I guess I’m on a theme this month of discussing how easily I’m manipulated by marketing in my shopping choices (first sunscreen, now food). And maybe I need to stand up and admit “Hi, my name is Melissa and I easily fall for marketing schemes that claim to improve my health.” The good news is the older I get, the more I have begun to do the research myself and determine if something is actually healthy and not just advertised as such.
The Temptation + Ease of “Health Foods”
As I admitted above, despite my education and clinical experience, I am no different from the pack and many of my own clients. Many of us have often looked for the next best, shiny thing (diet, supplement, workout) to make us better, thinner, smarter, or happier.
- This ultimately meant trying out Weight Watchers in the 90s, South Beach and Atkins in the early 2000s, and keto and plant-based in the most recent decade.
- From an exercise perspective, our wellness culture became crazy about running back in 2011 when marathoning and the book “Born to Run” became popular, then yoga after that and most recently into the HIIT craze of high intensity combos of running/rowing/biking and strength training.
None of this is “bad” but when it comes to our diet, once we have identified we fit in one of those specific categories (like “keto” or “gluten free” or “dairy free” or sugar free”) it becomes very easy to turn to the processed and marketed foods that go with that category.
- I remember in the 90s eating Weight Watcher ice cream sandwiches or Lean Cuisine pizzas every day after soccer practice, because it was “healthy”- right?
- Or when keto rolled around finding the keto brownie mix at Costco that was loaded with artificial sweeteners but zero net carbs allowed me to still fit in that category but feel like I was “enjoying” or “not depriving” myself.
And honestly, finding products within these categories makes our lives easier. Instead of having to find recipes that are gluten-free, it’s a lot easier to pick up a gluten-free Betty Crocker cookie box. In our busy lives, we crave efficiency and simplicity and marketed, processed items check this box for us.
And, though we probably hate to admit it, identifying with a category can make some of us feel self-righteous about those choices. “What kind of milk would you like in your coffee, miss?” they’ll ask and we’ll reply “Oh gosh, NO dairy milk- do you happen to have soy? Or oat milk? I’m plant-based.”
It feels good to fit in and think that you are treating your body well, but oftentimes depending on the brands you choose and the composition of your meals, you may actually be doing your body more harm than good.
The Problem with these “Health Foods”
Where a lot of us go wrong is we focus on the FRONT of the package and not the BACK (aka the ingredient list). This is how 99.9% of us fall for a poorly-made product.
Here’s a personal example:
- In college, I LOVED Silk Almond Milk, specifically the dark chocolate one. I was dairy-free at the time and was so glad to find a milk that I could use that checked all my boxes. The front of the label claims “50% more calcium” than regular milk and has the Non-GMO label on it…so it’s healthy right? And everyone’s been told dark chocolate is good for us too!
- What I didn’t do is look at the nutrition facts and ingredient list:
- 17 grams of added sugar– which is no surprise given that it is the second ingredient listed on the label, meaning that it is the second highest amount of ingredient in the product.
- Almonds aren’t organic- despite being non-GMO, this doesn’t guarantee that the almonds aren’t grown without pesticides like glyphosate- aka I was likely drinking pesticides with every sip even though I bought organic produce.
- Vitamin + Mineral blend: the added vitamins and minerals to most processed items are usually shitty forms that your body can’t absorb well- this means they can get away with saying it has 50% higher calcium, but that doesn’t mean your body will absorb it
- Added Gums: gums are added to nut milks to stabilize the milk and make it thicker, but gums are very irritating to the gut lining in some people (myself included).
Where do “Whole” Foods Fit In?
I think what’s ironic is that no matter which “category” of diet you fall into, most of them can contain many whole foods from nature. Now personally I don’t identify in any category these days and really don’t love it if my clients do either; however, here are just some examples of how whole foods from NATURE can work for each “diet”:
- Keto? Eat grass-fed meats and pasture-raised eggs.
- Weight Watchers? Many whole foods are “zero” points.
- Plant-Based? Eat plants, not “Beyond Meat” or other soy-fake meat options (I don’t recommend plant-based, just an FYI)
- Gluten-free? Generally can tolerate gluten-free grains + flours, especially cassava, chickpea, etc.
