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Is This Healthy?

While this blog post aims to provide informative content, it is essential to consult with your healthcare practitioner to determine which products and dietary choices are most suitable for your specific needs.

On a recent trip to the US, I was so excited to be able to shop at some of the colossal health food supermarkets, but as I wandered down the aisles, amazed by the diverse products lining the aisles, I began to realize that almost everything on these expansive shelves was processed foods.

Leaving the store, I couldn't shake the feeling that many shoppers might be unwittingly filling their baskets with products labeled as "organic" or"healthy," assuming they were making choices aligned with a well-balanced, nourishing diet.

I’m sure these health food supermarkets offer better alternatives compared to conventional stores, yet it is important to understand the terms plastered on these products and how they impact our health.

I would like to express my gratitude to Tzippi Scharf Witz, who is not only a certified nutrition health coach, but has extensive experience in importing organic products. Tzippi's profound knowledge has been invaluable, and I thank her for her guidance in this article.

Can You Tell Healthy From Non-healthy?

Many years ago, when my kids were young, during summer vacation they would often accompany me to rehearsals at the community theater where I was choreographing. One day they were hungry, so I sent them off to the local supermarket. A few minutes later my older son, after searching for something they could buy to eat, called me and asked, “Is it OK if we buy something that might shorten our lives by a couple of years?”

He was referring to bourekas – filo-stuffed pastries that were made with margarine or other trans fats. I said, of course, this one time, and smiled at his humor and that he had learned that bourekas were not a good choice for a snack. (See our blog post "Oil your Brain Well" to learn how oils can improve or hurt our brain.)

You don’t have to eat kale 24/7 to stay healthy, but knowing which foods can be detrimental to your health and which can help you thrive is important. In this way, you can make the correct food choices for yourself.

“I Eat Healthy”

When I receive a new client, one of the initial topics we explore is their health history, including their dietary habits. Often, individuals will confidently claim, "I eat healthy." But what does that truly mean?

Interestingly, some clients who assert their overall health and claim an empty health history form, later reveal a substantial list of medications and supplements they are taking including sleeping pills, cholesterol-lowering drugs, high blood pressure medications, and blood sugar regulators. Their definition of "healthy" differs significantly from my own.

My perception of what it means to be healthy is a continuously evolving process. I strongly believe that there is an ongoing journey towards improved well-being, and we have the opportunity to continually enhance our health to feel even better. Through experiencing the benefits of increased energy, freedom from pain, improved range of motion, quality sleep, and reduced stress, we are inspired to strive for a higher level of "healthy."

Frequently, I observe a fascinating phenomenon with clients that I like to call "peeling an onion." As we tackle and resolve a specific health issue, it often uncovers another underlying concern that had been overshadowed. With each layer we peel away, we gain access to further avenues for enhancing our well-being. This process allows us to strive for even greater levels of health.

So, if you think that you are eating healthily, it could mean that your current diet aligns with your current state of health. However, if you find yourself not at the peak of your health, it may be worth considering dietary changes that have the potential to elevate your well-being and help you feel even better.

What is Processed Food?

Once upon a time, about 50 years ago, everyone enjoyed home-cooked meals. If you're familiar with TV shows from that era, you'll often find the mother or housewife at home all day, cooking and cleaning.

The significant change that occurred in the 1970s, allowing women to step out of their aprons and pursue their own careers, was the rise of the packaged food industry. This industry mass-produced foods for convenient consumption. While these foods had the advantage of convenience over fresh perishable foods, they often sacrificed nutrition and even posed potential risks to our health. Did you know that the increase in obesity in the US coincides with the introduction of processed foods?

It's important to recognize that not all processed foods are equal. While many highly processed foods are associated with health concerns, such as excessive sugar, unhealthy fats, preservatives, and artificial additives, there are also processed foods that can be part of a nutritious diet. For example, tofu*, peanut butter, tahini, and frozen or canned (without BPA) fruits and vegetables undergo processing but retain their nutritional value, making them suitable for a well-balanced diet.

