Lots of us say we want to eat healthy, but what does “healthy” really mean? It turns out many of the buzzwords that are used on food packaging or by influencers don’t actually have a specific meaning. They’re supposed to make us feel good - or bad - about our food choices, but they give us very little useful information. Food terms that are pretty much meaningless include:
- “Clean” - This one tops the list because it draws in by implying this food is really good for us. But unless you’re comparing an omelet that fell on the floor and is now dirty to one that didn’t and is “clean,” it’s not really telling you anything.
- “Inflammatory” or “anti-inflammatory” - Inflammation is a process the body uses to fight disease and repair damage, so it’s not always a bad thing. But because inflammation is involved in heart disease, there’s an idea that preventing or reducing inflammation can lower your risk for some health conditions. And while that would be a good thing, the problem is that there’s not much evidence linking specific diets to inflammation and health outcomes. A lot of what we know about “inflammatory” foods comes from lab studies, so it’s tough to single out the effects of individual foods.
- “Real sugar” - High-fructose corn syrup gets a bad rap, but the thing is, there’s not much difference between it and cane sugar or beet sugar, nutritionally speaking. They’re both about half glucose and half fructose and HFCS is “high fructose” in that it’s higher in fructose than regular corn syrup, which is mostly glucose.
- “Multigrain” - We love multigrain bread, too, but “multigrain” doesn’t mean whole grain. If you want more fiber and whole grains, look for labels with entirely whole grains and skip the ones with refined flours from several grains mixed together.
- “Processed” - This term gets tossed around to make cheaper and more widely-available foods look bad, but “processed” really just means a food has been altered in some way during preparation. This can be as simple as canning, or more complex, like adding sweeteners, colors or preservatives to food. So the word on it’s own doesn’t really tell you much.