So-called 'Health' food - the fine print

The consumer trend toward "natural" and "healthy" foods has been going on for a while, and is getting a boost as many aspects, such as "organic," overlap with environmental concerns.

But as with most phenomena that involve marketing, it's not always assured that these terms are being used 100% accurately - in fact, you can pretty much be assured they're not. "Organic" is a term that's now at least regulated by the USDA, but as it turns out even that allows for unexpected wiggle room.


Two pages I happened across today attempt to help you navigate your way through these claims. One is an article on the Wall Street Journal's "Health Journal," The Fine Print: What's Really in a Lot of 'Healthy' Foods.

Though nowhere near exhaustive (it doesn't even address the longtime debate about whether excessive levels if mercury and PCBs in fish make this "health" food worth eating or not), it surveys a lot of the most common foods and additives that people are looking for as healthy or unhealthy and tries to sort them out, including "wheat bread," salt substitutes, fiber, artificial sweeteners, trans fat, yogurt, "super water" and Omega 3s. It leads off with an explanation of "plumped" chicken with added saltwater, something most chicken buyers are unaware they're buying because this is still able to be labeled All Natural.

"So-called enhanced or 'plumped' chicken," the article states, "has between 200 and 400 mgs of sodium per serving, almost as much as a serving of fast-food french fries."

French fries - that's something we know is unhealthy, but even among comfort foods there may be some surprises.Sugar Stacks makes it easy to see how much sugar different foods contain with simple visual photo illustrations of the food with an appropriate number of sugar cubes next to it. And it covers not just junk food and other processed varieties but fresh fruits and vegetables as well. There are some surprises here, too - who'da thunk strawberries had so little sugar compared to other fruits?

Feel free to add your favorite resources for food info in the comments. The more we educate ourselves about the realities of our food, the better choices we can make for ourselves and for the planet.