WWB WATCH: HEALTH FOODS & LABELS
Better late than never right? Nobody wants to be Debbie Downer, but I share this information because I have been a human guinea pig just like you at different times in my life. When I first became a vegetarian over 25 years ago, I experimented with all kinds of foods found in the health food store. There was no Whole Foods yet, and your local health food store was a mini-version of Whole Foods. One of the uninformed mistakes I made, but learned from pretty quickly, was embracing fruit juices and granola snack bars and believing they were healthy. I quickly discovered that many products in the health food store have ingredients that were just as worrisome ( example cane sugar vs high-fructose syrup) as other processed foods in regular supermarkets. High amounts of sugar is a problem, no matter what label is on the product and no matter what store you find it in. As I am not a nutritionist or doctor, I won’t get into it in detail here. I interview many experts in wellness, so you are sure to learn from them if you follow my blog.
The key takeaway today is, ultimately it’s really hard to eat healthy when you are consuming packaged, processed food. I know this is pretty frustrating, because our ‘culture’ runs on fast-food living and we are constantly looking for ‘fuel’ on the go. So to be realistic, if you are going to eat a snack bar because you are starving and have to eat something, then go for it. But just know that it is not necessarily a ‘healthy’ choice. Real fruit like apples, and real nuts, can hold you over much better and also can prevent a host of diseases and chronic illnesses. Even eating a small piece of 70% dark chocolate is a better choice than some processed snacks. I bet that little tidbit lifted your spirits! Just don’t eat an entire bar in one sitting okay!
If the snack bar is your only option, then eat it, but it really shouldn’t be considered a healthy meal replacement. I’m not here to pick on snack bars. I only want to bring to light some commonsense knowledge about the food you are eating. Processed food of any kind has two big challenges. First challenge is to make it tasty to eat. How do they do that? Usually with either generous amounts of salt and sugar or ‘like’ substances. The second challenge is keeping it fresh, which involves additives and preservatives your body doesn’t necessarily need or digest well. Again, sometimes you have to do what you have to do, but for your own health, packaged and processed food shouldn’t be a regular part of your diet. Research from around the world has proven this and our country is just catching up with the latest research. The following story from NPR on the FDA’s updates is a good piece on why packaged foods need to update or remove their claims. As a consumer, I understand the culture I am living in. Just sell me things for what they are. Convenient yes. Treat maybe. Health Food? Not so much!
FDA Is Redefining The Term ‘Healthy’ On Food Labels
So, you’re looking for a quick grab-and-go snack, and there’s a row of energy bars at the checkout counter. Are they a healthy option?
The maker of Kind bars thinks so. The company has used the phrase “healthy and tasty” on some of its products that contain lots of nuts. But, here’s the issue: The bars contained too much fat to meet the Food and Drug Administration’s strict low-fat definition of healthy. So, as we reported last May, the company helped launch a petition to challenge the status quo.
Now the FDA has begun the process of redefining the term “healthy” on food labels. Policymakers are looking for input from food makers, health experts and the public. You can weigh in with your ideas about what factors and criteria should be used for the new definition. (Submit electronic comments directly to the FDA).
“As our understanding about nutrition has evolved, we need to make sure the definition for the ‘healthy’ labeling claim stays up to date,” writes Douglas Balentine, who directs the Office of Nutrition and Food Labeling at the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
So, how has nutrition science — and the thinking about what’s healthful — evolved?
Let’s start with fat. The fat-free era has come and gone. “The most recent public health recommendations now focus on type of fat, rather than amount of fat,” Balentine writes in a blog post for the FDA.
For instance, the type of fats found in avocados and nuts are considered healthful fats. We’re encouraged to eat more plant-based fats and omega-3s from fatty fish, whereas the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting saturated fats — the type of fat found in meat and other animal products — to less than 10 percent of your total daily calorie intake.
The modernized definition of “healthy” will also likely address sugar content. The FDA is taking into account all of the newer evidence linking excessive sugar intake to heart disease and obesity.
“Our thinking about sugars has changed,” Balentine told us, “so I would think the amount of sugar in products is something we [will] take into account.”
In an ideal world, people wouldn’t need labels to signal which food choices are healthful. As nutrition guru Marion Nestle of New York University, tells us, “if people want to eat healthfully, we know how to do that. That’s eating lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.” And she says we should eat packaged and processed foods in much smaller amounts.
“I don’t think we should have health claims [on food packages] at all,” Nestle tells us. “They’re inherently misleading,” because food companies use them as a marketing tool.
But the FDA’s Douglas Balentine pushes back, pointing out that Americans are looking for information on food packages to help them make better decisions.
“The typical consumer makes a purchase decision in three to five seconds. They don’t have a lot of time,” Balentine says. So, he says, an up-to-date “healthy” label will give people a quick way to identify better-for-you options. “We want to give consumers the best tools and information about the foods they choose.”