If you have no integrity it’s easy to make money.
It’s easy to market snake oil and bullshit because you’re not limited by those pesky facts.
For example, butter coffee, Trump, need I say more?
Marketers are extremely good at what they do. They know exactly how to tap into someone’s insecurities and desires to get them to buy.
Frustratingly, this only makes the already difficult path to lifelong fitness even more confusing, demoralizing, and seemingly pointless.
If you think you’re eating well, yet you keep gaining weight, you’re going to wonder what the point is. Why put in the effort to change if nothing’s working?
And really, it’s not your fault. You’re just doing the best you can with the info you have.
Unfortunately, popular advice is rarely any good.
One of the reasons I write this blog is to give you the tools and the knowledge necessary to cut through all the BS so you can make informed decisions.
I want your effort to lead to results instead of making you feel like you’re stuck.
So after reading this article you should have a clear, new perspective on how to grocery shop. You’ll know what to buy and what not to.
This post was inspired by seeing how, in the UK, biscuits (AKA cookies in the US) are often marketed as part of a healthy breakfast.
Biscuits are literally cookies. Sugary, high calorie, cookies.
But if you package it up in the right way and claim it’s high in fiber. Boom. You got people eating dessert for breakfast.
This got me thinking about what other foods are marketed as healthy and/or have a reputation for being healthy, yet are essentially just junk food.
In this post, I’m going to list out the most common foods that pose as healthy, give you a few guidelines, plus things to watch out for when grocery shopping.
This is probably the biggest culprit in the US. It’s sewn into the very fiber (pun intended) of what we consider breakfast.
Cereal is practically synonymous with breakfast.
Nutritionally, not all cereals are created equal. Some are definitely better than others. But even the most healthy of cereals aren’t great.
Companies fortify cereal with vitamins and minerals. This makes for a great marketing point to print on the box in a colorful font that stands out. That said, even with the added nutrients, cereal doesn’t provide much fullness compared to calories.
Plus, most cereals are absolutely rammed with sugar. This adds even more calories to a small portion size.
In other words, you can eat a lot of calories without feeling full.
I don’t know about you, but if I ever eat cereal, I’m fully prepared to eat the entire box in 1 sitting. So that’s like, what? 30 servings?
“Hmm, there’s a bit more milk left… I’ll just pour an appropriate amount of cereal in there…. Oops, poured too much cereal. Now I have to pour more milk in to balance it out. Looks I’m having another bowl.
The cycle then repeats itself into infinity.
This is the proper way to eat cereal. Any other way is a crime against nature and humanity.
Buuuuuut, this isn’t exactly helpful for keeping portions and calories in check.
Point is, cereal doesn’t have much going for it. The healthiest cereals are sort of “neutral” from a health/fat loss standpoint, whereas the unhealthiest might as well be cheesecake fortified with zinc and calcium.
2. Health Bars
Basically just candy bars but not as tasty. Same tactic as with cereals.
Maybe they have protein or vitamins so they have a bit more going for them nutritionally. However, they still give a pretty big caloric hit for very little food.
Use sparingly if your goal is weight loss. If you eat health bars as a quick, on-the-go snack, grab an apple or banana instead.
The super macho protein bars you can buy at the front desk of a gym (usually with names like MUSCLE EXPLOSION or MEGA TESTOSTERONE 5000) are actually designed to be high calorie because they’re mainly marketed at dudes wanting to bulk up.
3 and 4. Smoothies and Juices
I’ll just cover the main points here because I covered this at length in this post. Basically, when you put something in liquid form, you can concentrate a larger amount of sugar, and consequently calories, into a smaller portion.
Think about it this way, when you eat an apple, you eat a little bit of sugar, but you also get tons of satiating fiber and nutrients in the process. So the amount of sugar in an apple is negligible when you eat it whole.
The fiber limits on how much sugar you can actually consume via apple.
Whereas when you juice or blend an apple, you break down all of the stuff that would make you full. This makes it quicker to digest i.e., less filling.
Because of this, you could drink 10 apples worth of sugar no problem. But it’s unlikely you’ll ever eat 10 apples in one sitting.
The problem with juices and smoothies is that you can consume lots of calories very quickly and easily.
