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Why ‘gluten-free’, ‘vegan’, ‘local’ or ‘organic’ does not automatically mean ‘good for you’

A couple of months ago I was in NYC for a conference and I went to the Whole Foods at the bottom of the building for lunch. As I waited in line for a tea, I took a good look at my surroundings. All around me were signs promoting local, vegan and gluten free products – “local pastries”, “vegan cupcakes”, “gluten free cookies”, “organic crisps”. Standing there, taking it all in, I had a realisation about the power of labels and how much of an impact words have on our choices.

Many people shopping in that store would have seen those labels and automatically presumed those products were healthy. In the ever-changing world of nutrition and bombarded by a proliferation of messages, these are the things we’re currently being told are good for you (just as we were educated about ‘low-fat’ or ‘high-fibre’ foods in the past). And yes, organic produce may be higher in nutrients. There are some people who do have a sensitivity to gluten and removing it from their diets has been beneficial to them. For environmental and ethical reasons, buying local produce can be a positive thing. A vegan approach has had health benefits for a number of people.

However, just because a product has one of these labels doesn’t mean it’s nutritious and the reality is, we need to be curious about the food we eat (like animals who naturally sniff food before they consume it). We need to be looking at the what’s actually inside these ‘healthy’ products and we need to question what we are putting inside our bodies.

I suppose the key issue seems to be time and effort. We are living busy lives where we value convenience and we’ve absolved ourselves of responsibility for our food choices. We have voluntarily given it to companies and the media and rely on external influences to tell us what is good for us rather than looking at the information critically, experimenting and seeing what nourishes us best as individuals. It’s easier to quickly choose something with a ‘healthy’ label than take the time to assess and question the reality.

But ‘local’, ‘vegan’, ‘organic’, ‘gluten-free’, ‘low fat’, ‘low sugar’, ‘artisan’, ‘natural’ are words which don’t equal ‘healthy’. They are simply labels. Many of these products contain chemicals, additives and fillers that are doing nothing to support ongoing wellbeing. Buying something from Whole Foods, Planet Organic or a local health food shop doesn’t naturally mean that it’s a wholesome choice. So what do we do?

  1. Let’s start by focusing on food that doesn’t need a label with a list of ingredients. The wealth of colourful and glorious fruit and vegetables that line the produce aisles. Organic and grass-fed meat, wild and sustainable fish. Nutritious wholegrains, nuts and seeds
  1. Avoid processed food
  1. If you are eating food with a label, take a good look at the ingredients
  • Prioritise products with 5 ingredients or less
  • Make sure you can understand what each of the ingredients is (Hydroxypropyl Methyl Cellulose anyone?)

And that’s essentially it. Let’s take back the power and truly own how we care for our bodies by enjoying a varied, nourishing and tasty diet.

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