Supermarket shopping these days can be quite complicated. The shelves are lined with products claiming to be healthy, leaving us often puzzled on what to choose. Smoothie shops are boasting about their Acai bowls and smoothies, leaving us to wonder what is an Acai berry anyway? And since when did we want to have sliced avocado on everything from toast to salads to sushi? Truth is as long as it promises to make you healthy in some way, many people will be interested and may buy into it. It's important to be an informed consumer.
The health food industry expects to bring in an estimated $1 billion in 2017, with that number still expected to grow in the coming years. While most shoppers are savvy enough to recognize healthy items, such as fruits, vegetables and lean protein, there are many other foods that are relatively new to the market place. Are they all as healthy as they claim to be? Or are they what we would call “faux healthy”? The answer is not as easy as 1,2,3. Lets take a look at some of the foods in question and see if they are all they are cracked up to be.
Acai Bowls - Take one look at Instagram and Acai bowls are all the rage! With their vibrant color, sweet taste and “super powers” (rich in antioxidants), who wouldn't want one? Well before you decide to make this your everyday breakfast or snack, you might want to proceed with caution. The truth is that the Acai berry is truly rich in antioxidants, ten times the amount found in blueberries, and very low in sugar. Studies show that this berry, which originates in the Amazon, plays an important role in heart and digestive health. The fruit itself, is great. While that may be true, the Acai bowl itself is typically made out of the powdered or puree form, both of which is stripped of most of the nutritional value. So the bottom line is that the Acai bowl you are ordering up may easily be boasting upwards of 50 grams of sugar, and not much else. Although it sounds healthy, this is one food that should remain as a once-in-a-while treat! Verdict: The fruit itself is great; be aware of it's form/how it has been processed, and what it's being mixed with.
Granola - Granola has long been touted as a healthy, all natural choice. For this reason many people are opting to mix this into their morning yogurt for the perfect crunch or use it to top off their favorite frozen dessert. While it may have originally come from an all natural source, but many varieties are loaded with calories, fat and sugar, and devoid of fiber. For those still wanting to include granola in their diets, it is best to stick to a 1/4 cup or look for granola options that are higher in fiber and lower in sugar to give the same delicious crunch. It largely comes down to ingredients - all granolas are not going to be equal in their nutritional value (always read the ingredients - it's more important than calories). Verdict: It's a great way top off a dish or add a little crunch - just watch the ingredients and portion sizes as it tends to pack a serious caloric punch and always check the ingredients of any store bought granola. One way to keep the ingredients nutritious is to make your own - it saves money, too: Oatmeal Cookie Granola - Healthy Granola Recipe
Avocado Toast - With over 38,000 photos of avocado toast on Instagram alone, it is clear this is one food trend that is here to stay. Hold the butter, and pass the avocado on over. Avocados sliced atop a piece of whole grain toast are the perfect blend of a rich creamy taste on a crunchy complex carbohydrate. Avocados are not only delicious but rich in vitamins and minerals, high in fiber and are a good source of protein. Although they are high in fat, they contain the good fats that have been shown to reduce the risks of heart disease. This is one food that definitely gets thumbs up as a good choice. Verdict: Enjoy! There are so many delicious variations of this - here's one of our favorite go-to breakfasts or lunches: Avocado and Egg Open-Faced Sandwich with Roasted Tomatoes
Smoothies - It seems that everyone is serving up smoothies these days! With fruit and yogurt or milk as the main ingredients, one would think you cannot go wrong. However, in many cases the main ingredients also include "fruit" juice (with a low percentage from actual fruit), frozen yogurt or sherbet as a base. This ends up making the smoothie high in nutritionally empty calories, and devoid of fiber that is found in actual fruit. Not to mention many people find that even when drinking a smoothie, they remain hungry and wind up looking for something additional to eat. When ordering a smoothie be sure you know its contents and consider it as a meal replacement not as a snack to hold you over. Verdict: Just like with anything else, it all comes down to how it's made - the issue being that it's often made with less than ideal ingredients. Look for whole foods based smoothies, read ingredient labels, and consider making your smoothies at home so you're sure they're as healthy as they are tasty. Try this recipe: Blueberry-Banana and Cacao Smoothie Bowl
Nutrition Bars - Bars were originally marketed to athletes to supplement their diet or to eat following a great workout, but today it seems that just about everyone is enjoying them. They seem to be the perfect choice to eat on-the-go, throw in your bag for later or to have handy just in case you're hungry. Energy fueling, brain-boosting, low glycemic and high protein are among the many different types of bars that adorn shelves and vending machines everywhere. The bottom line is what's inside the bar that counts. With so many nutrition bars on the market, the key is to read the label to understand what nutrients it contains. While some bars are packed with nutrients, such as proteins or calcium, others are nothing more than sugar. As long as you know what you are getting, a bar might be the perfect solution for that extra snack or meal you needed, especially when you're eating on the run. Verdict: With some careful shopping and reading of ingredients, you can find food bars that are actually made of real food ingredients; fortunately, there are many more options available in this department than there has been in the past. Better yet, make your own: Healthy breakfast bars recipe: Banana Oat Bars
Written in conjunction with a registered dietitian
FB Note: This was a question that many of you had asked us - you wanted us to tackle some of the most trendy health foods and breakdown whether or not they were actually healthy. As you can tell, most of the answers always come back to a solid "it depends". I know that can be a frustrating response if you just want a clear answer, but in the end, you have to take on an active role and implement some critical thinking when it comes to making decisions about your diet. Additionally, while we 100% believe in eating a nutritionally dense diet that makes you feel great and improves your chances of staying healthy, we don't believe in strict diet rules or deeming certain foods "bad", as you risk the chances of creating more desire for that very food. Watch: I don't workout or eat like you think I do; An argument for moderation