Healthy Food Misconceptions


Healthy Food Misconceptions 

Supermarket shopping is dull.  To ease my boredom, I enjoy trolley watching. I may even try to match the trolley with the owner and am guilty of superior smugness when my trolley looks healthier.  Smug mode doesn’t last long, especially when my son is with me.  He is a sucker for packaging claims.  I am a nutritionist but he’s 11 going on 30 so won’t take my word for it, convinced I’m just being a boring mum and just saying no.  The quick dash around the supermarket turns into an hour-long session whilst we both read labels so he can work out for himself if I am overreacting.

Manufacturers will try many tricks to get you to buy their food.  The health conscious shopper often has to have a degree in both maths and nutrition to decipher the labels and marketing claims.   ‘One of your five a day’ ‘Packed full of goodness’, ‘Good for You’, ‘Low Fat’ ‘Skinny’ ‘Natural’.  The packaging is often green, natural colours, depicting healthy scenes so we can buy into the claims.

Labelling Low Down

Low Fat & Fat Free

We love the term low fat or fat free, but it certainly does not equate healthy.  To be deemed as low fat, food must contain no more than 3g of fat per 100g.  Fat free needs to contain no more than 0.5g of fat per 100g.  When you remove fat, you have to replace it with something in order to make it edible.  This is where sugar comes and is the reason why we have seen epidemic levels of obesity since the ‘Low Fat’ revolution.

No Added Sugar

We will be seeing more of these labels cropping up as the popularity of sugar free increases.  No added sugar does not mean it is sugar free.  Take our lovely fruit juice, containing no added sugar but actually has over 8 teaspoons of sugar per 250ml in the form of fructose.  Manufacturers may also use this term to disguise another unhealthy ingredient such as high fat or high salt.


These terms all make you think of a fabulous diet food but it may not mean anything.  The manufacturer has to show this product contains 30% less fat or calories than their standard version.  It does not matter if another manufacturer or own brand (as is often the case) contains less than the skinny version.

One of your five a day

This really makes me cross as it is often put on foods aimed at children.   Fewer than 1 third of adults and 1 tenth of children achieve the minimum 5 a day.   Go to the foods promoted for kid’s lunchboxes and you will find lots of sugar-laden processed fruit strings and such like all promoted as providing one of your five a day.   There is no substitute for real food.  Anything processed is not going to give you the nutrients and antioxidants of the fresh product.

Not So Healthy Food 

porridge-oats-heart-slate-healthy-eating-cleanGranola– Perfectly placed in the healthier end of the cereal aisle, tempting you in its natural, organic looking packaging and high price tag.  Granola is baked in oils; some healthier than others, but it is also packed with sugar

Swap for porridge or if you like a natural light breakfast, have some Full Fat Greek Yoghurt topped with some berries and a handful of nuts and seeds.

Cereal Bars – Sound healthy, often depicting lovely country images, oats, honey and nature but behind that lovely image lurks a bar that is packed with sugars – in some cases just as much as a confectionary bar.  Marketed to be the mid-morning snack to help you last until lunchtime.

Swap for a handful of nuts such as Almonds

Smoothies and Fruit Juices – yes it is fruit and yes that should be healthy but fruit is packed with the fruit sugar fructose.  When you eat whole fruit you are also eating fibre, which slows down the digestion of the fructose.  Plus, try to eat several pieces of fruit in a minute or two.  You can ‘t do it, but we can all knock back a bottle of juice in seconds.  Smoothies and Juices can contain over 8 teaspoons of sugar per 250ml.

Swap for eating whole fruit and quench your thirst with water, green tea or other healthy beverages.

Rice Cakes These have always reminded me of polystyrene.  So many people believe they are healthy because they are market as low fat but they really don’t contain much goodness nutrient wise, and they have a high glycaemic index so not as diet friendly as your made to believe.

Swap for – wholegrain and seeded breads – these may be more calorific but you will stay fuller for longer.

Maple Syrup – If you want to go sugar free you may be tempted to opt for Maple Syrup or even Agave syrups in the belief these are kinder, more natural sweeteners that don’t have the same detrimental affect as sugar.   Maple Syrup may contain a tiny amount of minerals but, along with Agave, are high in Fructose, which is the sugar that causes the most damage.

Swap for Stevia, xylitol or, if you are after a syrup alternative, rice malt syrup

Brown Bread – we all think brown bread is healthier than white, however, brown bread could just have additives to colour it such as caramel.  Also be aware that some seeded bread may not also be wholemeal.

Swap for breads that contain the wholegrain and wholemeal.

Low Fat Flavoured Yoghurts – these are so popular, filling up most of the yoghurt aisle as we are all so concerned about low fat.  Think they are healthy?  They will be packed with sugar or artificial sweetener in order to improve the taste as it is devoid of natural fats.  Have a look at those specific for weight loss such as Weightwatchers or Muller Lite and you will also see a whole list of artificial ingredients.

Swap for Natural Greek yoghurt and add your own berries and fruit.  Natural full fat Greek yoghurt is packed with protein, keeping you fuller for longer.

Energy Drinks – These are full of sugar and caffeine, designed to give you energy and an instant power surge.  What the manufacturers don’t tell you is that it will leave you even flatter within a few hours.  Great plan for them as it means you will dig deeper into your pockets and continue to buy more energy drinks to sustain you.

Swap For – real food, plenty of protein and healthy fats will keep you energised and fuller for longer.


Sarah Flower

Sarah Flower is a leading Nutritionist and Author.

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