These days there are so many so-called superfoods and labels on packaged foods that it’s hard to know what’s really healthy and what’s hype. Why does a green juice need to have “vegan” on it or a salsa need to say “gluten free,” when both foods are naturally those things?
“On one hand, ‘buzzwords’ definitely work as far as traction and traffic go — they can help get someone to read an article that may be very helpful and informative, and they are what everyone is Googling,” says Keri Glassman, RD, founder of Nutritious Life. “But it’s important to keep in mind that many times a buzzword is just that and you need to read beyond the word.”
This is especially true because not all buzzwords have a standard definition, nor do they mean a certain food is healthy. “One of the things that happens is that they create a health halo around a particular food. We think, ‘Oh, that’s going to be better because it’s a non-GMO gummy bear,” says Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, owner of Active Eating Advice. “So then we overlook the fact that it’s still a cookie or a cheese puff, and we consume unnecessary calories and spend more than we normally would.”
Be especially wary of these seven buzzwords dietitians are sick of hearing:
While it may seem as though, ‘Duh, who wants to eat something unnatural?’, this term isn’t defined by the FDA, so from a packaged food standpoint, it can really be anything, Glassman says.
“Clean means free of what?” Bonci asks. “This is not a term that provides any useful or helpful direction.”
We can all admit this term is overused. First it was acai, then it was kale and then quinoa. Now almost anything gets labeled a superfood. “What makes one food more super than another?” says Bonci, noting that different foods are high in different nutrients, plus a lot of the claims about superfoods are just that — claims, not proven scientific facts. “Nobody can only eat acai berries and call it a day,” Bonci says. “And you’re not jeopardizing your health if you’re not eating superfoods.”
“Research has shown that fat is our friend,” Glassman says. “And it’s well known now that when fat is removed, other ingredients like sugar are added to make up for it.” That added sugar often makes fat-free or low-fat foods have just as many calories as the regular version. Plus, fats help the body absorb many vitamins in addition to keeping you full.
Bonci goes a step further and says to avoid a label saying a food is “free” of anything. “It doesn’t mean it’s any better, and oftentimes the foods never had that ingredient anyway,” she says. “It’s one thing if you need to watch out for gluten or dairy, but we have transcended that. There’s gluten-free water.”
“Here again, foods that would never have GMO ingredients in the first place get slapped with this label because food companies know many consumers are concerned about GMOs,” Bonci says. There are only eight genetically modified crops commercially available in the US: papaya, sugar beets, corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa and squash. If none of those foods are on the ingredients list, then of course it’s GMO-free.
7. SIMPLY MADE
“Nobody is going to put ‘complicated’ on the label,” Bonci says, adding that “anything in a package had to go through some processing.” That doesn’t make the food any better or worse per se. Plus, “you don’t see ‘simply made’ on an apple, but it grows on a tree from the ground,” Bonci says.