Friday, August 26, 2011

Beware of “Healthified” Versions of Junk Food

Because of the big push from the government to make Americans healthier and prevent obesity, food manufacturers and restaurants have started reformulating old recipes and creating new “healthy” products to sell. Most of the changes have been positive; for example, decreasing the amount of hydrogenated oils (trans fat) and sodium used to prepare certain foods. However, many food manufacturers have taken advantage of consumers by tricking them into thinking that certain junk foods are healthy by fortifying them with certain nutrients. They know most people like sugar, fat, and sodium, so why not fortify foods high in those components with nutrients that are lacking in the American diet and market them as “healthy”?

Junk + fortified with nutrients= recipe for successful sales

Kellogg's Pop-Tarts 20% Daily Value Fiber - Frosted Strawberry, 8 count box (Pack of 6)The most popular additive to a food to make it sound healthy is fiber. Think about it, food companies are now selling brownies with fiber, high-sugar cereals that contain fiber, ice cream with fiber, candy with fiber, etc. If someone sees that an otherwise junk food is high in fiber they might mistakenly assume it is made with whole grains and other nutritious ingredients. On the contrary, most of these products are made with refined grains and sugars and just have added inulin or chicory root extract as the fiber. So basically, it’s like eating a piece of birthday cake and taking a Metamucil and thinking that’s healthy. Similarly, beverage companies sell high-sugar carbonated beverages but fortify them with 1000% of your daily value of certain vitamins and minerals so they can be marketed as a nutritional supplement… and therefore, “healthy.”

I have met dozens of people that eat a diet low in fiber and most major vitamins and minerals (i.e: low in fruits, veggies, whole grains, dairy), but tell me they take a multivitamin and Metamucil everyday- so they’re okay, right? Some people believe if they take a calcium pill, they don’t need to eat any foods that naturally high in calcium. Basically, they may eat a 2,000 calorie diet full of junk, but take supplements to make up for it. While supplements can make up for certain lacking nutrients, I, and most health professionals, always recommend obtaining all your nutrients from real food. If you consume >2,000 calories it is easy to get all your nutrients from natural food sources. At calorie levels <2,000, it is possible, but usually takes lots of planning and analysis (which can be done by an R.D.) to ensure you are getting all your nutrients in.
Fiber One Chewy Bars, Oats & Chocolate, 5-Count Boxes (Pack of 12)
The majority of reputable studies on possible health effects of certain nutrients are done by epidemiological, or population, studies. Yes, fiber is known to benefit colon health and may help to prevent diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other costly diseases. ). However, the populations studied have high fiber diets because they eat natural foods with naturally occurring fiber (whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds). The nutrients and phyto-chemicals found in natural foods are what keep these people in good health, not just the actual fiber.

MY RECOMMENDATION: Don’t fall into the marketing scams. A food is not “healthy” if it is made with refined grains, added sugars, and a bunch of ingredients you can’t pronounce…. even if it has added fiber, or is fortified with loads of vitamins and minerals. Stick with foods that you know are good for you: 100% whole grain bread, nature’s dessert: fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy, soy, beans, nuts, seeds, etc.


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