When it comes to eating, it can be incredibly confusing to navigate all of the conflicting information out there about what is safe and healthy to eat these days. It can make you want to get back to basics and eat like your great grandparents did: simply and wholesomely. But not everything that was common practice in the “good old days” stands the test of time. Striking a balance between respecting the old ways of eating and taking advantage of today’s scientific understanding is a great recipe for better health. Here are some outdated beliefs that you may want to let go of as you explore the best style of eating for your own nutritional needs:
Outdated Belief #1: The label tells you what’s in the food
With the ever-increasing variety of food products on the market, it can be very confusing to know what to buy when you need a simple loaf of bread. From commercially produced bread like Wonder, to your grocery chain’s freshly baked Italian bread, to the organic artisan baguette — how are you supposed to know which is the best choice for you and your family?
In the past, we could generally rely on the label to tell us what ingredients were in the food that we were buying and eating. The list wasn’t too long, and we could pronounce most of the ingredients. These days, however, this is not the case. The FDA does not make it mandatory for companies to reveal the exact ingredients in their food products. Not only do many food products contain several more ingredients than what is listed on the label, the current regulations allow the food producers to further hide what is in their product by using multiple names for the same ingredients.
When you look at a food label, the ingredients are listed in the order of proportion. Companies often don’t want you knowing that a certain ingredient makes up a large proportion of a given food, so they change the name of that ingredient to something the average consumer wouldn’t recognize. For instance, if sugar should be the second ingredient on the list, the company may disguise the name sugar as corn syrup, fructose, barley malt or caramel. If they distribute these ingredients throughout the list, then the consumer may think that the product contains less sugar than it does, and that it’s healthier than it actually is.
How then do we decide what to purchase? Choosing real, whole foods that don’t require a label is your best bet! Second best is finding the highest quality and least processed version of what you are looking to eat. Choose that fresh loaf made from your local bakery over a commercially made bread like Wonder.
Outdated Belief #2: If it’s sold in a supermarket, it must be good for you
You walk into your local supermarket and the first things you usually see are beautifully colored produce, flowers and plants, and other items that we think of as healthy. This makes us immediately connect our grocery store with health. However, not everything a supermarket sells is healthy or even safe to eat. We have been subtly taught to trust the food that is offered to us in a grocery store, but this is simply not true.
We need to make the effort to seek out the right foods that offer us proper nutrition. No longer can we rely on the nice person behind the counter to guide us in what to buy. We need to take charge of our health by doing a little research on the foods we like to consume to see if they are indeed healthy.
Consider the deli items. If a food is made fresh everyday, it must have some healthy properties, right? Wrong! Many of the items that are offered to customers as fresh deli food is actually food that has been prepared in another store miles away and preserved for days, or sometimes months. In order to keep it seeming fresh, there are lots of dyes and preservatives added to it.
Another example of grocery items that are less healthy for us than they appear is certain produce. Grapes, for instance, are offered to us year round, yet if we live in a climate that has winter, we can assume that these grapes have travelled far and wide to get to us. Not only are the grapes old, but if they are not organic, then they have been thoroughly sprayed with chemicals in order to keep them bug free and looking appealing to the consumer. A better choice would be either buying organic grapes, or waiting until grapes are in season, which will provide you with a more nutritionally dense fruit.
Outdated Belief #3: Fat in food equals fat on the body
This myth has taken our country to new lows (or highs on the scale!). The low fat craze that started back in the ‘80s had a huge impact on the major rise in obesity among Americans and beyond. Food companies made loads of fat-free products, hoping to appeal to the weight conscious market. They found that when they took the fat out of their products, however, they no longer tasted very good. So what did they replace the fat with? Sugar! Unfortunately, people not only bought these products thinking that they would help them lose weight, but they ate MORE. We are now left with the wreckage of overweight people who are afraid to eat fat.
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, author of Eat Fat, Get Thin, “When people eat less fat, they tend to eat more starch or sugar instead, and this actually increases their levels of dangerous cholesterol, the small, dense cholesterol that causes heart attacks. In fact, studies show that 75% of people who end up in the emergency room with a heart attack have normal overall cholesterol levels. What they do have is pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes.”
Of course, the type of fat you eat is very important. There is a strong distinction between healthy fats like avocado, extra virgin olive oil, and nuts, compared to trans fats found in most prepackaged junk foods and fast foods. Trans fats are fake, man-made fats that act differently in our system than naturally occurring fats. Another name for trans fats is partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Margarine, non-dairy creamers, and most commercially baked goods are other common sources of these dangerous fats.
How do we get over our fear of eating fat? Start with baby steps. Start incorporating it into your meals, and start taking notice of how you feel. Notice how when you eat healthy fats you feel fuller for a longer time, your skin starts to improve, and you don’t have energy crashes. You may even find that you begin to lose unwanted weight. Yes, you read that right! When we are fat deficient, then we are never truly satiated and we crave carbohydrates, often late into the evening. Incorporating healthy fats helps us to go longer in between meals, it makes us feel like we have eaten something pleasurable, and it squashes our sugar cravings.
The fat that we eat in food is not synonymous with fat on the body. It would do us a world of good to give a new name and definition to the meaning of fat in food. Calling it “friend” would be applicable here!
Outdated Belief #4: Our staple foods are healthy for us and have stood the test of time
Some cultures have certain traditional staple foods whose popularity will never falter, such as olive oil in the Mediterranean diet, cacao in South America, and coconut in tropical areas. Lots of us in the United States have been brought up to believe that staple foods like wheat and dairy products are healthy and should be consumed several times a day. While these foods are fine to eat from time to time, relying on these foods as part of our regular diet can have big consequences for our overall health.
A lot of the “staples” that comprise the standard American diet are actually poor quality grains and various forms of sugar. Consider breakfast cereals. Most commercially made cereals contain wheat that is genetically modified and packed with sugar. This is also true of quick-cooking prepackaged oatmeal. Many people are allergic or have intolerances to wheat. Signs of this are digestive issues, mood swings, fatigue and more. But the FDA suggests that we eat several servings of whole grain wheat per day!
Wheat is not totally lacking in nutrition, but it’s not going to fully satisfy our hunger or our nutritional needs. When you do eat it, do your best to find non-GMO, organic and local sources.
Dairy products can also cause allergies in many people, though they may not even know it. Mass produced milk and cheese not only contain lots of saturated fat, but they also contain hormones that the cow was given to enhance its milk production. Again, being told to drink a few glasses of milk per day in order to reach the daily requirements for calcium is just plain outdated science.
There are many things to treasure about the way our grandparents ate: heirloom vegetable varieties that are packed with nutrients, home-cooked family dinners, and of course, that recipe for cobbler that’s been passed down for generations. Family food traditions can include ethnic dishes that aren’t commonly seen in the grocery store, or farming practices that provide nourishing, wholesome food for entire communities. But even though we can learn a great deal from our ancestors, it’s always helpful to ask why we are doing what we do, and whether it’s still working for us. Every now and then it’s good to reevaluate your eating habits and refine them to fit your evolving metabolic needs. Committing to doing a little research on the foods that you eat and the criteria you use to select them can lead to better overall health.
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