by Catherine Staffieri
Healthy is a term that dietitians spend their careers promoting – and defining. People ask me all the time, “Is [insert any food] healthy?” or they say, “I’m really healthy because I avoid [insert any food]”. So what does healthy mean when it comes to food? As it turns out, there are strict definitions, and then there’s my definition.
Back in March, the FDA issued a violation letter to the food company Kind for misusing the word “healthy” on its packaging of four different flavor granola bars. The FDA has a strict definition for “healthy,” part of which is that a product must have 1 gram or less of saturated fat in order for a company to be able to put the “h-word” on its label. To someone who reads food labels ALL THE TIME and encourages others to do so on a daily basis, this is a powerful example that I can use with my clients. The controversy comes mostly from the use of nuts in these granola bars, which contributes to the saturated fat content. “But wait,” you’re thinking, “I’ve heard all these wonderful things about nuts and how they’ve been shown to lower blood pressure, decrease my risk of developing diabetes, and are part of a balanced diet.” And that’s all true! This is where food, marketing, and science all converge and end up confusing and frustrating the consumer public.
Let’s break it down:
– You’ve got the FDA trying to give some nutritional guidelines to our vast food chain to help sort out foods that are better and those that are worse for our health.
– You’ve got the food scientists and researchers analyzing the nutritional content of foods to determine how all their components are better or worse for our health.
– You’ve got the food manufacturers wanting to create tasty convenience foods that will appeal to the largest swath of consumers and bring in the highest profit.
So where does that leave the educated consumer who believes in supporting local businesses? We can look at the ingredients!!! The best piece of advice I can impart as a dietitian is to READ THE LIST OF INGREDIENTS. If you can’t identify it, if you can’t pronounce it, if it’s longer than you’re grocery list, then AVOID IT. Do not put it in your cart, do not put it in your pantry, do not put it in your mouth. That’s my definition of healthy and it applies to everything from granola to cereals to chocolate, butter and ice-cream.
The bottom line is this: Kind bars can be healthy if you believe that healthy means being able to identify every single ingredient in a product. Granola can be healthy AND have saturated fat, as long as that fat comes from a source known to have nutritional benefits, like nuts. And if you believe that you don’t have to buy something just because a large food company tells you to, then definitely check out MOD’s Back Roads Granola. Every ingredient is clearly listed on the back and I know just where the saturated fat is coming from. Oh and let’s not forget the most important part of healthy eating—it’s delicious!
Catherine Staffieri is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist. She has a local private practice, Roundtable Nutrition, www.roundtable-nutrition.com, and also works for a nutrition consulting business, Your Secret Ingredient, www.yoursecretingredient.com. She lives in Greenwich with her husband and two sons.