Food buzzwords – demystified!

Head down any aisle in your local supermarket, and you’ll spot hundreds of curious phrases plastered across food packages, all claiming their right to the healthy-food throne. 

As many of us are becoming more health-conscious, companies are latching on to these buzz words in a bid to shift their products, which makes it difficult to find foods that actually live up to the benefits they claim.

To help you out, we’ve taken a closer look at some of the most common buzz words, to see if they’re really all they live up to be.

Organic

This term is often used with fruit, vegetables and meat, and generally comes with a heftier price tag, so you’d be forgiven for having some skepticism! 

However, the use of the term ‘organic’ is actually tightly regulated in the UK, with all food producers required to register with an ‘organic control body’. Essentially, you’re only allowed to label food as organic if 95% of the product’s farmed ingredients are free of  artificial fertilisers, pesticides and genetically modified organisms. 

As a result, the term is actually much more than a gimmick – studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition have even found that organic dairy and meat products are more nutritious than their mass-produced counterparts. They contain 50% percent more omega-3 fatty acids, and will cut your exposure to pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Superfoods

Despite the name, this buzzword isn’t referring to flying vegetables with capes, fending off the forces of evil. In fact, the foods referred to may not be very super at all.

Marketers love to slap ‘superfood’ on their product packaging, and it’s generally used to describe foods that have a high density of nutrients – blueberries, kale and chia seeds are often associated with the term.

Superfoods are also hailed as having the power to ward off diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, but there’s little evidence to support this. In fact,  according to Cancer Research UK, the term ‘superfood’ has no real scientific basis. They explain that, although it’s true that a varied diet can help to reduce the risk of cancer, it’s unlikely that any single food will make a major difference on its own.

You may want to file superfoods under ‘myth’, but certainly don’t avoid them – they’re often a great part of a balanced diet!

Sugar-free

When you see this term on a drink or snack, you’ll probably think you’ve made a healthy choice, but this is one of the most misleading buzzwords out there. This is because companies can use ‘sugar-free’ on any product, as long as it doesn’t contain refined cane sugar – the stuff you put in your morning brew.

This results in products filled with agave syrup, brown rice syrup, artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols being described as sugar-free, despite often containing a lot of sugar. Always be wary of ‘sugar-free’ products – check the label to find the truth!

Antioxidants

Antioxidants may sound like health food mumbo jumbo, but they actually play a crucial role in our bodies. They exist as molecules that fight off DNA-harming compounds known as free radicals.. These pesky compounds are linked to many diseases, including diabetes, cancer and heart disease, so they’re not something you want hanging around!

We all have naturally-occurring antioxidant defences to keep these DNA-attackers in check, but they’re also found in food. Clearly, you don’t need to avoid antioxidants, but you should be wary of how you get your antioxidants – not everything that contains them is good for you. They can be featured on the packaging of a wide variety of goods, from fruit and tea, to processed cereals and energy drinks. Your best bet is to stick to avoid the processed stuff, which can contain lots of sugar and preservatives, and opt for whole fruit, vegetables, and natural green tea.


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