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How the Food Industry Has Destroyed Your Nutritional Knowledge

June 27, 2016 0 Comments

Agitated young woman looking up in frustration

Let’s just cut right to the chase. Food is big business. We need it to survive and it brings most a lot of pleasure. At the same time, it’s a commodity that some of the world has tremendous access too and others, not so much. Truth be told, whether you live in the highly industrialized United States or some third world Pacific island country, food is as important as the air we breathe. Yet in today’s modern world, food, more specifically proper nutrition, is more complicated than quantum physics. Did the biological need to eat become so complex or are we just kidding ourselves?

A Hearty Big Bite

Big business has essentially sunk its teeth into something it knows will never go away – the dependence on food to survive. Sure, you could hunt and farm off of your own land like our forefathers did but that’s not very likely or practical. Instead, our hunt for food today occurs in palaces (i.e. supermarkets which replaced grocery stores over 20 years ago) and convenient kitchens (i.e. restaurants) where our food is prepared for us. Lest not forget the quick and convenient ready to eat shacks (i.e. convenience stores and fast food chains) that appear to seemingly take over our landscape. Food is available in every shape and form you can imagine and it’s everywhere! Not only that but to ensure that we’re always buying (like you need a reason) we are mesmerized by what we should eat, what we should not eat, why we should eat it, and why you can’t afford not to eat it.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy

If you were to ask 10 people about what is a healthy diet vs. an unhealthy diet you would get somewhat similar but very different answers. In theory you would hope and expect the same answer but you’ll never get it. Why? Because they really have no idea and it’s all a matter of individual perspective. The concept that a food is healthy or unhealthy is a food industry based term to drive sales towards or away from their product or those of their competitors. Foods should be more accurately defined as nutritious (having real value towards quality and energy) and less nutritious (poor nourishment value despite delivering energy nonetheless). Health is not acquired from eating food. Our health can be greatly influenced from eating more nutritious food but it’s only one of several facets that lead towards optimum health. Despite the advertising and marketing of food products, there is not one particular food that can be labeled as healthy, or as a “super food”. It is all in the context of when and where a food item is consumed; not a specific labeling. For example, one of the most popular “health” foods right now is kale. Kale is highly nutritious but could dangerously be “unhealthy” if eaten in large quantities. Conversely, there are civilizations who eat every part of an animal and that is very nutritious for them. We have been programmed by the large food companies (with a little backing from the government) of what constitutes a ”healthy” and “unhealthy “diet all along filling the coffers of those who report and substantiate their beliefs as being the golden rule. The end result is a consumer base more confused and distraught about what “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” is and left in a state of growing illness and waistlines.

Where Common Sense and Jargon Collide.

Every time a new diet plan or scheme comes out touting “the new plan to end all plans” I often wonder how humans in third world countries react to that type of headline. Chances are they never see it and it doesn’t affect their livelihood. There are civilizations that live on high fat diets by our standards and are totally lean and healthy. Same as there are civilizations who live on high carbohydrate diets by our standards that are also lean and healthy. It’s not a food group, or a macronutrient, or a percentage of macronutrients, or a time of day, or an ancestral plan. We are all human with a basic need to survive. We simply have too much food (natural and manufactured) at our disposal, 24/7/365 fed by the spoon of an industry and government who care very little about your health and more about fattening their bottom lines. The amount of crap and “fake food” filling our nutritional landscape is not only very misleading but creating almost daily more disturbing behaviors and patterns of something that is very primal.

How Marketing Drives Confusion

Got to hand it to the marketing teams of many food producing corporations. They are very creative, and can easily mislead consumers to believe that some foods may be healthier than they actually are. While foods need to maintain a specific integrity of labeling by law, just because they are labeled as healthy, or certain “experts” in the industry claim them as being healthy, doesn’t give them a free pass into your diet. Here are just some of the most popular claims or justifications that shaped, molded, and confused our nutritional knowledge.

