We are constantly bombarded with nutrition and food messaging through advertising, media and social media with food labels such as gluten free, dairy free and vegan to name a few, being extremely common. What we forget is that these labels are just that, labels, and in their original conception, are there to provide important information for those with special dietary needs or dietary choices. However, just like any other industry, the food industry is susceptible to latest fashions and trends and these food labels are often used by food manufacturing companies to help promote and sell. While for those with a genuine dietary intolerance such as coeliacs disease or a dairy allergy, a product being labelled as gluten or dairy free is essential information, just because a food has a label does not automatically make it a better choice or ‘healthier’ and this is where the confusion can start.
what are wholefoods?
Wholefoods are foods that have had no or minimal processing, therefore being as close to their natural state as possible. Think fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, seafood and meat. It makes sense that if a food is in its natural state, it will provide the full abundance of nutrients (macro and micro) that it has to offer. For example, if you are a coeliac, it is important to try and choose wholegrain gluten free grains and their products (e.g., quinoa, buckwheat, millet and sorghum) which are higher in dietary fibre, protein and
vitamins and minerals than highly refined (processed) gluten free grains and starches (e.g. white rice flour, tapioca starch).
On the flip side, once a food is processed, valuable nutrients such as dietary fibre and vitamins and minerals are often stripped, while detrimental additives such as saturated fat, sugar and/or sodium are often added in, further lowering overall nutrition. Food labelling often ‘disguises’ processed foods. For example, many ‘plant-based’ products (e.g. sausages or meat alternatives) contain a long ingredient list and are in fact a processed food. Once again, it is about focusing on wholefood ingredients (e.g., tofu, legumes, nuts and seeds), not the label ‘plant based’ if following a vegan diet.
take home message?
Regardless of individual dietary requirements, intolerances and/or beliefs, we should focus on wholefoods, not labels.