All of us who are health conscious people and try to learn healthy habits hear lots of terms associated with food in the media, magazines and through social media.
Many terms, like “clean eating” and “processed foods”, can make us confused about what is and isn’t good for us to eat.
We are inundated with messages to do this, eat that, don’t eat that, never eat these foods, cook this way, and grocery shop in a specific aisle.
It can be so confusing we wonder why we should even try to improve what we eat and drink.
What if we do it wrong?
How would we know?
Unfortunately, the information we are getting from every direction is not always accurate. Some nutrition messages may be accurate but many are not – how can you tell the difference?
There are ways to learn more, make better choices and stay healthy by discerning what data source is credible and what is just sensational to the point of harmful.
Learn What the Terms Mean
One way to be able to sift through the flood of food facts is to learn about what these headline topping terms actually mean. So let’s define our four biggies.
“Clean Eating” is a way of eating whole food that reduces or eliminates processed foods. It doesn’t mean to wash the food you eat to be sure it is clean, who wants to eat dirty food anyway.
The theory is that the more whole your food is as it grew in nature, minimally refined or processed and as near in location to you as possible will give you the most nutrition in the foods you select. Eating the freshest most natural foods you can allows you to eat all foods, you don’t give up any food group, just the unhealthiest foods in a group. Eating fresh whole foods should reduce the amount of sodium and fat you eat, the fewer ingredients the better.
Foods include whole fruit, fresh vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, whole grains, and healthy fats. It is ok to eat some canned or bagged foods as long as they are minimally processed. When cooking you can use herbs and spices instead of salt and fat.
Many foods are labeled “natural” but there is really no regulation for what that term means. The Food and Drug Administration has not defined the term to be used in food claims on labels but also does not disallow manufacturers from using the term as long as there are no added color or flavors or synthetic substances used in the food.
Natural should mean unprocessed or from the earth and something that is not chemically altered. Natural is not the same as organic, which is a certification referring to how something was grown.
Many people feel that natural foods are superior in nutrition but there is no evidence of that as other factors are involved such as transportation and growing conditions.
“Processed” food has been modified or altered from harvest to consumption. Processed foods that are in the line of fire are those with added items such as flavors, colors, salt, sugar or fats so that the ‘new’ version is less nutritious than the fresh whole food. There is a misconception because under the definition of processed foods, items such as precut lettuce and fruit are considered processed, flash frozen and bagged vegetables with no additives are also processed. Wheat that has been ground into flour is also processed. The true focus for improved nutrition is the reduction of highly processed foods that have added chemicals, flavorings, colors and no longer resemble the foods from which they began such as frozen dinners, soda pop and hot dogs.
“Toxins” are defined as biologically produced poisonous substances in the cells of living organisms. A toxin is capable of causing disease.
Many use the term toxin when describing food additives, pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics or items like sugar or MSG but this is not scientifically correct. Items not directly created biologically, like pesticides, are more accurately called poisons.
A true toxin would be bacteria or fungi created in the food such as wild mushrooms or ciguatera in fish caused when a fish eats other fish who eat algae containing an organism that produces the toxin. One well known toxin in food is botulism.
Spotting Trusted Sources
When you are looking for information about nutrition and healthy eating, it is best to seek the advice of experts who are trained in scientifically accurate and evidenced based data – registered dietitian nutritionists. You can locate one near you at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
If the post, blog or article you read is written by someone selling a book about the subject, you should be skeptical of the information, as it could be incorrect, if not potentially harmful. Here is a fictitious example to illustrate: you see a news story ‘Avoid These Food Toxins’ by Dr. Jimmy, who is then asking you to buy his latest book Pesticides and Additives Can Kill You. Makes sense right?
TV is rampant with infomercials and doctors who have no nutrition training but would love to sell you a pill or potion to boost energy, clear your skin, or help you lose weight without trying. You will certainly lose something but probably just your money.
If the information you just heard about from your friend is not backed in science so that it is helpful and not harmful, beware. You can ask questions and investigate further before you make big changes.
We all know what we need to do for our health but are drawn to the quick, easy fix. Being healthy takes work, eating right, and getting physically active. There won’t be a magic pill or even a magic wand that anyone can wave to give you unlimited energy and your dream waist size. You will have to improve your lifestyle and do some work to be well.
The upside is that once you begin taking better care of yourself, the journey becomes easier and you will wonder how it took you so long to be healthy. Food will taste better and you will feel better.
You and your family are worth the effort!