles promoting healthy foods fail to mention that the health benefits mainly comes by replacing less-healthy choices. Simply adding food to your diet, healthy or not, will do little to take off pounds or improve health if you don’t make changes elsewhere in your diet. So rather than just adding avocado or hummus, use these to replace mayonnaise on your sandwich; cook with olive oil instead of margarine; and choose nuts mid-day rather than chips.
- What is the portion size and calories? An even bigger pet-peeve of mine is that many of these article promote healthy foods as a free-for-all, leaving people to believe that because it’s healthy, calories don’t count. Well, I’m sorry to say, but despite the healthy ingredients, your dark-chocolate almond avocado green smoothie probably packs more calories than many typical breakfast choices. Don’t get me wrong. If starting out your day with an agave-and-peanut butter quinoa breakfast bowl helps you feel more energized and eat less later in the day, then go for it. But what I more typically see is people adding oils, nuts, avocado, whole grains, etc., with no awareness that along with those healthy nutrients, these energy-dense foods packed a lot of calories into a small serving. So be aware of and regulate portion sizes of higher-calorie healthy foods.
- Is it truly a healthy choice? Don’t fall for misleading claims. The term ‘natural’ is neither defined nor regulated so a product labeled natural may still be highly refined or, heck, even synthetic. “GMO-free” and “organic” don’t indicate a food’s nutritional content. Organic sugar is still sugar and nothing else. Gluten is a foe to those with Celiac disease or gluten-intolerance, but if you’re not in this crowd, “gluten-free” products aren’t going to provide you any benefit over gluten-containing alternatives. I could go on, but the gist is, don’t fall for the headlines, be it in on a food package, website, or word-of-mouth.
The best food choices tend to be the ones without labels. Remember, there’s no single food that is going to do magic for your health, especially if the rest of your diet is lacking nutritional-value. A healthy diet is built on a variety of healthy foods – the healthiest of which, tend to be those without advertised claims. Don’t just add healthy foods to your diet; use them to replace less-healthy items. And remember, portion size still matters!