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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Why “healthy” is a misleading word

For those of you who take an interest in what you eat, and your health in general, new product releases that claim to be the latest and greatest for health and fitness catch our attention In the past few weeks alone we have seen a new high calcium breakfast cereal, no added sugar yoghurt and the product which particularly grabbed my attention, pizza with the Heart Foundation TICK. All of these products claim to be “healthy” choices, based on their individual nutritional characteristics which have a potential selling point with consumers.

Unfortunately from a dietetic perspective, my definition of what is healthy is often very different from a high GI cereal that has calcium added; a yoghurt that contains artificial sweetener or a brand of pizza which may have a TICK but which also contains >90g of total carbohydrate which is the carbohydrate equivalent to 6+ slices of bread.

Another more general example of this can be demonstrated if we consider the nutritional profile of ice cream versus yoghurt. Ice cream is generally thought of as a product that is far less healthy than yoghurt but if you consider that a tub of yoghurt can contain up to 30g of total carbohydrate and >200 calories compared to an ice cream such as Paddle Pop MOO which contains <100 calories and just 20g of total carbohydrate, you can again see that it can be easy to be mislead by products that are routinely put into a “healthy” category.

What is healthy or not for an individual comes down to how many calories the food has; the type of carbohydrate and fat it contains and what else it offers nutritionally, not just one of these characteristics. And like everything in life, if a food seems and tastes too good to still be low in calories and carbohydrates, it usually is.