Everywhere you look, foods are claiming to be the ‘better’ choice. Labels shout ‘fat-free’, ‘gluten-free’, ‘sugar-free’ and ‘diet’ at you.
But are these foods really the health foods they try to make themselves out to be? Or are these options actually worse than the fat, gluten and sugar-filled versions?
What are they replacing it with?
First off, have a look at the ingredient list of the ‘free’ or ‘diet’ product you just picked up. If you pick up a fat-free dressing for your salad, it’s probably got sugar added. If it’s a sugar-free drink, it’s probably got artificial sweeteners added instead of the sugar.
The same goes for gluten-free options. Gluten is a protein found in cereals that makes foods like bread and baked goods more ‘elastic’. It gives that chewy sensation. So if you remove gluten from a product, they need to replicate that elasticity. That’s why many gluten-free products are usually packed with additives.
Unless a food comes naturally fat-free, sugar-free or gluten-free, it’s going to need ingredients to compensate for the missing compound. And in most cases, those ingredients are not going to be a nutritious choice.
Are they really healthier than the ‘normal’ version?
Most of the time, the answer is no.
Fat is not your enemy. Sugar is not the devil. Unless you’re intolerant to gluten or have Coeliac disease, gluten is not going to kill you! None of these foods will make you fat or sick unless you’re consuming far too much of them.
It all comes down to moderation and balance. You want to have protein, carbohydrates (including sugars) and fats every day to maintain that balance.
How to choose healthier foods
Understanding nutrition can feel like rocket science, thanks to all the conflicting advice and fad diets out there. But here are a few ways that you can make healthier choices for you and your family without resorting to ‘diet’ products.
Get to know the perimeter of your local supermarket.
This is where you’ll find your meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables. Most supermarkets will also have bulk nuts and seeds on the outskirts as well.
Eating plenty of fresh wholefoods is always a good starting point, because you’ll get getting the best nutritional bang for your buck.
Make your own dressings and marinades
When it comes to unnecessary additives and sugars, salad dressings, marinades and sauces are some of the worst offenders. But it’s actually easy to mix up your own at home with a few pantry staples. When you’re making your own, you know exactly what is going into it, and what is not!
For a simple salad dressing, mix balsamic vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil and your favourite herbs. My husband makes a fantastic Greek salad dressing using finely chopped capsicum soaked in white wine vinegar.
To make a marinade, mix together the herbs/spices of your choice with some olive oil and coat your meat or veggies in it before cooking.
If you’re going to indulge in your favourite treat, get the real deal.
There’s a good chance that fat-free chips, sugar-free lollies and gluten-free Tim Tams aren’t going to cut it. You’re more likely to eat the replacement food, feel unsatisfied and experience no pleasure, then go and buy the real thing anyway!
Instead, just buy that one food you love so much, and enjoy every mouthful guilt-free.