Struggling to Manage Your Weight? Products, packaging and marketing leads to second guessing your eating.

This is a self-serving post. Really, I need to vent; because these things drive me crazy. They’re not directly harmful—except for the laxatives to be addressed in the next post—but they cause you to stumble. They mislead you. They impact your thoughts about what’s healthy and what’s allowed, and they add to your list of should and should nots.

They impact all of us, regardless of our weight. I’m just starting my list, in no special order, but I hope to inspire you to add to it—your comments, your own pet peeves. Because the more you're aware, the less you'll be mislead by the subtle, unreasonable nutrition messages. And the better you'll get at trusting your self and your body.

Almond milk: Forgive me if you are among the food allergic who can’t consume cow’s milk or soy milk. For you, almond milk is a reasonable option as a milk alternative to help meet your calcium need. But with the exception of its higher vitamin E content, it has little merit; it truly falls short as a milk alternative for those who do tolerate milk and soy. Here’s my issue: it short-changes you, because it looks like a glass of milk. But the calories don't compare, nor does the protein.

Sure, almonds, (as they proudly display on their website for Almond Breeze, one brand of almond milk) are high in protein and fiber and low in sugar. But this so-called almond milk? At 1 gram or less of protein, it is 6 or 7 grams less per cup compared to soy or cow’s milk, respectively. And a total of 1 gram of fiber. So please don’t assume that because it’s made from wholesome almonds that almond milk is anywhere near as nutritious.

Gatorade light: Why-oh-why would you choose light Gatorade? If you are consuming this sports drink for the reason it was developed—‘specifically formulatedto help you perform your best’ during sports and training, then why have a reduced carbohydrate and low calorie beverage? Did I mention that calories=energy? The calories, from carbohydrate, are a convenient, easy to absorb fuel while exercising. But the light version is hardly worth it, providing minimal fuel to support physical activity.

And for the record, the electrolytes you get from Gatorade—the 160 mgs. sodium and 45 mgs. potassium from the recently increased serving size of 12 (vs. 8) ounces—is no greater than you’d get from a 12 ounce glass of milk (160 mgs. sodium and 560 mgs. potassium). 

Ok, I know you’re not about to drink milk on your run or bike ride. But unless you’re doing long duration exercise, generally more than 90 minutes, there’s little need for a sports drink anyway. You could easily replace your electrolytes when you get home, perhaps with a serving of pretzels and an orange or banana—a more generous replacement for both sodium and potassium losses. Just add any beverage to replace your fluid losses.

Sandwich thins: Made by Arnold and other companies, these seem innocuous, and are perhaps even viewed as a healthy alternative to sliced bread. And, they’re well liked, it seems. (I can't say personally—I've never tried them).

My problem? Eating one is like having just half a sandwich. And unless you are quite short in stature and quite sedentary, you likely need more than a half sandwich for a meal. Yet they look like they should be enough—there are 2 halves—but also half the calories. And, they provide little surface area to add your peanut butter or Vegemite (shout out to my Australian readers) or tuna or whatever. But if you love them and want to include them, have 2 for lunch! Or else when you get hungry later you’ll be beating yourself up thinking you’re not deserving of eating again!

Skinny Cow: I really love these ice cream sandwiches. But do you want to know a little secret? They’re no lighter than most traditional ice cream sandwiches you can buy (at perhaps a lower cost per bar!) But doesn’t Skinny Cow sound so light? All brands I looked at which are a similar size were within 20 calories (higher or lower)—and not promoted as a ‘skinny’ product. I do love their tag line, though: ‘who gives a lick about calories?’

The orange juice aisle: Maybe it’s just in US suburbs, but supermarket shopping is simply an overwhelming experience—even for me. A recent trip to the market revealed more choices than I could ever care to contemplate. Beyond the pulp options, there are orange juices fortified with calcium, and ones with fish oils (can you imagine?). It begs asking ‘Must one food item, this orange juice, meet all of my needs?’ Can’t we have orange juice for its naturally occurring vitamin C, folic acid and potassium? Must I get everything from this single item?

Similarly, must my pasta be protein fortified—or can’t I have chicken with it? Does it need to have added fiber, or won’t my eggplant, artichoke, peppers, etc. add that? Get the point?

Whey protein powder: Some of you who restrict your food intake and those vegans who plan poorly may truly benefit from boosting your protein intake. Why not use whey protein, the refuse, the left over liquid that remains when making cheese, conveniently packaged and sold at top dollar prices at healthfood stores, supplement sites and health clubs?

Whey protein boosts your calories—so this might be a positive for those of you trying to add some. But a whey protein shake mixed with water, in spite of it’s high protein content falls short as a meal replacement. And let me remind you about food halos. There’s nothing magical about protein. While your body requires protein to fuel your muscles and maximize recovery, from the looks of the label you might be thinking that you need whey more (sorry, couldn't resist) than you do. Even bodybuilders need little more than 1 gram of protein per kg body weight (or .45 gram per pound body weight). 

Are you a non-body builder? Then .8 grams per kg (or .36 g/lb will meet your need. (For most, a daily total of 50 or so grams is adequate.) No doubt you'll see how over the top these whey protein supplements actually are, and not without their risks

Shrinking packages: Why has the portion of yogurt dropped from 8 oz (one cup) to 6 oz, to in some cases 5 plus ounces? And, for the same price? And why did my half-gallon of ice cream slim down in such a deceitful way, denying me the full number of portions it used to have? (It’s now 2 cups short of the old packaging, so if you feared you were plowing through it more rapidly, fear not!) Food manufacturers should not determine what an appropriate portion is, so be sure that you allow yourself to have as much as you truly need. And that's likely to be more than a 100-calorie pack, too!

Packaged nutrients, not foods: Must we be categorizing everything we eat based on nutrient content? Can't we just eat things because we enjoy them? Because they give us pleasure? 'Protein and Fiber'? Really? Looks like sweetened, cluster cereal to me.

I'm just scratching the surface. Gentle laxatives, gelato, bottled waters and other favorites of mine will be addressed in an upcoming post! Please send me your pet peeves, too!

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