If health is wealth, it makes sense that we can be convinced to part with our dollars in exchange for food that’s better for us. But sometimes, it’s not worth believing the hype.
As the health food aisle of the supermarket continues to expand so too do the prices of the foods sold under the banner of ‘health’.
Ranging from gluten-free, sugar-free and low fructose to speciality bars, milks, cereals and even water, you could be forgiven for thinking that these foods are much better for us nutritionally, based on their price alone.
A closer look at these foods though, reveals that while some foods in the health food section do cater for specific dietary requirements, there are also plenty of processed, packaged options that masquerade under the banner of health, when you could easily find the same nutrients and health benefits from much cheaper, less processed alternatives.
So if you are keen to maximize health but not waste your money doing so, here are the ‘healthy’ foods you do not need to add to your weekly shopping list.
Superfruits and berries
You may find them in the dried fruit section and sold under the ‘superfood’ banner, or even coated in chocolate, located in the health food section and marketed as a healthy snack but the truth is that all fruit is super, and in general fresh, seasonal fruits are as super nutrient-rich as it gets.
Any type of processing is only likely to reduce some of the natural antioxidant content fresh fruit has and just because someone calls a fruit ‘super’ does not make it any more super than all the other fruits.
Buy your fruit, fresh when in season, or even snap-frozen but do not get sucked into thinking dried berries found in a packet could possibly be better for you.
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Protein nut milk
A slightly controversial one, nut milks are among some of the fastest-growing supermarket products and recently we have seen a number of ‘protein’ versions of almond milks which retail at a much higher price point than regular versions of plant milk.
The truth is that nut-based ‘milks’ are extremely low in protein naturally, compared to pea, soy and dairy milks. As such, adding in more processed ingredients to a food that has very little natural likeness to milk is simply adding in more processed food to the diet in general.
The take-home is that if you want protein in your milk, opt for soy or pea-based milks which are naturally higher in protein or get your protein elsewhere.
Another growing section of the supermarket is ‘healthier’ chips – baked peas, legumes and even beetroot and kale chips which by association appear to be much better options nutritionally than their traditional potato and cheese counterparts.
A closer look at the ingredient list and nutritional panel though will reveal that baking or frying vegetables or legumes in oil still creates a processed snack that does not contain much of the protein, dietary fibre or vitamins you would find in the peas, legumes, or vegetables.
Stop kidding yourself, chips are chips – even the slightly better ones.
Vitamin water, energy water, pH balanced water or even water to aid concentration and focus are one of the greatest marketing achievements of recent years because really, you cannot get anything healthier than water.
So save yourself the $4+ per bottle and simply drink more of the water you have at home and notice that you feel more focused, energised and healthier you feel without spending a cent on special water.
When it comes to healthy snacks, rice crackers feature heavily on platters and in school lunchboxes, but again, a closer look at the nutritional profile reveals a slightly different perspective.
With a massive 24g of total carbohydrates in just 10 rice crackers, the equivalent of two small slices of bread, and often a good dose of MSG (621), flavoured rice crackers, in particular, are hardly a healthy choice, especially for children.
White rice is also a dense source of high glycaemic index carbohydrate which means that blood glucose levels rapidly increase, along with the hormone insulin, the hormone that also promotes fat storage in the body.
Rice snacks are also low in protein and other key nutrients which mean that they simply offer empty calories along with a rapid rise in blood glucose levels rather than long-lasting energy. For this reason, you are much better to spend your money on wholegrain crackers or extra veggies than processed rice snacks.
Susie Burrell is a dietitian and nutritionist and holds a Master’s degree in coaching psychology. Susie is the resident dietitian on Channel 7’s Sunrise and has been a dietitian for more than 20 years.