These facts will help you spot the difference between healthy food, and food products on the supermarket shelves pretending to be healthy, so you can eat well during coronavirus and beyond.
Eating delicious, healthy food is a great way to support your immune system, stay regular and feel good. Plus you can still eat healthy food on a budget.
The trouble is, when you’re looking for healthy food at the supermarket, it can be hard to separate marketing ‘spin’ from the nutritional details. Who hasn’t picked up a packet of ‘organic’ cereal thinking it’s a healthy option, only to discover that it has a heap of sugar on closer inspection! Add a global pandemic into the equation – when you’re trying to do your food shopping as quickly and considerately as possible – and knowing what’s healthy and what’s healthy ‘spin’ is even more challenging.
The good news is, if you keep these four key things in mind, you’ll find it easier to spot the difference.
Three facts to help you see through the ‘spin’ on your next trip to the shops
1. The principles of a healthy diet haven't changed
Even though there is a seemingly endless variety of 'health' products on the market, the basic information you need to know has stayed the same. New products might make it seem more difficult and confusing to spot the difference between healthy food and healthy ‘spin’, but once you have the main principles, you’re set for life. These are:
- Focus your diet around minimally processed, plant-based foods such as vegetables, grains, seeds, nuts, legumes and fruits.
- Eat lots of delicious, colourful vegetables (about five handfuls per day) and fresh fruit (about two handfuls per day).
- Choose a variety of high-fibre foods, such as legumes like chickpeas and lentils, wholegrain cereal and bread, to keep your digestive system regular so you feel good.
- Keep ultra-processed and sugary foods (e.g. biscuits, muesli bars, sugary cereals) to a minimum. Avoid sugary drinks which contain lots of calories but no nutritional benefit.
2. Ultra-processed food products that look ‘healthy’ are designed to trick you
Some products in the supermarket might seem healthy at first glance, because they’re often marketed to appear healthier than they are, with labels like ‘natural’ and ‘sugar-free.’ This is called a ‘health halo’ – because it gives these products the shiny appeal of being healthy, when they’re not. What’s worse, they're often extremely expensive compared to less-processed options.
Examples of ultra-processed food products to avoid include:
- protein muesli bars and energy balls
- flavoured vegetable crisps and rice crackers
- ‘no added sugar’ products like ice creams, cookies and cake mixes
- children’s snacks (like fruit leathers and bars)
- breakfast drinks designed to have on the go
The best way to avoid ultra-processed foods is to make sure you read the back of the packet to check how much salt, sugar and fat are in the food you buy, and try and pick products with the shortest ingredients list. Here’s a guide on how to read the back of food product labels. For more tips on avoiding ultra-processed foods, read this blog by nutritionist and award-winning author Catherine Saxelby.
During coronavirus, be considerate – only buy what you need (do NOT ‘panic buy’).
If you’re wondering whether you should stock up on food during coronavirus restrictions, the answer is to only buy what you need. This will be slightly different for each household, but it does not mean panic buying.
Why? If you buy more than you need, vulnerable people might miss out. So before you take something extra off the shelf, ask yourself, “Is there someone else who might need this more than me?”.
3. ‘Superfood’ is just a buzzword
You don’t need to buy organic goji berries or chia seeds to be healthy. Instead of forking out for the latest fad ‘superfood’, focus on eating a varied and balanced diet (refer to the key healthy diet principles above). Despite what you might read on other websites, there is no evidence that specific foods protect people from coronavirus, but improving your overall nutrition helps your immune system to function well and fight infections. Dietitian Professor Clare Collins discusses 5 ways nutrition could help your immune system fight off the coronavirus.
A healthy and varied diet is important to support our health and wellbeing at any time, but during coronavirus, it can help keep our immune system strong when we need it to be. Keep these three food facts in mind when you shop for food during the coronavirus and beyond.
Have a coronavirus question?
For all coronavirus questions visit www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au or call the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) hotline on 1800 020 080.