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Is There Such A Thing As Healthy Junk Food?

Apr 26, 2008
Can junk food be healthy?

The food industry certainly wants you to think so!

That's why they're creating an increasing number of foods with health claims.

From vitamin-spiked Diet Coke, to whole-grain Pop Tarts, from misleading labels on Tyson chicken, to McDonald's salads laden with high-fat salad dressing, marketing claims abound.

But are these foods actually good for us?

In Michael Pollan's new book "In Defense of Food," he argues against "nutritionism," or removing nutrients from whole foods and putting them into processed food or taking them as supplements for their health benefits.

Don't let these ploys fool you.

Be suspicious of any food that comes in a package, box, or a can. Most of these products just aren't real food.

Let me tell you about one of my patients.

He's a food scientist who invents new foods in the lab by mixing chemicals. I call them "Frankenfoods."

But working with these chemicals all the time was making my patient sick. We tried hard to lessen his exposure to them.

One day, he brought me an industry journal called "Food Business News." I found it shocking.

The publication was filled with marketing ploys to help the industry give their poor-quality foods the appearance of being healthy.

One ad was for Food Ingredient Solutions, a company that makes food dyes to color junk food with natural pigments.

Another was for Tyson Foods, which cleverly labels their chicken as "produced without antibiotics that impact antibiotic resistance in humans." That means they did use antibiotics -- just not ones that cause problems in humans.

Another article focused on a company called Fitch Ratings, which said that innovation in the food industry will continue in areas of "perceived" health and wellness, convenience, and ethnic products.

That's right.

It's only "perceived" health and wellness -- not actual health and wellness.

That means that you just need to make people believe they are eating or drinking something healthy. Whether it is actually healthy doesn't matter.

And there were also advertisements for whole-grain Lean Pockets, which are the same old processed pocket sandwiches with some flecks of fiber added to make you think you're eating healthy food.

I also saw an ad for something called Vegi Pure, a cholesterol-lowering product that adds plant phytosterols to junk food.

As you can see, the food industry is doing all it can to convince you to choose its junk foods disguised as healthy foods.

Instead, take a cue from Michael Pollan. He says, "Eat food [meaning real, whole food]. Not too much. Mostly plants."

So what should you eat?

Choose food that comes from a farm, not a lab - and then you won't have to think about what all these claims mean.

You'll be eating healthy food, naturally. Here is some more information about what to eat:

* Whole, real food such as vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, lean animal protein like small wild fish and poultry, and whole omega-3 eggs.

* Small amounts of grass-fed, antibiotic- and hormone-free beef or lamb.

So don't believe food scientists' attempts to make you believe you need special ingredients to stay in good health - Choose whole, real food instead!

Now that's food for thought.
About the Author
Mark Hyman, MD is a pioneer in functional medicine, practicing physician and best-selling author. A sneak preview of his new book The UltraSimple Diet is available. Go to The UltraWellness Blog to see the full details on Nutritionism.
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