Thursday, May 13, 2010

What Do You Believe? Where Does the Truth Lie?

Do you believe you have the power of self? That you can make decisions in your own long-term self interest? That you can be successful in your efforts related to making better nutritional choices? Here’s one—do you believe given enough information you can make healthy dietary choices for yourself and your family? What kind of information do you need to make those decisions? Is someone else making those decisions for you?

We ask a lot of questions. You might be surprised by the answers. Starting at the top, yes, we all have the power of self, we can all be responsible for making decisions in our long-term self interest—and we can be successful in making better nutritional choices. That was easy. Now it gets trickier.

Given enough information, “enough” being the key word, we can choose to make healthy dietary choices. But, there’s a lot of mis-information out there mixed in with good information that can make those choices murky.

Here’s an example—organic food. When you hear “organic” you probably think healthy, clean, nutritious, even low-cal. But think again. A recent study by the Cornell Food and Brand Lab found that when a food is labeled “organic” people tend to believe it is a better choice with fewer calories. It also found people tend to eat more of it for that very reason—yet in truth, it generally has the same calorie content as its non-organic counterpoint. Organic produce is grown in soil, like any other produce, so needs to be washed, just like any other produce—and the jury’s still out on whether it’s measurably more “nutrient-dense.” The point is we tend to believe what we want to be true. But is it?

A small bite of healthy skepticism can prove filling.

Now, to answer the last question we asked at the beginning—sometimes someone else actually is behind the choices you make, and they’re not always making those choices in your best interest. Food manufacturers add salt and sugar to low-fat, low-calorie foods, and yes even organic foods, to make up for the fat they remove, and our tastes are programmed to crave that fat, and the sugar, and the salt. But, because of the package wording, we are driven to eat more of these “healthier” choices. We can actually end up consuming more calories from low-fat foods, because we eat more of them.

So, what do we do to move beyond packaging claims and mis-information? How do we take control of our choices? Read labels, and packaging, carefully. Read the ingredients and nutrition facts. Read the “health claims” with a true “grain of salt.” Compare ingredients and calories of low or reduced-fat products with their regular counterparts. Look at what’s been added. Look at the number of additives you can’t even pronounce. And, be mindful. Mindful of what you’re consuming, and mindful of what you might be “over-consuming.” And mindful of what your nutritional goals are—for yourself and your family.

Engage the “Power of Self.” Do you know a better way to address the growing epidemic of overweight and obesity—including childhood obesity?

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