Health food doesn’t need a definition, does it? We all know what
health food is it’s yogurt and granola, whole-grain cereal and
organically grown vegetables and fruit. It’s 100% natural, no
preservatives or dyes, unadulterated, pure. When you put all
that together, you should have healthy food, yet all too often,
what’s marketed as health food these days barely classifies as
food, let alone health food.
Take a look at one of our favorite health food choices – yogurt.
It hit supermarket shelves in the early seventies, though it had
been available before that in health food stores and
restaurants. Real yogurt has two ingredients: milk (whole, skim
or low fat) and live yogurt cultures. That’s health food –
calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, protein. Next time you’re at the
supermarket, take a look at the dairy case. You’ll find row
after row of hyper-sweetened brightly colored rainbow swirled
and candy-sprinkled yogurt packaged in ways that appeal to our
littlest consumers – children. Millions of parents buy the
enticing packages, secure that because it’s yogurt, they’re
buying food that’s healthy for their children.
One look at the label, though, and it’s clear that these kiddy
yogurts (as well as most of the yogurt that’s marketed to
adults) are a far cry from heath food. Some of the most popular
yogurts for children contain anywhere from 3 to 10 added
teaspoons of sugar. Considering how many teaspoons of yogurt are
in a single serving, you might as well hand your child the sugar
bowl. In addition, most yogurts include “natural” ingredients
that have little to do with health food. Ingredients like pectin
(to thicken yogurt), carrageenan (a seafood extract that gives
some yogurts their body, and annatto (for color) add little
nutritionally to yogurt. They’re in the mix to serve one main
purpose: to help yogurt survive its trip from the factory to
You’ll find the same situation with other foods that originally
made their debut as health foods in the seventies. Granola has
become granola bars with chocolate chips and gooey caramel.
Whole wheat flour is bleached and denuded of its flavorful
kernels. Sunflower seeds are roasted in oil and salted. Even
brown rice comes in the instant variety.
Healthy food not health food
The secret to feeding your family (and yourself) a healthful
diet of healthy food is to read the labels. The United States
Food & Drug Administration has laid out strict guidelines for
nutritional labeling of all food products. The nutrition label
will tell you all you need to know to choose real health foods.
Some things to keep in mind when reading nutrition labels for
* In the ingredient’s portion of the nutrition label,
ingredients are listed in order by amount. The ingredient that’s
listed first is the main ingredient, followed by the next
largest amount, etc.
* The nutrition facts label must list each of the required
nutrients even if the food provides 0% of the recommended daily
* The nutrition facts label must list what portion of the food’s
calories is derived from fat, from sugar, from protein and from
carbohydrates. It will also break down the fat into saturated
and unsaturated fat.
Reading labels on everything you feed your family is the best
way to tell whether a food is really a health food – or just
masquerading as one.
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