Every day, the food marketing industry’s efforts are paying off by convincing us that a product is nutritious when it really isn’t. Unfortunately, these falsehoods can hurt the food choices of the most well-meaning consumers! And this becomes even more problematic when these untruths affect other decisions resulting from these food choices. In fact, you may even be eating more of one type food while believing it’s good for you. But is it? Here are some of these “fake” healthy foods.
Coconut and its derivatives
The first food that sprang to mind when I started writing this article was coconut. Over the past few years, this exotic nut has become hugely popular, with its derivatives popping up more and more on store shelves. On the one hand, its users extol its boundless virtues, while others denounce its harmful effects. Even the scientific community can’t make its mind up! So what’s the lowdown? Coconuts contain a very large amount of saturated fat. This type of fat has long been known to harm cardiovascular health. However, we know that the type of saturated fat in coconuts is different from that found in animals. It’s actually a very short chain fat, which leaves coconuts subject to much confusion. Are they good or bad? Personally, when in doubt, I prefer to steer clear! If you like their taste, you can occasionally use it to flavour your food. However, I advise you to vary and alternate their use with vegetable oils.
Processed veggie products
We believe, often incorrectly, that by simply choosing a plant-based protein, we are making a healthy choice. There’s no doubting that plant proteins are worthwhile, and including them in our diet is recommended. However, like animal proteins, when sodium, sugar, fat, or food additives are added, the picture becomes less rosy. Furthermore, plant proteins are notorious for their bland flavour. This is why products or recipes featuring them are often too sweet or too salty. For example, you shouldn’t consider General Tao tofu or a vegetarian sausage as healthy choices.
Craving some chips? Why not eat… some chips! If you try to satisfy your craving with vegetable chips, which more or less do the job, you will only be disappointed. Most vegetable chips available on the market are no more nutritious than traditional chips. Vegetable chips are oily, salty and packed with calories, and their list of ingredients leaves a lot to be desired!
Honey and maple syrup
Sugar is sugar! Even if you go for something more natural, the sugar molecule remains exactly the same! In complete foods, fruit for example, the food matrix will affect its absorption, and the effect on blood sugar levels and metabolism will be much smaller. The food matrix, however, does not apply to honey or maple syrup. A source of antioxidants, you say? Yes, they’re there; but you would need to eat a huge amount of maple syrup and honey to get a significant dose of antioxidants. And I think we can agree that this is not a good idea! That said, it can still be a good idea to choose these sugars to encourage the local economy and to consume more natural products.
Natural or nitrite-free meats
Deli meat is a highly processed product with added salt and food additives. Natural ham? Ham is still a pork product and therefore processed! Apart from a few rare and new high-quality products, nitrite-free deli meats simply contain natural nitrite added in the form of celery or beetroot extract. While this may be more appealing to the consumer, the molecule’s composition and its potential effects are EXACTLY the same! If you buy a deli meat that doesn’t actually contain any nitrite, it will be grey and not pink. Deli meats, however, are fine in a fix, but should not be part of your daily diet. Chicken, tuna, roast pork, eggs, tofu or tempeh are better options.
After shedding some light on these foods, I would add that they shouldn’t be completely scorned. The main thing is simply understanding that their lower nutritional value means that they should be eaten in moderation. But no food should be completely off the menu, because it’s all about balance!
Vanessa Daigle, RD
Nutritionist | Dietician