Hi folks, we’re excited to have Primal Health Coach Institute’s Coaching Director Erin Power back to answer your questions. Got a question for our health coaches? Head over to our Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook group or ask it in the comments below.
Tim asked: “Lately, I’ve been seeing Instagram posts saying don’t be scammed by ‘health foods’ like the Impossible Burger, celery juice, almond milk, and protein bars. I understand some of these (like fake meat!). Others have me confused. What’s wrong with celery juice? Is almond milk bad now too?!”
I know, right? There’s so much information out there, and everyone on social media has an opinion about the latest health trends.
As a health coach, I can help you break down that list of “scammy” suspects. Even more important, I can share some guidelines to help you figure out whether trending foods are healthy or a scam.
First and foremost, remember that eating real, whole food never has to be complicated. When working with coaching clients and in my own life, the core of my philosophy is to keep things simple.
I realize that social media hype and “food fights” can make food seem incredibly complex. In moments of doubt or overwhelm, come back to that key principle. It’s really what makes Primal living and eating so effortless: the simplicity just makes sense.
In practice, this means sticking with food that’s closest to its “whole” form (how nature made it). Better to choose an apple than apple juice, for instance. Steer clear of long lists of ingredients you can’t pronounce and don’t recognize. You know the drill.
Let’s look at a few of the common “health foods” marketed today.
Plant-based Meat Alternatives
Fake meat is massive business right now. They’re (dubiously) marketed as healthy, environmentally responsible alternatives to meat. You can’t walk through a supermarket or scan a restaurant menu without running into them.
A Primal way of eating can absolutely accommodate folks who choose to limit or avoid animal products for whatever reason. These trendy meat alternatives are so far from their natural state, that I struggle to recommend them for my clients.
The Impossible Burger™ features highly processed ingredients such as soy leghemoglobin (SLH), derived from genetically modified yeast. A similar product, Beyond Meat™, claims to have no GMOs yet does include ingredients such as pea protein isolate and inflammatory seed oils such as canola and sunflower.
Obviously, I’m going to say that the best choice is to go ahead and eat the meat. Grass-fed, ethically and sustainably raised beef is great if you can find it and it fits your budget. If you don’t have the resources to source pastured, local, grass-fed meat, don’t worry; even conventionally raised beef is still worlds better than fake meat. If you are seeking a vegetable-based option, ‘burger’ patties made with mushrooms and even legumes like lentils or black beans if they work for you are far better alternatives.
This one seems fairly harmless, possibly even Primal! I mean, it is just the juice from an above-ground vegetable after all…
When we juice vegetables and fruit and discard the rest of the plant, we’re no longer consuming the whole food (unless you’re blending it into a smoothie). Nutrition is wrapped up inside what’s commonly referred to as the food matrix. All of the parts of the food coexist together, not “sold for parts.” Consuming celery juice without the fiber… well, it’s just unnatural. Celery simply would never be consumed that way in nature.
That said, celery juice is certainly not the worst choice and in moderation can be fine. It lacks the high sugar content typical of fruit juices, but it’s not going to provide satiety or deliver any healthy fat or protein. As for all the supposed benefits touted by celery juice influencers? Will it fix everything that ails you or replace a well-rounded, nutrient-dense diet? No. Does it even taste good? That’s up to you, I guess, but it’s another no from me.
Is it a scam? Not necessarily, but some of the claims around it are too good to be true. I just don’t see the point of it. Definitely don’t use it as a replacement for more robust Primal fare.
Almond Milk and Other Nut-based Milks
Not all nut milks are created equal. The good news is you can find more brands out there making products with minimal ingredients and processing. The less-great news is that most tend to be very low in nutrients.
Similar to celery juice, we’re just not getting the whole food here. Almonds in their whole form are nutrient dense, containing magnesium, copper, vitamin E, and manganese, in addition to some fat, protein, and prebiotic fiber. Almond milk is made by blending almonds with water and straining out any solid material—along with most of the nutrients.
If the label tells you otherwise, nutrients were likely added as part of the manufacturing process. While this isn’t harmful per se, it does drive home the fact that nut milk, left to its own devices, simply lacks much nutrition. Flip the package over and check the ingredients to see what else has been added to almond milk; you might be surprised to see a relatively long list of ingredients.
As with all nuts and seeds, nut milks may not work for everyone. They can be particularly problematic for anyone whose gut is already compromised.
Is almond milk a scam? I wouldn’t call nut milks a “health food,” but they’re a fine option for someone who doesn’t tolerate dairy and wants something to add to their morning coffee. Don’t go drinking them instead of water, and if you can, spend the money for less-processed, higher-quality options. Or try making your own. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it as, and you may well like the finished product better than anything you find at the store.
Similar to nut milks, there’s a wide range of protein bars on the market. Some protein bars make stellar, totally Primal snacks, but others not so much. Many contain non-Primal ingredients such as soy and brown rice, which can contribute to systemic inflammation.
Look for options with minimal ingredients featuring Primal-friendly ingredients you recognize like whey, egg whites, nuts, and seeds. If you’re watching your carb intake, make sure to check that too. Many protein bars have a surprisingly hefty dose of carbs from sugars and dried fruits.
Meat bars are my favorite because they’re simple. I favor ones made with organic or grass-fed beef. Are even the best, 100 percent Primal protein bars a replacement for whole food? Not in my opinion. Nor are they the most economical way to consume your protein. Still, they can be a decent option when you need a convenient protein fix to supplement regular meals.
Choosing the Best Options
These are just a few of many supposed health foods that my clients commonly have questions about. Of course, there are many more. Rather than break them down one by one, I recommend a two-step, “principle-based” approach:
Keep it simple. When in doubt, stick to food as close to its natural state as possible. We managed to survive this long without healthified franken-foods. Go back to basics.
Listen, trust, and respect your body’s signals. How does a particular food make you feel? Pay attention not just while eating it but later that day or as you’re laying in bed that night, trying to fall asleep. How about the next morning? Perhaps you experienced discomfort or even cramping after eating. Maybe gas, gurgling intestines, constipation, or diarrhea hits later. Brain fog, fatigue, irritability. Flare-ups in conditions such as acne, asthma, or arthritis. Tune in to the signals from your body. Collect the data and use it the next time you’re faced with a food choice.
This makes it sound simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The bewildering and contradictory messaging in your news feed can have you doubting your food choices at every turn.
This is one reason why working with a trained, knowledgeable health coach is so useful. A coach will help you uncover for yourself which foods are best for your particular body, lifestyle, and wellness goals.
Ultimately, your best defense against the food marketing claims of health food scams is a good offense. Learn to understand what foods support you, and you can blissfully tune out the noise.
What other health foods have you confused? Drop them in the comments below!
Erin Power is an NBHWC board-certified health coach and the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She’s also the co-host of Health Coach Radio, the podcast by health coaches, for health coaches. Erin lives outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a hobby farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.