This article was originally written for the Katy Trail Weekly newspaper.
These days it is commonplace to stumble upon a bag of chips plastered with a “plant-based” logo, cookies advertised as “Keto” and cereal as “high-protein.” These buzzwords lead shoppers to believe they are making a healthier choice, without really knowing what they are consuming.
Trending diets and clever marketing can make it overwhelmingly complicated to know what to eat. Media tells us to fear carbs, sugar, fat and gluten, but often overlooks a far greater dilemma— the issue of the ingredients, themselves.
As a nutritionist, I get messages all the time regarding food. The contents of said “message” are usually about the same. The text will include an image from a grocery store along with the caption: “What do you think of this? Healthy?” My response is always the same, “What are the ingredients?”
If you walk the outer aisles of a grocery store, you are guaranteed to come across more foods with singular ingredients you can pronounce (think: produce, poultry, eggs, etc.) than you would if walked into the snack, baked goods, or frozen food sections. Somewhere down the line we have become convinced that a piece of fresh fruit is too high in sugar and carbohydrates and to instead choose the lower carb, high protein “bar” made with fifteen ingredients you probably would never keep in the pantry.
What is so misleading, however, is that calories and carbs are not the villains.
The body’s ability to breakdown and utilize the food we eat for energy, is more greatly impacted by the quality of the food we consume, than the calories, or macro nutrients in our food.
Fitness trainer and wellness coach in Dallas, Ashley Eckhoff, concurs: “Calories are only equal in a closed system. Meaning a laboratory, not the human body where there are a multitude of factors at play. The human body and brain respond very differently depending on the type of food you consume.”
Be cautious as to what foods you place on a pedestal.
The trouble with highly processed ingredients is that the body is unable to properly and efficiently break them down for energy. While the body might not register processed ingredients as carbohydrates, for instance, what it is unable to breakdown, is likely to get stored in the fatty tissue of the body to protect our vital organs. This is why one individual can be struggling to lose weight in stubborn areas, while maintaining a low calorie, but highly processed diet and another person can enjoy a diet rich in calories and fat from fish, quality beef and fresh produce and feel effortlessly trim and energized.
The quality of our food is not just linked to our weight. Processed foods can create an inflammatory response in the body, ironically causing weight gain with repeated consumption, but also joint pain, a weakened immune system and ultimately creating “leaky gut.”
A leaky gut occurs when tiny holes in the intestinal lining allow for larger protein molecules and undigested food particles to enter the blood stream. When this occurs, we can suffer from ailments like constant bloating, sensitivity to foods, skin disturbances and more serious issues, like mental health disorders, memory loss and disease.
Eating real food does not mean never having the Oreo, or the fried chicken. It means creating a lifestyle that includes and abundance of foods that are closer to Nature, and minimizing foods that are highly processed and made in a lab. It means focusing on fresher foods, the kind that you find in the outer aisles of the grocery store, that offer a variety of nutrients and skipping the false promises of the Keto cupcake and high protein granola.
So the next time you are headed into the grocery store, look at the ingredients before getting caught up in the undertow of the flashy labels on the latest snack food, or protein shake.
If you spot a handful of ingredients that you cannot pronounce, let alone would not keep stocked in the cupboard, pass it up.
Food is either broken down and utilized for fuel, or it will create havoc down the road.
The power is yours.