Is the health food section really healthy?

If you follow my Facebook page you will know that one of the things I aim to do is alert people to the tricks that food companies use to make you think their products are healthy.

Recently I have heard a lot of comments from friends, family and clients that have worried me. These comments give me the impression that their is a growing consensus that because a product is in the health food aisle of the supermarket it must be healthy.

In order to hopefully expel this myth I have randomly grabbed some products from the “health food section” of a well known supermarket and some similar products from another area in the supermarket.

I have compared the nutrition information panels to see how they match up. All products are compared per 100g not per serve as serving sizes differ. I have used this resource from the Baker IDI website as my label reading guide, which I find fantastic!

Lets see how some common products stack up…

Chips

 Multi-grain varieties

Per 100g Health Food Section Other
Energy (kj) 1945kj 1990kj
Protein 7.9g 7.2g
Fat total 17.9g 21.2g
Saturated 1.8g 2.5g
Carbohydrate 67.1g 63.9g
Sugars 2.0g 7.0g
Sodium 287mg 389mg
From the above table you can see the energy for both the chips is pretty much the same.
This is also the case with the protein.
The health food section chips have slightly lower saturated fat (we want to aim for <2g/100g) and sodium (aim for <400mg/100g, ideally < 120mg/100g) and about 5g less sugar than the other brand.

Overall I would say there isn’t a significant difference in the overall nutrition information panel of both of these products.

The health food section product does have slightly lower values, but I would only say that the sugar is significantly lower.

Salt and Vinegar

Per 100g Health Food Section Other
Energy (kj) 1710kj 1760kj
Protein 2.2g 2.9g
Fat total 8.0g 13.9g
Saturated 0.9g 1.2g
Carbohydrate 79.4g 67.5g
Sugars 2.1g 5.1g
Sodium 994mg 840mg

Again with these two products the amount of energy and protein is quite close.

Total fat varies a bit but the saturated fat although lower in the health food section is still quite similar with only a 0.3g difference.

Sugars are 3g lower in the health food section product and sodium is higher.

With these two products I struggle to find a significant difference between the overall nutritional profile of the foods.

Corn Chips

Per 100g Health Food Section Other
Energy (kj) 2150kj 2100kj
Protein 6.8g 7.9g
Fat total 28.0g 24.4g
Saturated 11.7g 10.6g
Carbohydrate 56.2g 62.3g
Sugars 0.5g 1.0g
Sodium 330mg 472mg

Lastly I had a look at corn chips…

Energy was similar, this time protein was a bit higher in the product not from the health food section.

Total fat was lower in the non health food section product with saturated fat being 1.1g lower.

Sugars for both products only had a 0.5g difference and sodium was higher in the non health food product.

For this product group I would say that whilst although on average the “health food aisle” products have slightly lower values for some nutrients, the differences are negligible.

In regards to weight management all products have very similar kilojoules  per 100g.

I would say if you are going to consume chips, treat them as a discretionary food no matter what section of the supermarket they come from.

Cereals

I have tried to compare two products that were as close as possible in ingredients

Flakes and fruit, high fibre cereals

Per 100g Health Food Section Other
Energy (kj) 1555kj 1630kj
Protein 9.8g 16.4g
Fat total 8.4g 11.5g
Saturated 1.6g 1.5g
Carbohydrate 56.3g 43.6g
Sugars 3.3g 18.7g
Sodium 45mg 42mg
Dietary Fibre 15.0g 23.4g

 These two cereals have very similar kilojoules per 100g.

Protein is 6.6g higher in the non health food aisle cereal which is good for keeping you full for longer!

Total fat is higher in the non health food product, but saturated fat is the same, so this product may have higher amounts of healthy fats.

Sugars in the non health food product where much higher, I did note that the ingredients list contained golden syrup and sweetened cranberries as the 3rd and 4th ingredients (ingredients are listed in order of how much is in the product), which tells me that the source is from added sugar and not naturally occurring in fruit.

Sodium is similar for both products.

Fibre is much higher in the non-health food product which again will keep you full for a much longer time.

Although the sugar is much higher in the non-health food product, the rest of the nutritional panel, especially fibre and protein are favorable.

If I was looking at this in terms of what product will keep me full for the same amount of kilojoules then I would choose the non health food section product.

Bran and Fruit

Per 100g Health Food Section Other
Energy (kj) 1650kj 1410kj
Protein 6.1g 9.5g
Fat total 13.1g 1.7g
Saturated 4.6g 0.4g
Carbohydrate 61.7g 62.9g
Sugars 30.9g 22.7g
Sodium 47mg 270mg
Dietary Fibre 6.9g 14.9g

The energy is slightly higher in the health food section product.

Protein is much higher in the non health food product and saturated fat much lower.

Sugars are lower in the non health food product but sodium is higher.

Lastly the fibre is much higher in the non health food product.

Again the non health food product is much more likely to keep you full for longer and has a more favorable nutritional profile.

Overall if you look at the highlighted values in the above tables, the non-health food products seem to be the better choices. These products are also a lot cheaper!

Sugar

I have increasingly noticed that a lot of people are now cooking “healthy desserts” these use things like coconut sugar and molasses as a substitute for sugar.

As these products are a lot more expensive than a bag of sugar I thought it would be interesting to compare them.

Per 100g Molasses White Sugar
Energy (kj) 1170kj 1600kj
Protein 4.4g 0g
Fat total <1g 0g
Saturated <1g 0g
Carbohydrate 64.6g 100g
Sugars 61.3g 100g
Sodium 420mg 0g
Dietary Fibre 0g 0g

It is interesting to see that white sugar is slightly higher in kilojoules than molasses. It also has less protein and sodium. Molasses may be a better choice for someone wanting to slightly cut down their kilojoules and sugar intake (if used as a sugar substitute).

In saying this, there is nothing wrong with having a dessert! Just make sure that you are not going overboard on the portions because you are still consuming excess kilojoules. If you can make desserts that have more fruit, fibre, less sugar and salt then they are going to be a better option. If you buy a sugar substitute from the health food section, read the label and don’t go crazy.

Whats the conclusion?

I think from the few comparisons I have made here that there is no significant difference in the healthiness of health food section products vs non health food section.

My belief is that if you limit your intake of processed foods like chips and sugary cereals, and increase whole foods like fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains and seeds then you are on the right track.

There is no magic health food that you can buy, even though I am sure that is what food manufacturers would like you to think.

My conclusion is this. Always compare the nutrition information panel and ingredients of all foods and don’t believe something is healthy just because it is placed in a specific aisle of the supermarket.

Jess xx

2 Comments Add yours

  1. lyn says:

    interesting isnt it. Good to see your response bfocussing on moderation and balance as too often people go the other way as nd end up unhealthy.

    Like

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