What actually is a ‘whole food’? Is any food really ‘clean’? What is A2 protein and should you be eating it? What is the difference between ‘no added sugar’ and ‘sugar free’? RESCU nutrition expert and dietitian Lyndi Polivnick translates the trendiest health buzz-words to help us eat healthier and feel great.
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In nutshell (pun intended), whole foods are foods that are as close to their natural state as possible meaning they have been minimally processed or refined. For example, nuts are a whole food but nut butter doesn’t make the cut. Opting for whole foods generally means products are healthier with more good nutrients like fibre and antioxidants with fewer unhealthy ingredients like added sugar, salt and saturated fat.
Undoubtedly the biggest health trend of the year, ‘clean eating’ is an approach that encourages healthy, whole and unprocessed food. Essentially, the aim of clean eating is eat more food made from scratch and choose nourishing ingredients that comes from the earth – not a packet. Whilst well-intentioned, sometimes the term ‘clean eating’ can be taken too far, leaving us with guilt for eating things other than kale or carrots. Aim to cook from scratch more often and choose unprocessed food where possible, but remember that everything is good for you in moderation even if it is ‘dirty’.
‘Genetically Modified’ foods are when the genetic material of an ingredient or food has been altered to enhance particular desirable characteristics. For example, corn plants can be modified to have a gene that makes them more resistant to insects. All GM foods sold undergo safety testing before being approved. Whilst critics suggest GM foods may be responsible for disease rates and poor human health, there is no scientific evidence to support this argument. At the moment, products do not need to identify if they contain GM foods.
Organic food is food produced without the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals. According to supporters of organic food, conventionally produced foods contains harmful chemicals that can negatively impact on the health of humans. Organic food is reportedly meant to stay fresher for long and taste better. At the moment, there is no evidence to support any of these claims. Remember that being certified organic does not automatically make a food healthy. An organic brownie still contains the same amount of good and bad nutrients as a regular brownie.
Whilst there is no official definition of ‘natural’ food, generally the terms refers to food that does not contain added colours, artificial flavours, or synthetic substances. Like the term ‘organic’, ‘natural’ does not automatically make a product good for you. For example, cane sugar, salt and lard can all be defined as ‘natural’.
Products that claim to be sugar-free must contain zero sugar. These products are usually sweetened with artificial or natural sweeteners. For example, diet soft drinks and chewing gum are sugar free. Whilst sugar-free products contain no calories from sugar, they are not automatically ‘calorie free’ and may still contain energy. Check the nutrition information panel before assuming sugar free means healthy. Hint: If a product says ‘sugar free’, it is probably not actually healthy.
NO ADDED SUGARS
Sugar is routinely added to foods during processing for a variety of reasons. Sugar goes by many names (56 to be exact!) like cane sugar, syrup, honey or fructose. Choosing products with claims of ‘no added sugar’ means that whilst no sugar containing ingredients are added during the processing, naturally occurring sugars may still be present. For example, yoghurt with ‘no added sugar’ will still contain sugars due to lactose, a naturally occurring sugar found in milk. When shopping for products, opt for ‘no added sugar’ options instead of ‘sugar free’ foods.
Dairy products usually contain a mixture of A1 and A2 beta casein proteins. Research has found that some people have unpleasant gut reactions to A1 protein so manufacturers have begun creating products containing only the more gentle A2 protein. Products containing A2 protein only may be suitable for people with sensitive bowels who would still benefit from eating diary foods.