If you’ve been following health-related feeds on Instagram, you’re probably familiar with terms such as “organic”, “whole food”, “multigrain” or “natural”. And, it’s likely that when you do your grocery shopping, you tend to hover near the organic foods section, and wonder whether you should swap your regular food choices with the organic versions. It’s likely that you also note the difference in prices, and tend to go with your regular choices. So, what do these terms really mean? Well, to be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure either, even though I would love to be an organic food consuming fitness freak. So, I did some research, and here is what I found out about the top 5 words which are thrown around nowadays.
Definition: Organic food refers to food which has been cultivated or prepared strictly in accordance with government-defined health standards. This means that organic foods have been subjected to fewer chemicals, if at all, and retain more of their natural goodness.
Benefits: Most of the synthetic chemicals and artificial hormones which are used in growing non-organic food are harmful, and most such chemicals are linked to deadly diseases. Reducing your exposure to them helps improve your health and immunity. Going by the same logic, foods which have used natural methods of farming and pest-control will retain their original nutrients and provide greater benefits. Hence, organic foods provide you with more nutrients and helps reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals.
Is it worth it: Not always. It makes sense to buy organic fruits, vegetables and meat products if you can afford to. However, the merits of buying organic spices are debatable, and probably not worth the extra bucks at this point in time.
2. Whole Foods
Definition: Whole foods are foods which have been refined as little as possible. Hence, they retain much of their natural nutrients, as they have been altered as little as possible. Examples of whole foods are fruits and vegetables. When whole foods get converted into processed foods (e.g. oranges to orange juice), they loses much of their nutrients and also get loaded with chemicals, preservatives and other synthetic items.
Benefits: By now, we all know that refined or processed foods are really bad for our health. Remember why sugar is so hated? Well, because it’s completely refined and has no real benefits. Having an orange is better than having a glass of orange juice, as you get more natural nutrients, and it also helps you feel more full. Whole foods help you control calories and get more nutrients at the same time.
Is it worth it: Definitely, and also because it’s so easily accessible, and at no extra cost. Rather than picking up strawberry ice-cream, pick up some real strawberries, freeze them and have them. Rather than picking up juice, just buy the real fruits.
3. Natural Foods
Definition: Natural foods avoid artificial ingredients, added colors and other harmful chemicals. In fact, the foods should be “minimally processed.” However, natural as food label doesn’t count for much. Such a vague definition is likely to be misused and it is. This is why you see “natural” almost everywhere, because there are no strict standards.
Benefits: Truly natural foods will be minimally processed and retain much of their natural nutrients. But, standards are lenient when it comes to labeling foods “natural” and manufacturers and retailers take the liberty to put the term on as many packages as they can. Hence, don’t fall for the “natural” gimmick.
Is it worth it: Not really. If the foods were actually natural, then they would be worth buying. But, “natural” as a term gets misused on food packages and doesn’t mean much. Since, you can’t tell if it’s really natural, don’t buy something just because it’s labeled so.
Definition: Multigrain means that the concerned product has more than one grain in it.
Benefits: None, as such. It’s just a mixture of different grains. It’s important to look at the list of ingredients, and see if healthy grains such as barley, oats or rye are being used. Multigrain as a healthy term means nothing.
Is it worth it: No, it’s quite a hoax. Don’t opt for multigrain because you think it’s healthier. Do have it, if you genuinely like the taste, but you’re probably better avoiding it if you don’t know the composition of it.
5. Fresh Foods
Definition: Fresh food is unprocessed food or food which hasn’t undergone any type of freezing or preservation.
Benefits: It’s always good to have fresh food, but the term doesn’t say much about the nutrients present in the food. It’s just that you’re having the most raw form of the food, before any sort of artificial preservatives are applied. Once foods are stored and are subject to various temperatures, bacterial growth can speed up. Hence, everyone wants “fresh” food.
Is it worth it: It depends. It’s always good to have foods which are fresh, but the real question is if it’s always possible. You may buy fresh meat, but it’s likely that you are going to have to store some of it, and then the “fresh” definition doesn’t really apply anymore. So, try having “fresh” foods, but don’t go crazy about it.
So, there you go. Next time, your colleague chooses multigrain at Subway, maybe you can explain to him or her, what multigrain really means. And, next time your friend picks up “natural” food, you can clarify what “natural” really means on food labels. Just, don’t be too annoying about it!
I’m going to continue my research on these popular terms to debunk some commonly held beliefs, and to identify what’s worth it and what’s not. Look out for my next list of 5 which is going to be out soon.