So, how can we distinguish between nutrient-poor and potentially harmful ultra-processed foods and those healthy foods that undergo minimal processing? The answer lies in learning to read food labels effectively:

Check the Ingredient List:

Look for foods with shorter ingredient lists that feature recognizable, whole-food ingredients. Avoid products with a long list of additives, preservatives, and artificial ingredients.

Check Sugar Content:

While natural sugars in whole food products don't have negative health effects, it's important to watch out for "added sugars" listed on the label. Keep an eye out for hidden sugars in processed foods under names like sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, or dextrose.

Check for Unhealthy Fats:

Avoid products with trans fats and highly processed vegetable oils. Instead, choose products that contain healthier fats, such as monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. (To understand the different types of fats and how they can affect our brain function, read our blog post "Oil your Brain Well")

Look at the Nutrient Profile:

Choose foods that provide essential nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals so that your body and brain are getting nutritional value from the foods you eat.

Remember, while processed foods can offer convenience, it's important to limit the consumption of heavily processed foods and choose whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats for overall well-being. Be mindful of ingredient quality, added sugars, unhealthy fats, and overall nutritional value, so you can make informed choices for your health.

Is Organic Healthy?

Most of us are familiar with organic produce being free of pesticides, but I was happy to learn from Tzippi Scharf Witz, that ALL organic products must be free of synthetic chemicals. This means that organic processed foods not only lack pesticide residues but also exclude artificial chemicals, preservatives, and artificial colors from their ingredients.

In addition, organic foods are free from trans fats, as these fats are chemically produced and are not permitted in organic production. Organic foods also do not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), ensuring that they are GMO-free. Additionally, you will not find bleached white flour or bleached sugar in organic products. This knowledge made me appreciate organic products even more!

It's worth noting that while the term "healthy" is subjective, we can see that organic foods are comparatively healthier than their non-organic counterparts.

When choosing organic processed foods, you are making a healthier choice compared to conventional processed foods, as you can avoid potentially harmful chemicals in the products. However, it's important to be mindful of the choices within the organic processed food category. Opting for organic processed foods loaded with organic sugar or indulging in organic junk food with high amounts of oils does not constitute a healthy diet, even if they are organic.

Eating organic is always a better choice, but relying only on processed foods, even if they are organic, as the foundation of a diet is not a healthy practice. It is important to prioritize a well-balanced diet that emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods, preferably organic, to genuinely support overall health.

To learn more read our previous blog post: "Should We Eat Organic"

Ever-Changing Health Trends

Health trends and dietary recommendations have undergone many changes over the years as new research and scientific discoveries change our understanding of what is considered healthy. While it can be confusing and even frustrating to adapt to one health trend only to discover another that seems more beneficial, it is vital to maintain an open mind and stay informed about the evolving realm of health advice

Remember that red meat was once considered a cornerstone of a healthy diet. It was commonly promoted as a source of essential nutrients and protein. However, as research advanced, we learned about the potential links between excessive red meat consumption and an increased risk of certain health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.

Similarly, our perceptions of smoking have dramatically changed. In the past, smoking was perceived as a stress-relieving activity. However, scientific research has demonstrated the danger of smoking on our health. The shift in our understanding of smoking's impact on our health underscores the importance of evidence-based information and the ability to adapt our choices as new knowledge emerges.

When I reflect on the dietary choices my family and I make today, I realize how different they are from what we consumed years ago. It's essential to acknowledge that our past nutrition choices may have been misguided, but that should never deter us from learning to make better choices for ourselves and our families to maintain optimal health today.

Recently, I came across a valuable acronym by nutritionist Jeff Novick that serves as a reminder of how to eat well. CRAP stands for Calorie Rich And Processed foods. Regardless of whether a food is organic or not, the key to a healthy diet is to simply:

Avoid eating CRAP!

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