Many of us know the above info, but I think we struggle most with implementation. We have to plan our meals instead of eating out of a box. We have to find good sources for our animal products instead of just buying a fake meat product at the grocery store. We may have to pay more for whole foods and spend more time in the kitchen to have them ready for our meals each day.
My Journey from “Health” to “Whole” Foods
As I’ve mentioned, I used to be the QUEEN of “healthy” processed foods. I am a huge Trader Joe’s fan and would have all of their fake meat products, boxed gluten-free noodles and even Quest protein bars and snacks to check my “healthy” boxes.
But ironically, I was the most unhealthy internally at that time. I struggled with fatigue, chronic gut issues and a messed up thyroid and metabolism. The “healthy” I was eating, the more money I seemed to spend yet the less healthy I became.
Over the past few years, especially having a daughter I started to re-examine just how far from nature the wellness community has gotten:
- We go to juice bars instead of making our own juice at home (and many of those juice bars aren’t using organic ingredients or are adding sugar to the mix).
- We pay for workout classes because we “don’t have enough time” to get outside and garden ourselves- which I have learned is CRAZY good exercise.
- We grab for all these “gluten, dairy, sugar-free” products but with a few tries and a day or two of research could figure out how to make our own nut milk at home or even cracker/chip if we wanted.
I was dairy-free for DECADES but after learning about the healing benefits of raw dairy when my daughter was transitioning to milk after breastmilk, I was tempted to try it myself. And, to my surprise, I tolerate it and raw cheese just fine, but still have issues with dairy if we eat out or are at parties, etc. I have found that the WAY that it is processed (aka pasteurized) is more impactful on my body than the actual product.
I also had a similar experience with gluten-free- I followed that for years, but started to experiment with organic flours and sourdough and didn’t have the same symptoms. I again found the way that it is prepared and grown impacts me more than the label ever did.
Again- this is my OWN experience and I often have clients go dairy and gluten-free during protocols to reduce the burden that these inflammatory foods can have on the body during a season of healing so I’m not telling you to run out and grab all the raw dairy if you in fact know you are still sensitive. My point is that sometimes what we have followed is not always “right” for our bodies.
These days I do a lot more whole cooking- I do have several processed brands that I trust for my family (see my Food Brand Guide download for more info on that) but ultimately I try to make a majority of our food by hand, at home. Yes, this takes a LOT more time and I’m not always the happiest when doing it (LOL), but I’d rather be doing this as I know long-term it is so worth it!
How Can You Get More Whole in Your Choices?
PLEASE don’t get me wrong- I am not out raising my own beef cattle and chickens for eggs (yet anyways!) and we still eat out at least 1x a week simply because I’m exhausted or we’re out and about or have a party, etc.
However, if you have fallen like I have for all the processed goods I encourage you to consider a few things about the way you and your family eats/shops:
- Are a majority of your food/meals grass-fed meat or pasture-raised poultry/eggs, organically grown vegetables, fruits + grains that you make at home? If not, this is the first place to start- eating at home is the #1 way to guarantee the sourcing of your foods and can actually be a lot cheaper in the long-run than eating out or buying “easy” meals.
- Do you know what your “healthy” processed items are ACTUALLY made out of? For the pantry or snack staples you do have at home, do they contain unhealthy vegetable oils, non-organic ingredients, added sugars, gums, or artificial ingredients?
- Do you tend to feel better mentally when you are fitting into a category or do you follow a way of eating simply because you’ve heard it’s good, but may not be good for your body? I think this is a tough one. Things like wheat and dairy can be incorporated for many families if it is raw dairy milk and cheese straight from the far (aka NOT pasteurized) or fermented sourdough bread, especially homemade that has no glyphosate, pesticides and less gluten. I’m not telling everyone to jump on these bandwagons, but if you have been gluten or dairy free simply because it’s “cool” I’d encourage you to re-evaluate.
Confused by All of This?
If this whole topic seems overwhelming or confusing to you, I would encourage you to book a Nutritional Analysis session with me, where we review three days of your eating/brands/choices and decide if it is actually best for your body and circumstances.
Or, if you are dealing with a lot of health issues and nutrition is just one piece of the puzzle, book a Discovery Call with me to discuss possible packages that include the nutrition session plus functional lab testing and a course that goes more into depth on each of these topics.
My goal is to help my clients feel confident around foods and not so easily fall for the claims that marketing makes!