Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Nutritional Buzzwords That Can Lead You Astray

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Chances are that if you’ve gone grocery shopping lately, you’ve seen food products labeled with terms like “organic”, “natural”, or “fat-free”. And chances are these items gave you a moment’s pause because they made you think they were healthier than their counterparts. Simply put, food manufacturers just want you to buy their food. They use these words in order to seduce health-conscious consumers. To this day, food companies employ numerous catchphrases to sell products on the grounds of health and nutrition. However, these terms can often be misleading and when you get down to it, what do they actually mean?

1. Organic. Perhaps one of the biggest culprits. “Organic” simply refers to the methods in which crops, livestock, and ingredients are produced for consumption, and the USDA has strict standards on what can be deemed as organic. While organic food can have many benefits, it does not always equal better nutrition. Organic cake is still dessert and high in calories. Don’t let that word fool you when the product might be high in sugar, sodium, or other ingredients best avoided.

2. Natural. The FDA has no regulations on this term and therefore it can mean ANYTHING. It could simply mean that a farmer recited prayers over the crops! However, marketers utilize this buzzword because it implies a sense of simplicity and originality, of nature and well-being. In reality, the products deemed as “all-natural” are often high in fat and calories and the opposite of healthy. Thus, the takeaway is to carefully read the label and nutritional content.

3. Whole. I guess this means our other foods are half? When referring to grains, you actually want that term in the label; it refers to a food containing the entire grain seed. Many products such as “multi-grain” bread, although thought to be healthy, contain grains that have been refined and stripped of their nutrients. The key is to look for whole grain, or even more specifically 100% whole grain, because without that percentage designation, you would have no way of knowing how much whole grain went into the final product.

4. Fat-free. I always laugh when I see gummy worms labeled as fat-free. While that may indeed be true, they don’t necessarily translate into a good, heart-healthy snack. Like gummy worms, there are multitudes of other products labeled as “fat-free” or “low-fat” that are loaded with sugar and added chemicals to make up for the absence of fat. Your body actually needs healthy fats to thrive and the only ones you should stay away from are trans fats, hydrogenated fats, and excess amounts of saturated fats.

5. Energizing. There are hundreds of “energizing” products available that claim to give a natural and safe boost of energy. The phenomenon of energy drinks is one such example that has been hugely successful. However, most of these products get their impact from extremely high levels of sugar and caffeine and leave you feeling energized only for a short while before you come crashing down and need another dose of energy. For more natural energy boosts, try exercising, taking a power nap, or eating a healthy snack.

6. Cholesterol-free. The FDA defines this as foods with lower than 2 mg of cholesterol per serving and 2 g or less of saturated fat per serving. Cholesterol is naturally found in animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs, and can contribute to heart disease if consumed in excess. But guess what? Most products advertised as “cholesterol-free” don’t have any to start with. Bottom line, don’t let that phrase hoodwink you into buying a product and thinking it’s healthier.

7. Healthy. A very ambiguous term. What someone deems healthy may be radically
different in the eyes of another. Furthermore, I’m of the opinion that if someone is trying to convince you that a product is healthy, it’s most likely not. But like “natural”, this buzzword can mean numerous things and therefore offers little value.

8. Fresh. Subliminal messaging at its best! I don’t know of any food producer who sells old and used products by default. Don’t let a label tell you what’s fresh and what isn’t-use your own judgment.

The bottom line is that marketers in the food industry have jumped on the health train and utilized many tactics to entice health-oriented consumers. Other buzzwords I did not elaborate on but which are just as deceptive are “gluten-free”, “simple”, “superfood”, “light”, and “diet”. All of these terms are intended to make a product seem healthier and worth buying; that’s why we, as consumers, must outsmart the industry at its own game. We know the purpose behind these health catchphrases and can make choices based on our own knowledge.

Written by:
Morgan Garrison
Student at UT School of Public Health

[image sources: flickr/vvonstruen; flickr/charlotte90t]

Monday, March 23, 2015

Shopping the Grocery Sales!

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Looking for a way to save a little more cash?
Want to plan some meals but don’t know where to start?
Or would you like to challenge yourself to be more creative with your meals?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Women on Working Out: Gyms vs. Group Camps

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This is a shout out to all women! Do you get nervous sometimes when entering a gym? Not really sure how to exercise with so many equipment choices? Intimidated by the perceived notion that EVERYONE is watching you work out? Do you constantly think about how the gym may not be entirely sanitary? Tired of getting flagged down 24/7, asking if you want over-the-budget personal training?