Whether you’re scrolling through a restaurant menu or shopping for groceries, if healthy eating is on your mind you may tend to base your food choices on certain buzzwords you spot on menus or food packages. Some of these buzzwords clue you in to how the dish is prepared whereas at other times they may be used to make a food item seem more nutritious than it actually is. Using these buzzword indicators can help you avoid unhealthy eating options and aid your quest for healthy weight management this summer.
Danger Zone Food Descriptions 101
Sometimes it’s not the food itself but a sauce or dressing that can get you. Potatoes contain vitamin C and more potassium than bananas, spinach, or broccoli. But if they’re made “au gratin” then beware—this means the dish will most likely be covered with cheese, heavy cream, and bread crumbs. Similarly, “battered” and “creamed” are other terms to be wary of when used to describe a dish. Anything battered is made with flour, eggs, and butter, then deep fried. Creamed broccoli, spinach, and corn may sound healthy since they’re made with vegetables. However, the cream sauces are thick with butter and heavy in fats and oils, canceling out most of the nutritional value of the vegetables.
More Obvious Warning Signs
Many BBQ sauces and marinades contains lots of sugar, which can make your glycemic index shoot up. If you’re trying to eat lighter and going the soup and salad route, it’s best not to go the creamy route. When trying to choose a healthy soup, a vegetable-based broth is the best choice. If you’re on a salad kick try to avoid heavy dressing such as bleu cheese, or at least ask for it to be served on the side so you can control how much you want to add.
Checking That Label Twice
Advertisers and food companies might also use healthy-sounding buzzwords to persuade you to purchase their items. “No fat”, “low calorie”, and “whole grain” sound nutritious. However, sometimes a closer look at the label is warranted. Some labels will say “no added fat”, but this could still mean that the product is heavy in fat content; it just means that no fat was added during processing.
Choosing foods based on popular buzzwords alone can also be counterproductive to your healthy eating plan. Temple Northup, an assistant professor at the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication at the University of Houston, recently published a study in Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal. By putting 318 people through sample tests, given the choice between big-name products or products containing words such as “organic whole grain”, “heart healthy”, and “all-natural” on the packaging, he showed that the items containing the healthy buzzwords seemed immediately more appealing. But that didn’t necessarily mean the products were any healthier than items that didn’t have those key words on their packaging.
“Everything in our memory is connected, so everything associated with that word—like organic and thoughts of health—becomes more accessible and influences your decision,” Northrup said. For example, a can of soda may claim to be high in antioxidants because it contains one antioxidant. But upon closer inspection, there may be just a minimal amount of it in the ingredients.
Interpreting Descriptions for Health
Choosing healthier eating options becomes easier when you know what you’re looking for and what to avoid. You don’t have to spend hours scouring labels. Understanding how food is prepared and what a claim on a package really means can help you to avoid the bad and continually choose the good, allowing you to support a healthy figure throughout summer and beyond.