When you head to the health food store or organic section at your local market to snag some snacks and get the ingredients for the meals you planned this week, you expect that everything you’d find there is healthy. That’s why it’s called the health food store… right?
Even with all my experience as a holistic health coach, I sometimes find myself in a grocer’s new organic section getting “wooed” by all the fancy new packaging with labels promising that what’s inside is gluten-free, organic, non-GMO, sugar-free, low-sodium, you name it. So what can we make of all this?
Finding nutritious food doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated, but there are several myths that still plague our culture today.
MYTH #1: If It’s Organic, It’s Healthy
This is simply not true for a number of reasons. The first reason is that organic determines the quality of ingredients, but it does not determine which ingredients are actually used. When you buy organic, you’re getting fewer pesticides, fewer contaminants, and higher quality, nutrient-dense food.
That “nutrient-dense” part only applies if the chosen ingredients are nutrient dense to begin with though! If you’re buying organic fruits and vegetables, then you’re doing well. But if you’re buying organic processed foods…chances are slim that you are getting something your body will love.
It is very common for organic condiments and snacks to contain canola, sunflower and/or safflower oil. These vegetable oils are very inflammatory, and can cause issues that will show up in ways you may not notice right away.
For example, you may notice yourself getting slightly cranky later that day. That’s because your liver is working overtime, and liver congestion is often linked to anger issues. You may notice that your skin breaks out a few days later. That’s because your body is having a hard time filtering out the toxins from those oils. Someone who struggles with these challenges regularly may not immediately see these links until they give up the processed foods for a longer period of time so their body can properly detox.
Another reason an organic label doesn’t necessarily point to a nutritious food is because of the sugar content of many organic foods. Sugar is one of the most harmful and addictive substances that is widely available today.
Organic sugar spikes your blood sugar the same way regular sugar does. It leads to insulin resistance, weight gain, and fatigue the same way regular sugar does. The effects of sugar are the same no matter what form of it you choose to consume.
It is very common for organic protein bars, cereals, granola, yogurts, and other snack foods to be extremely high in sugar. If you’re looking for foods that have NO added sugar, then you are up for a challenge! Finding foods in boxes and bags with no sugar is nearly impossible.
MYTH #2: Sugar-Free Is Best
Okay, so you heard me say sugar is bad, so that must mean finding foods that say “sugar-free” on the label is a major plus right!? Unfortunately, this is another warning sign, not something to get excited about.
When foods claim to be sugar-free, this usually means the manufacturer has added some kind of artificial sweetener. Artificial sweeteners are just as bad as real sugar! It sounds crazy, but they do have different harmful effects on the body.
One is they don’t satisfy the sugar craving that you’re trying to overcome. If you are craving cookies and you eat a cookie that is artificially sweetened, one hour later (or less), you will be looking for another cookie.
If you eat another artificially sweetened one, it just perpetuates the cycle which can result in over consumption of this fake food. If your second cookie is one that has real sugar in it, your craving will be satisfied for slightly longer, but now you’ve just had two desserts instead of one.
You had a fake one, then a real one. It’s likely that neither of them had any nutrients and both told the hormones in your body to store more fat and create more inflammation.
Artificial sweeteners are also harmful because they’re artificial chemicals. The cells in your body are made from what you put in your mouth. Think about that for a few seconds.
Your brain cells, your skin cells, your heart, your blood…it is made from what you consume and absorb.
If you put artificial chemicals in your body…what kind of thinking will that give you? What will your skin look like? How will your organs function? Your brain is brilliant and your body is self-healing if you give it the tools it needs. Too many people today are not only depriving their bodies of the tools they need, but they are filling themselves with poisonous chemicals instead.
MYTH #3: Gluten Free Is Healthy
Gluten-free does not mean fat free, sugar free, calorie free, or chemical free. Gluten-free means gluten-free. Gluten is a tiny protein that is naturally found in wheat, rye, barley, and a few other grains. The reason more gluten free foods are available on the market today is because there has been a rise in gluten-sensitivity and celiac disease.
The reasons for the increase* in those two conditions is somewhat of a hot debate right now. Is it the gluten itself that is harmful, or is it the chemicals most commonly sprayed on gluten-rich crops?
Glyphosate is the chemical name for Round Up–yes, the weed killer–that is commonly sprayed generously across most of the wheat crops in the United States. In the same way it kills pests, it has been known to tear through our sensitive intestinal lining causing the weakened digestion many individuals are now experiencing.
YES, gluten is difficult to digest and break down, but if your system is functioning properly and you do not have Celiac disease, it should be no problem at all! In fact, if you can’t digest gluten very well, that means your body is probably having difficulties breaking down and eliminating other toxins you come into contact with as well.
If that’s the case, you will want to work with a health coach to strengthen your digestion. Gluten keeps your body’s system of detoxification on its toes. If your system never has to work hard to break anything down, your immune system can become weakened. If gluten is not an issue for you, consuming it every once in awhile is actually a good thing!
Eating gluten-free foods in excess simply because you think they’re healthier is a mistake. They’re often identical to the other processed foods on the shelf, but just formulated with slightly different ingredients.
MYTH #4: Pre-made Food Is The Same As The Other Food That Takes Longer To Cook.
I know you have seen these easy pre-made foods. I’m talking about instant oatmeal, steamer bag veggies, microwavable rice and pasta packets…the insta-everything world of food. They even have the nerve to say “natural” and “no preservatives” on some of these labels. LIES!
There is nothing natural about those foods. In fact, “natural” means nothing in the world of food. Any company can claim their product is “natural” with no one to hold them accountable to any standards concerning their chosen ingredients and/or sourcing of those ingredients.
Instant oatmeal and instant rice spikes your blood sugar almost as badly as table sugar. Your body just doesn’t break it down the same. Plastic bags that are meant to be boiled or microwaved leach toxins into your food. Even if they are BPA free, that just means you’re avoiding one kind of plastic chemical. You’re still eating the other kinds of plastic chemicals that company used, which can cause hormone disruption.
These instant foods often contain many more ingredients than their slower cooking counterparts. Those ingredients are usually synthetic chemicals. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend an extra ten minutes cooking dinner so I can eat real food, not pretend food.
IN A NUTSHELL
I know it can be challenging to decipher everything on the grocery store shelves. That’s why I still recommend that age old trick of shopping the perimeters of the store. Your body needs and craves real, plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds! My hope is that one day everyone finally understands and applies this knowledge so our stores can contain more of the “good stuff” and less of the bad.
Some of you (not pointing fingers) are still wandering into those center aisles. So if you’re going in, I want you prepared. Plus, hey…sometimes we need to grab some raw beans or rice and those are hidden in the center aisles among the junk.
When I meet with a new client who is local, I like to go to the grocery store with them at least once to open their eyes to these myths and others that may be lurking based on their purchase choices. I’m not there to judge. I’m there to help them grow and share some of the things you read about here.
Sometimes you just don’t realize that the frozen broccoli you always purchase and feed your children actually contains 15 harmful preservatives. Sometimes it helps to have a second pair of eyes to assist you in taking a closer look.
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