Hype or Health? How to Choose (actually) Healthy Items at the Grocery Store
There’s no doubt about it - the plant-based space continues to expand and evolve at a lockstep pace, and big brands are taking note. As a result, it’s become even more difficult and confusing for customers to distinguish between what’s actually healthy and wholesome vs. whose simply using key marketing phrases in an attempt to better position their product for improved sales. Many brands use terms like “gluten-free” or “vegan” to give the consumer the idea that they’re offering a healthier option when in reality those terms don’t do a whole lot to reflect the overall healthfulness or nutritional value of their product. Now we’re seeing additional terms like “plant-based”, “keto” and “paleo” pop up more and more. While marketing can often be a tricky business one thing is for sure - ingredients never lie. While those keywords can provide some great guidance at first glance, here are a few ways to dive a little deeper by looking at the ingredients to truly determine whether a product is healthy ... or just all hype.
What to look for:
- Whole food ingredients - things that are just 1 whole food item with nothing else added i.e “almonds” or “quinoa” or “cacao”. It’s easy to tell that these things are meant to be eaten because they grow from the ground and aren't made in a lab. Mother Nature always does it best.
- Minimally processed - look for keywords like “handcrafted” “small batch” or “made at low temperatures” - all of which reflect that the item isn’t mass-produced and heavily processed. While this isn’t a perfect strategy (as those can also be used as marketing terms), it can reflect a more consciously crafted product.
- No highly processed, cheap oils such as canola, soy, and corn (the three worst offenders since those can also be GMO contaminated). Also take note of the common “canola, sunflower and/or safflower,” combo. When you see these oils it’s a clear signal that the company is using cheaper ingredients to save themselves money but that aren't necessarily the healthiest option. Look for cold-pressed coconut, olive, or avocado oils for better alternatives.
- No artificial additives or preservatives. That goes without saying. You want to avoid anything that’s a non-food-related ingredient added simply for shelf-life stability or extension. If the food needs to be preserved for food safety look for things derived from plants like “rosemary extract”.
- No added refined sugars - this includes corn syrup but also cane sugar, cane syrup, glucose syrup, etc. Look for sweeteners like coconut sugar, maple syrup, dates, or raw honey instead - these are more whole food options that have nutritional value. Refined sugar is simply empty calories.
At Windy City Organics we truly pride ourselves in crafting raw chocolate treats, nut and seed butters, and functional superfood snacks from real food ingredients chosen especially for their nutritional benefits. It’s easy to tell that our products are great for you - our ingredients speak louder than our branding, which is exactly how it should be.
Cheers to your health!