Health sells, and the health industry is big business. During my career in food publishing, I’ve seen more food fads and diets than I can remember. They often promise quick weight loss and limit certain foods, or rely heavily on a diet of just a few specific foods. (Cabbage soup or grapefruit, anyone?)
We all get drawn to quick fixes and want to believe in miracle solutions. It’s easy to be swept away by the promise of losing 5 kg (11 lb) in a week, or of solving all our health problems by cutting out a certain food group. If only it was that easy. The one thing all fad diets have in common is that they don’t work over the long term. Good nutrition and the benefits of eating well require balanced eating over the course of a week, a month and a year. I am highly sceptical of any philosophy that eliminates entire food groups, demonises certain foods or consists of drinking all your meals.
It’s all on the label
Food packaging, like all other forms of marketing, is designed to be persuasive and appeal to our emotions. In Australia food labelling is regulated but still doesn’t always tell the whole story. For example, a product can be labelled ‘reduced fat’ but it could still be relatively high in fat – it simply needs to be a certain percentage lower in fat than the full-fat version. Similarly, a product labelled ‘low-fat’ will indeed be low in fat – but it might make up for that by being packed with salt and sugar to replace some of its flavour.
I can’t emphasise how important it is to read the label, but by ‘label’ I mean the ingredients list and the nutrition panel, not the claims such as ‘low fat’ and ‘reduced sugar’. The ingredients list and the nutrition panel provide valuable straightforward information that help us make informed decisions.
The best way to compare the nutritive value and kilojoule count of processed foods is to look at the ‘per 100 g’ column. The ‘per serve’ column is less useful because the given serving size can be unrealistically small: who eats only half a small tub of yoghurt in one sitting? By comparing 100 g quantities for all foods you are levelling the playing field.
And, of course, reading the label is also critical when it comes to choosing foods that meet your own ethical standards, such as free-range, grass-fed or organic foods.
If I could say just three things…
• Eat more whole foods and less processed food. This is the single most important way to improve diet.
• Keep an inquiring mind and question the credibility
of food fads. Good nutrition doesn’t come from individual ‘superfoods’ or excluding food groups: it’s a result of overall food intake. So, educate yourself about healthy eating. Knowledge is power.
• Whole foods are delicious foods. Eating a healthy diet based on whole foods doesn’t mean depriving yourself, counting calories or restricting enjoyment. It means eating well and loving it.
Cook the book
Recipe, images and edited extract from Real Delicious by Chrissy Freer (Murdoch Books, $35 hbk).