My biggest gripe about the whole smoothie/juicing thing is that, in the process of juicing something, you remove the very components that make the ingredients healthy to begin with.
So you pay extra for something that could have been healthy, but instead has been stripped of it’s healthy qualities.
I don’t know how it came to be “common knowledge” that granola was a health food, but it’s ridiculously high in calories.
You make granola by frying oats in oil and covering them in sugar. You take something that could be great for fat loss (oats) and inject loads of calories. Voila! Granola.
I mean, it tastes great. But this one particularly gets me going because you have people who start eating granola every day for breakfast because they’re trying hard to be healthy. They don’t bother looking at the nutrition facts because everyone knows granola is healthy. Except it’s not.
As you may know, it’s incredibly frustrating and crushing when you feel like you’re doing everything right, making an effort to change your diet, yet your stomach isn’t getting smaller.
I want to save you that trouble. Hence, my rant about granola. You're better off with a bowl of oatmeal and some fruit.
6. Pretty much anything in a box or package
Pretty much anything can be marketed as healthy. A box may say Vegan, Gluten Free, High Protein, Low Fat, or any number of things. These are all meant to communicate 1 thing: “I’m healthy and convenient!”.
When something says “low this” or “high that”, don’t take their word for it. Check the nutrition data, see how many calories per serving, gauge how much fullness you’ll get from each serving, ask yourself “is there’s a better option?” and “is it worth it?”, then make your decision.
If you’ve read any of my other posts, like this one on how to make sense of nutrition labels, you’ll know nutrition never comes down to one aspect.
For example, french fries can be vegan. Sugary cereals can be low fat. Brownies can be gluten free and granola can be “high” protein.
Foods that are actually healthy don’t need to be branded as healthy.
You’ll never see fresh broccoli or apples being marketed as “high fiber”.
The things that need slick marketing to convince you of their health benefits are usually hiding something. That something is often loads of unwanted calories and potentially devious past they're trying to put past them.
If you want to get healthy, work on eating more vegetables and more protein. More produce, more lean protein, less stuff from packages.
Granted, some things in packages will be quite good for you, like tinned fish, or pickles. Notice these examples are still whole foods though, they’ve just been packaged so they keep for longer.
If you need to get prepackaged food as a stepping stone to cooking for yourself, that’s fine. You’ll just need to pay attention to the nutrition info and serving sizes.
So it’s a bit more math and thinking than dealing with whole foods like fruits, veggies, eggs, fish, and meat. But if you have no idea how to start cooking this is a good first step to help you get there.
If something comes in a box or package of some sort, don’t trust its claims of health. Examine it for yourself. The main point is this. Don’t believe the hype.
I recommend the veggies and protein thing because it’s just easier. It’s less thinking.
I’m a fan of less thinking.
My online 1:1 clients are fans of less thinking.
Because most of them think too much already and want fat loss to be simple and stress free. They don’t need something else to overthink at 3am when they’re trying to sleep.
Veggies and protein is a bit more physical work because you have to cook. At the very least, you’ll have to microwave some frozen veggies.
However, it’s less mental work because you don’t have to analyze any nutrition data to know it’s going to lower your blood pressure.
In general, the best foods for fat loss are going to be whole, unprocessed foods. This means foods that come in their whole form. So vegetables, fruits, roots, meat, fish, eggs.
A whole food is doesn’t have anything taken out or added to it. Like an apple, or eggs.
A processed food has had something taken out of it or removed. Like apple juice, or any prepackaged food containing eggs.
Not to say a chocolate bar or a cookie/biscuit every once in a while is going to kill you or ruin your results.
However, if you’re eating a chocolate bar posing as a health bar, you’ll run into some frustrations because of all the calories sneaking in under the radar.
So just be aware. Wandering through the grocery store you’re bombarded by messages of “buy this”. It helps to know what tricks marketers use to get you to buy. So I hope after reading this, you’re well equipped to grocery shop for your goals.
If you want to know more, here are some other posts to help you shop and eat for weight loss and health:
- How to Make Your Own Meals When All You Know is Takeout
- Do You Need to Give Up Chocolate. Hint: No
- Fear of Missing Out and Fat Loss: What You Need to Know
- How to Make Any Recipe Healthy in a Few Steps