Spoiler alert: “Natural” snack foods are still junk

I just got back from my annual trip to the Natural Products Expo in Baltimore, MD. It’s a huge trade show where food manufacturers, supplement companies, and anyone involved in the natural health industry gathers to mingle, talk shop, and promote their latest products. I always look forward to this event because I can get a sneak peak of what’s up-and-coming in the natural arena–for better and for worse.

There were some really exciting new ingredients I’ll be telling you about in the coming weeks and months. But there were also some trends that left me shaking my head. And today I want to tell you about a few of those…

Once again this year, I was overwhelmed by the amount of gluten-free products on display. I literally didn’t walk down a single aisle without someone hawking some sort of gluten-free processed food. There was gluten-free popcorn…gluten-free nut bars…gluten-free pasta. The list was endless.

This bastardization of our food supply started with the low-fat era. Then it was the low-carb craze. Now it’s gluten-free everything.

Please don’t get me wrong. While you know how I feel about “fat phobia,” I believe (and hope) low-carb is here to stay. And I do think gluten is evil.

But there’s a huge difference between foods that are naturally gluten free and low in carbohydrates and products that have been manufactured to be that way. As I’ve said before–don’t kid yourself with these products. They’re no better for you than any other processed food, despite being “gluten-free.”

But that was just one trend that left me shaking my head. Apparently,water is the next big thing. Water? Really?

Yes, I wholeheartedly agree that water is essential. In fact, I recommend drinking half your body weight in ounces every day. But you don’t need any of the expensive, gimmicky bottled waters taking natural food stores and supermarkets by storm. In fact, buying water in plastic bottles is always a no-no. Even if it says BPA-free. BPA is only ONE of the chemicals in plastic. And the fact is, we still don’t know the effects of all the other chemicals in plastic that leach into water.

Of course, straight tap water is full of contaminants like fluoride, chlorine, and residue from pharmaceuticals. So it’s worth investing in a good quality filter or reverse osmosis system. Keep it in a glass pitcher in the fridge. And drink it out of glass–not plastic.

Be wary of flavored waters, too. Most so-called “fruit waters” are artificially flavored and contain tons of added sugar (or, worse, artificial sweeteners). If you want to add some flavor to your water, use the real deal. (Some of my favorites are lemons, limes, berries, melon, cucumber, mint, and basil.)

The third big trend getting a lot of buzz at the show was collagen. It was in everything. From capsules for sports recovery to soft chews for joint health. It was in whey, elixirs, and even pet products. One supplement said: “Our happy cows openly graze on lush natural grass pastures providing the highest quality pasture-raised collagen from bovine hides.” Which sounds great…except for the fact that there’s no real proof that collagen can even be absorbed orally. (Besides, we already have Pycnogenol®, which helps support the body’s own natural collagen production at the cellular level.)

So, all in all, it was evident that the natural products marketplace is continuing to thrive because there is a increasing demographic of health-minded people who are literally hungry for anything they believe is better for them than traditional junk food.

And while that should be a great thing, unfortunately, the creative marketing these “natural” food manufacturers use has successfully hooked millions of people into believing their products are healthier. When, in fact, many of these foods are highly processed and have little-to-no nutritive value.

Snacking on chips, crackers, popcorn, etc., is ahabit many people have had for many years. So it can be tempting to switch to supposedly “healthier” versions of these foods instead of breaking the habit altogether. But if you’re ever going to achieve the goal of truly eating healthy, you need to ditch the processed, packaged foods altogether. Because REAL food doesn’t need an ingredients list.

Of course, we’re only human, and it would be unrealistic to say we’ll never eat something out of a box ever again. But consistency is the key. And the less you eat certain foods, the easier it becomes to stay away from them. Trust me and my patients on this!

So use your imagination. Eat well, eat healthy. And avoid processed foods of ANY kind.