Have you noticed that packaged foods at the grocery store don’t advertise the product in the package, but instead highlight which nutrient happens to be hot at the moment?
Milk advertises CALCIUM. I’m not knocking milk and it does have calcium- about 300mg for 1 cup. However, it’s a common misconception that it’s the only good source of calcium. But did you know that 3 Tbsp of sesame seeds has 270mg of calcium? Or that 2 cups of broccoli contain 356mg of calcium? It’s like a well-kept secret since they don’t have labels that shout at you.
Froot Loops cereal highlights that it’s a good source of fiber at 3g of fiber per one cup of cereal. However, only 1/2 cup of black beans has 7g and one medium apple has 4g.
By the way, I like that they spell it FROOT loops, instead of FRUIT, because the cereal doesn’t contain even a trace of real fruit. It does, however, have partially hydrogenated oils (transfat). But hey, 3g of fiber! (eyeroll)
My point is that this marketing can be deceptive to people trying to eat healthy. Perhaps they overheard the importance of fiber, so they throw a sugary, processed cereal in their cart instead of beans and berries. They are trying to make improvements to their health, but perhaps without the time to research nutrition, they rely on these labels to help guide them. It’s easy to get duped when the American Heart Association has its stamp on Heart Smart Bisquick, whose first two ingredients are enriched bleached flour and canola oil. But hey, no transfats, so it’s a health food!
So what’s a health conscious, but busy, consumer to do?
Eat the stuff without labels.
If you’re eating a wide variety of real foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds and quality dairy and meats (if you’re into those), then your nutrient intake will take care of itself. It’s when we are eating processed garbage that has had all it’s “real” parts stripped away that we need to worry about getting enough of a certain nutrient.
And if you are buying products with labels, always read the ingredients. I’ve been shocked at some of the ingredients in a tub of “butter”. The ingredient list should be short and recognizable.
Besides, real food is more than the sum of it’s nutrient parts. (I believe stole that thought from Michael Pollan). To reduce a food, like a vegetable, down to it’s breakdown of calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates or even micronutrients, you’re undermining how brilliant nature is at creating synergistic nutritional powerhouses without the help of a laboratory.
Did that last sentence reveal my inner hippie? Sigh… it was bound to happen.
My point is that healthy eating isn’t supposed to be so hard. Unfortunately with science creating ‘food like products’, it’s made us have to pull out the calculators to compute whether our lunch was no more than 40% carbohydrates with at least 15% protein.
This post is written by a former Lean Cuisine Addict, so believe me, I know it can be scary to let go of the sense of control numbers give you, but once you’re on the other side, it’s so freeing.