  • Carbohydrates Are Bad. Why? Because they make you fat. Wrong! Excess consumption of anything can make you accumulate body fat. Consumption of certain carbohydrates has the ability to add pounds to your frame due to their effects on certain hormones but before you buy into the “carbohydrates are why you’re fat” mentality, consider this. ALL fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates – never heard of anyone packing on pounds because their high carbohydrate diet was all fruits and vegetables. A single macronutrient group like carbohydrates unlawfully garners the attention because our highly industrialized nation has more carbohydrates available in many shapes, forms, and liquids than protein and fat.
  • Fat is Bad. The fat free industry has been around for decades and we’re no healthier now than we were before it was forbidden. The ingredients in most fat-free alternatives are more heinous for your health than the consumption of some fat. Fat-free versions of many popular foods do reduce the calories from fat.  Have you ever wondered how the hell there can be fat-free mayo on the market? What exactly is it then? The problems that arise with removing the fat from foods are two-fold.  First, a lot of fat-free or reduced fat foods have sugars added back to them to keep the food tasting somewhat palatable.  The other issue that comes from removing the fat from foods is that fat helps increase satiety, or fullness. By removing the fat, and possibly adding in sugar, foods that are naturally higher in fat and filling become less filling and sugar loaded.  You’re no farther ahead than if you just enjoyed a sensible portion of the real product. The artificial fillers and ingredients used to bio-engineer these foods are also a glaring issue.  Most fat-free foods truly wouldn’t even make the requisites to be considered food.
  • Organic is Healthy. Sure, certain organic produce and meat sources can be a great upgrade to your nutrition.  But let’s get one thing clear, organic junk food is still junk food. Organic fruits and vegetables are one thing, but organic chocolate Oreo cookies are another.  Just because something is labeled organic, doesn’t automatically make it healthy. Many food manufacturers have taken their top selling snack foods, replaced the ingredients with organic substitutions, and sold them as healthy alternatives.  Truth is, a calorie from organic cane sugar is the same as the calorie from non-organic sugar.  Organic can also be just a fancy label on produce that bigger companies can pay bigger money for.  There are plenty of pesticides that are still allowed on organic foods.  If you want the freshest and highest quality produce, check out your local farmers markets.  Many smaller farms grow their produce with the same stuff as organic labeled farms.  They just don’t want to, or can’t afford to, pay the fee to be certified.
  • Gluten Free is the Way to Go. Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the ingestion of gluten (the protein in wheat) leads to damage in the small intestine, requires a gluten free diet.  One of the hottest trends in America right now however is going gluten free to reduce inflammation or aid with weight loss.  Truth is, the prevalence of Celiac Disease in America is only about .71% (or 1 in 141). Many people without Celiac Disease may feel better after eliminating gluten from their diet, because this usually means they are eliminating all the low quality, highly processed carbs along with a huge chunk of their calories from these foods – thus possibly leading to weight loss. On the other hand, just because a food is labeled “gluten free”, doesn’t make it healthy.
  • Sugar-Free is Best. Sugar-free foods are typically synonymous with zero-calorie drinks or snacks.  While they do not contain any calories, they also are not necessarily healthy.  Studies have shown that the use of low-calorie sweeteners can help control body weight; however the overall difference in weight change is not a whole lot. The other issues that may come from artificial sweeteners (all dependent on the individual) include potential migraines, changes in gut microbes, and triggering sweet tooth cravings for higher calorie real sweet snacks. Bottom line again is, enjoy the “real” product in moderation. If that’s not possible, it’s safe to say the only problem isn’t with the sugar.

When it comes to your diet and justifying what foods are better for you and which are not, it may not be as simple as reading the flashy labels on the front of a food item.  It is important to dive deeper into the label on the back of the product, and read what ingredients might be added or missing – the one legality all labels must adhere to. Or an even better idea, try eating mostly foods that don’t even have a food label. Don’t fall victim to untruthful food marketing. Take control of it for yourself and don’t point the finger or place the blame on something or someone who told you what they wanted you to hear, not understand.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

About the Author:

Jeff Harrison is a fitness coach based in Pottstown, PA. He received a BS in Exercise and Sport Science from Penn State University and is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), NSCA Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) and ACE Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist (ACE-AHFS). Jeff's articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals as well as consumer oriented websites and magazines.

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