Whenever I walk into a health food store I feel a mix of emotions when I look at the foods lining the shelves. On the one hand, I find a lot of great local produce, healthy fats like coconut oil, and some amazing local and pastured meats. On the other hand, I find really junky foods that claim to be healthy: box after box of “gluten-free” crackers that use vegetable oils instead of real fats like butter or coconut oil, for example. Grrrr!
- Processed soy: Soy protein and soy protein isolate, unfermented
- Agave Syrup: highly refined version of the original traditionally made syrup called miel de agave
- Seed Oils: a huge source of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA)
- Natural Flavoring: a loosely defined additive that can contain a myriad of different derivatives from natural sources, but that can be manipulated in a lab.
Soy isn’t the evil ingredient that some say that it is. But it also is not the healthiest food on the planet like others seem to claim. Soy is a traditional food, but only when made in a traditional way, such as in naturally fermented soy sauce, or truly fermented tofu.
You can also eat soy in the form of natto, which is the most nutrient-dense source of vitamin K2 in all foods, including grass-fed butter and cheese.
But at the health food store you want to watch out for anything containing “soy protein isolate” or soy meal or soy oil. And if they are not organic, the chances are that the soybeans used were genetically modified.
And of course, the biggest offenders in the soy family at the health food store? Tofu everything. And “texturized vegetable protein” or TVP. And soy lecithin!
Tofu hot dogs, tofu burgers, tofu sauces and spreads, you name it. Just because it is made of tofu doesn’t mean that it is healthy. And just because it is derived from soy in an isolate or texturized form doesn’t make it healthy! Soy lecithin is also highly processed, used as an emulsifier (mostly noticed by me in various chocolates). Only eat naturally made tofu, made from whole soybeans.
Agave syrup is problematic for many reasons, the most of which is that it is touted as a natural sweetener, but doesn’t really resemble it’s original form called miel de agave. Almost all the agave sweeteners found in the health food store are highly processed, even the ones that are darker colored “amber” varieties, because they have still be refined to the point of being similar to corn syrup.
If you must use agave syrup, call the company that you think looks the most promising in their sustainable practices and production. Call them and ask what the process is, in detail. If it sounds legitimate to you, then choose based on that information. I prefer steering clear of agave myself, and just using any of the many options in my ultimate guide to sweeteners here.
Seed oils include, but are not limited to: sunflower oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, canola oil, grapeseed oil, cottonseed oil and any other light-colored seed that is high in omega-6 fatty acids. Even if these oils are organic, they are still very high in moega-6s. And we get far too many omega-6s in our modern diets, and the omnipresence of these seed oils is the major culprit, even in the health food store aisles.
You can see a list of omega 6 content in some common foods here, and as you can see, there are many many culprits to at least be aware of as you purchase different foods in different quantities and frequencies for your diet and for your family’s diet. Don’t go crazy worrying about it, but pay attention to those food labels.
I just talked a little about natural flavoring in my post on why I don’t use those onion soup mix packets. Natural flavoring is one of those things you see on an ingredient list that “doesn’t sound that bad”, but the chances are pretty good that you won’t be eating something natural at all.
Like the fragrance of the perfume industry, natural flavors can be one of many many varieties of chemical compounds that still technically fulfill the definition of the umbrella term used by our government agencies. Natural flavorings are simply best to avoid. Don’t take a chance, when you have no way of knowing what they even contain.
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