Evidence has shown that having too many choices is not always a good thing.
I think this is most noticeable in food choices we find in grocery stores. Eating a wholesome diet is easier when one shops at a farmer’s market where most offerings are real foods, but more of a challenge at a supermarket where so many of the products on the shelves are highly processed fake food.
Consider the obviously healthy breakfast option: oatmeal. This whole grain has been associated with a healthy diet for its ability to lower cholesterol and leave the diner feeling satiated after just 150 high-energy calories.
But, when I pick up rolled oats from the cereal aisle at the supermarket, the non-processed real thing is on the lowest shelf.
Items on the shelves at eye level (known by marketing experts to be most accessible and more likely to be selected) are labeled oatmeal but they are processed, instant, and flavored products. These options have the fiber, low saturated fat and low cholesterol that make oatmeal a healthy breakfast option, but added sugars (16 g in the form of simple carbohydrates) and salt (319 mg) make it less healthy compared to unadulterated oatmeal (1g sugars in the form of complex carbohydrates, 0mg sodium). The instant option also adds approximately 28 calories (depending on the flavor).
Instant packets seem like a good breakfast choice—oatmeal is healthy after all.
They are popular choices because they are convenient. However, preparing the “quick 1-minute” oats mixed with water still takes only 90 seconds in the microwave. No need to stir and cook on the stove then wash the pot. Adding fresh or dried fruit and seasonings of choice adds more flavor and nutrition than the simple carbohydrates and sodium that the packages add.
Making sense of so many food choices can become more overwhelming when we learn conflicting information from news sources.
One moment we are told to limit fat, another moment we are told to limit carbohydrates. We learn we need to take in more omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fatty fish then we are told to limit fatty fish because of the mercury levels. Considering every micronutrient in each food becomes overwhelming for anyone.
Spinach has calcium and iron but should I use kale to get a little more?
How do I know family members have enough vitamin E in the diet?
Rather than becoming overwhelmed by so many details, consider a simple rule of thumb: eating a variety of whole food in their natural forms will provide the nutrition you need (exceptions may exist because of health conditions—follow directions from your health practitioner).
Processed foods often replace nutrition with simple carbohydrates and sodium. Non-fat options of many processed foods replace taste reduced by removing fat by adding sugars and sodium.
Eating processed foods, even products labeled healthy, will often replace a nutrient with simple carbohydrates and sodium. For instance, low-sodium products may have relatively lower salt compared to their companion products, but still more than wholesome food. Consider canned soup and processed meats as they compare—lower sodium or not—to homemade soup and lean meats.
One concern I’ve heard several people voice is that eating whole foods costs more than processed foods.
Sometimes that can be so. However, this assumption does not always hold true. When I priced a popular national oatmeal brand in my supermarket I learned that the container of 100% rolled oats costs 19 cents per ounce. The brand’s box of packets of instant oatmeal costs 44 cents per ounce.
Wholesome food—natural, convenient, healthy, and even less expensive—can be a real option. Choosing wholesome food empowers me to care for my body, taking control of my health.
Lisa Riolo, PhD, PT, RYT500 is a yoga instructor, lifestyle coach, and health professional. She has studied anatomy, physiology, and movement science and applied this knowledge to her own exercise routine, wellness plan and yoga practice and is available for private, small group and corporate yoga classes as well as for individual lifestyle coach training. Check out her website for more information.
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Assistant Ed: Terri Tremblett/Ed: Bryonie Wise