When you’re trying to make healthy choices, you would think that shopping in a health food store would be an easy one. The stores market themselves as selling organic, natural foods that should fall right in a line with what you’re trying to accomplish. Unfortunately for you, and the remainder of us, health food stores and healthy food aisles can be some of the most unhealthy places to shop. I know you’re already asking me why that is and I have a whole host of answers. But, first, I want to make something clear. Just because they say it is healthy doesn’t mean that it is. Especially in America, we have lost touch with what food really is. Instead, we rely solely on what we find in our supermarkets to nourish us without asking any questions.
Just because it is gluten-free, vegan, fat-free, or all natural doesn’t mean it is healthy. When most people shop in health food stores, it is because they think it is easier to find healthy foods there. Or, when they see that it doesn’t have any gluten, dairy, or animal products they think that it is better for them. In reality, that food probably contains more sugar, chemicals, and processed elements then the food that is full of gluten and dairy. Or, those foods have been altered so much that they don’t have any of the elements that make them what you believe they are anymore …food. Labels on the front of a box are usually trying to conceal something. An apple does not need to tell you it is an apple, you just know. A box of cereal, however, needs to show you a picture of what’s inside and tell you all about its ingredients.
Usually in foods that are labeled healthy, i.e., the fat-free, gluten-free, vegan, and let’s not forget paleo, they are loaded up with a little extra to give them taste … especially the gluten-free products, if you flip over the label of a gluten-free product, you will notice that most of these foods have an obnoxious amount of salt. They usually do this because the food itself has no taste, I mean that is what will happen to your food when you take all the fat and starch out of it.
Speaking of taste; most of those foods, particularly the sweets, granolas, and yogurts, have just as much, if not more, sugar than the ones that are filled with chemicals. This is troubling to me because most of them are marketing as all-natural and that can really get confusing. Most people associate all-natural or fat-free as healthy; but, in reality, they are not. Sugar is technically all natural and just because it says fat free does not make it sugar free. Have you noticed there aren’t many sugar-free products in health-food stores or in the aisles at supermarkets? Funny, right? It’s because most of those products contain sugar and there is really no non-chemical sugar substitute that can stand up against the real stuff. I know what you’re thinking; honey, maple syrup, dates, dried fruit, regular fruit, monk fruit, yeah the list goes on and on, but a lot of those ingredients are expensive and difficult to factor into a price. There is coconut palm sugar and cane sugar, but they are pretty much the same as white sugar just slightly less processed but almost equally as bad for you. That’s true of honey and maple syrup, too. I am not dissing sugar in this article, I am just saying that most health foods are loaded with it to make it taste better.
Most products that are vegan or vegetarian contain a lot of soy. Soy is not necessarily bad, but almost all the soy in the world is GMO. It is really hard to find soy that hasn’t been genetically modified; so, if that doesn’t trouble you, then by all means keep buying it. However, most meatless substitutes do that salt thing just like those gluten-free products, so keep that in mind. There is also that ongoing debate about whether large amounts of soy day after day is good for you.
Is the food in the health food stores and aisles really any less processed than what’s in a grocery store? Not really, the ingredients are better and usually ones that we recognize; but, on the other hand, there is a lot of processed food that has sneaked their way onto the shelves. They claim they don’t contain any preservatives, chemicals, and that are all natural. Instead, they contain things like maltodextrin, MSG, isolated fibers (chicory root or polydextrose), or whole grain (doesn’t mean it hasn’t been altered). While derived directly from real food, they are still altered and unnatural.
Unless the product has a certified organic label on it, it is mostly not 100% organic. Even then, that certified organic label just means that is has gone through a few more steps to be considered organic. You would hope that this certification was more regulated and monitored, but it really isn’t. Usually, the fresh organic foods market has more maret than this packaged foods market. This is just one more thing to keep in mind.
It might be healthier, but at the end of the day, you’re still buying processed foods. If it is packaged in plastic, then it is a processed food. The more time the food spends out of the earth or away from the vine, the more nutrients it loses. If it has been heated, chopped, pureed, or altered in some way, it is going to lose nutrients. In so-called healthy processed food, there are almost no preservatives or additives, so you’re are getting less from these foods as you would from the chemical stuff because at least a lot of those are fortified with synthetic vitamins and minerals.
You’re going to pay more for your food at these boutique grocery stores because they can charge more and because a lot of these companies are smaller than the chemical competitors. Also, it costs a lot more to make food with real food (can’t believe I just wrote that). Chemicals, additives, preservatives, and all the other hazards make food cheaper to reproduce because they are cheap originally. Fortifying your cereal is cheaper than making it with something other than corn and sugar. Cane sugar, gluten-free flour blends, and coconut oil cost a lot more than canola, high fructose corn syrup, and white flour because all of those things are subsidized by the government. So, the foods that you’re buying have high-quality ingredients, but, again, just because you’re getting fancier sugar doesn’t mean at the end of the day it’s not sugar.
The whole point of this article is not to discourage you from shopping at these stores; it is to remind you that it can’t be a free-for-all if you still want to be healthy. Those packaged foods in those health aisles and stores are not the healthiest choices either. Are they better than the chemically laced synthetic foods? …yes but not by much. They still contain sugar, salt, and fat, but just in a less processed form.