You walk into the supermarket and for the most part, what you see is what you get, right?

The fresh food aisle is full of fresh produce, you look in the fridge and freezer and all the things you expect to be there, are typically there. And even though all of the other aisles can be a bit of hit and miss with regards to actual nutritional value, we expect that to be the case.

Then you wander down the health food aisle, superfood central, looking for healthier options to feed yourself or your family. You walk out pleased that you found healthy chips because they are ‘vegetable chips’, or a paleo bar because it must be healthy if its paleo, right?

Unfortunately, for the most part, health foods often don’t live up to their claims. So here are my top claims to ignore and why:

  1. Real or Natural: A fresh apple is real, a fresh banana is natural. When you’re talking about a product that is shelf stable, what does this even mean? I have seen products say they are made from real fruit in the health food isle and that’s all well and good but if 5% of my fruit bar is real fruit then that term has no meaning whatsoever. So be wary of these sorts of claims and read the ingredients.
  1. Organic: Often foods will be labelled as organic in an attempt to appear healthier. However, they typically will have the same amounts of saturated fats, salt or sugar as their equivalents. Organic is not an indicator of nutritional quality, it is just a food classification.
  1. Lite: This is a useful term when you’re comparing dairy products like yoghurt, milk or cheese where some of the fat content has been moved during the production process. Purchasing the lite alternative is often worthwhile in these instances. But on a packet of processed snacks, its meaningless. These foods actually have fat added to them to give them a pleasant mouth feel or flavour and are usually products that weren’t nutritionally beneficial to begin with.
  1. Long lists of ‘no added’ or ‘free from’: These long lists are designed to make you eat more of a food item than you normally would.

Instead, shop for mostly fresh foods and if you are purchasing packaged foods, the first place to look is the ingredients list. All ingredients must be listed in order of decreasing weight, from most to least:

  • The first 3-4 ingredients are the most important. So if one of them is sugar or salt, I’d give it a miss
  • Skip foods with long and complex lists
  • Use the 100g column to compare products side by side

Written By:

Miriam Pollak

CCHN Nutritionist