Health food stores – trap or treasure4 min read

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Since adopting a JERF (Just Eat Real Food) / Paleo / Primal approach to eating we’ve discovered that most health food stores can be another trap.

The marketing is good so we are often lured inside the store hoping to find things that will help us on our quest for healthy foods. Sadly, this is not always the case.

Many of the things available are based around the conventional view of what is good or bad in our diet. So we see lots of substitutions:

  • processed white sugar is substituted with other types of sugars – some real and organic, and some artificial
  • dairy is often substituted with soy
  • saturated fats are substituted with either a `low fat’ version or vegetable oil

And many of the products contain wheat – just like the supermarket products.

Let’s look at some of the would-be traps.

Snack bars – these are one of the things that we all seem to look for, especially for the convenience of being able to grab them as we run out the door for the day, or while we are out. Just because they come from a health food store doesn’t mean they will be safe. No sugar? But there’s agave syrup (organic of course), or erythytol, xylitol, even aspartame. `Organic’ sugar is still sugar. (For more info on agave syrup see Mark’s Daily Apple.)  Grain? Many contain wheat, or it’s been substituted with soy protein of some kind.  Fats? Well, not saturated because that wouldn’t be healthy. (Tongue in cheek) Instead you’ll find `vegetable oil’.

Chocolate – hmmm….I think this one warrants another blog post. Yes, there are a lot of chocolates using raw cacao etc. and many are sweetened with agave syrup. But for now it’s enough to say that I choose to avoid agave syrup because of it’s high fructose content. See that section on Mark’s Daily Apple.

Dried fruits – healthy? Of course. But look again. We’ve found it almost impossible to buy dried fruits that do not have any additives. Most of them have vegetable oil added!!! And many of them have sugar added as well. Or, the really healthy ones have fruit juice added to sweeten them. What??!!! Dried fruit already has its natural sugars in a concentrated form. They don’t need more sugar! As we were searching for dried fruit for Christmas cooking we even found dried cranberries where sugar was the main ingredient!! Thus we’ve been making our own dried fruits.

Vegetable chips/crisps – organic of course. Most of them have vegetable oil or soy oil. We’ve found a couple of packs of vegetable chips that have only vegetables and palm oil. Palm oil has similar health benefits to coconut oil, however many people refuse to have it for environmental reasons.

Beef jerky – with `no added chemicals, no preservatives’. But don’t forget to read that label. We’ve not found a beef jerky in a store that does not contain some nasties – usually vegetable oil and sugar and soy. Good motivation to make our own.

Nuts – of course, we’re looking for raw nuts with no additives. Should be easy? No. And it doesn’t seem any better in a health food store. They all seem to be roasted, or have additives such as vegetable oil, salt, anti-caking agents, and even sugar.

Gluten free – there seems to be a huge variety of things with the `gluten free’ label. Again, read the labels!!! They’re often loaded with sugar, vegetable oil, soy, and chemical flavours.

Recently I went into three different health food stores in one day, thinking that I would pick up some coconut water/juice. Of course I was looking for 100% coconut water (or perhaps with water added) – but no, not to be found. There were several brands on the shelves of all three stores, but they all contained added sugar. Back to the supermarkets for my coconut water.

I’ve seen coconut milk in health food stores and organic food stores in one litre packs. I’m always interested so checked the labels. There it was – vegetable oil as one of the ingredients! Again, it’s back to the supermarket where I get coconut milk that has nothing but some water added.

The moral of the story – don’t think that getting a product from a health food store or organic store is always going to mean that it is a healthy alternative. Often you’re just swapping one processed food for another – and paying more for it. Remember to read the labels – once, twice, and again – front and back. Look at the `ingredients’ section first. And just because a particular brand has one product that meets all the criteria, it doesn’t mean their other products do also. Read the label of ALL products.

I have to say that we have found some treasures – such as raw cacao powder, cocoa butter, coconut sugar, coconut flour, and Braggs apple cider vinegar. Definitely not to be found in the supermarket.

You will certainly find the health food stores may be filled with traps and not many treasures. But the treasures are worth hunting for – wherever you find them.

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