The food industry is a booming market thanks to our increased awareness of nutrition and its effects on our health and appearance. With one product placement from a social media influencer, your product(s) could be in the hands of millions of consumers in the blink of an eye. For better or worse, new products and nutrition trends are ubiquitous, and there aren’t any signs of it slowing down.
These trends make it more important than ever to navigate the minefield that is nutrition and grocery shopping. Marketers know exactly what you want to see, hear, and read throughout your entire grocery shopping and food selection process. I’m here to help you navigate a few common nutrition myths or food scams that will cause you to overspend and feel frustrated with healthy eating.
This article will take a look at three specific foods and demonstrate how it would be easy to buy into the hype of overpaying for the healthier option. Before we get into the details of specific products, we’ll explore a broader topic – organic foods – to see if buying organic vs conventional is worth your cash.
As you read through this article, I’d like you to keep an open mind and think more about the analysis than the actual products themselves. You can take this strategical analysis of foods and apply it to every food or product you buy because of its supposed health benefits.
Okay, time to ruffle some feathers.
Organic vs Conventionally Farmed Foods
Organic foods are glorified for many reasons, but I hear three reasons more than any other. That’s where we’ll begin.
1. Organic Foods Are Better for Weight Loss, Body Composition, and Nutrient Makeup
There seems to be a misconception that organic foods are better for weight loss or body composition. The reality is, organic and conventionally farmed foods of the same type, size or weight, and ripeness will have nearly identical calorie and macronutrient compositions. And as you’ll see below, many organic products are nothing more than processed foods disguised with an organic label. All of this means that organic foods won’t produce any different metabolic result than conventionally farmed foods.
On a more micro level, some organic foods may have higher vitamin and mineral content than their conventional counterparts. What’s interesting, however, is that just as many, if not more, conventional foods have higher vitamin and mineral composition than their organic counterparts. It appears that the battle for micronutrient composition between organic and conventional foods is a wash. We can’t definitively say one is more nutritious than the other.
It is important to distinguish between organic, conventional, and processed foods. By conventional, I mean raw ingredients that are either organically or conventionally farmed. Whether ingredients come from organic farms or not, it’s a great idea to phase processed foods of any kind out of your diet.
2. Organic Foods Limit Pesticide and/or Chemical Exposure
According to Harvard, the downsides of pesticides are unclear. Most of the definitive evidence seems to be in farmers and those exposed to larger, direct doses of pesticides and chemicals. The downsides of foodborne illness and pathogens, on the other hand, are well documented. Organic foods stand a higher risk of contamination without the pesticides and chemicals used in conventional farming, during both the farming and shipping process. Simply put, the risk of foodborne illness from organic farming practices far outweigh the risk of pesticides.
3. Organic Farming Is More Sustainable
Organic farming typically yields 25% fewer crops than conventional agriculture. Which means organic farming requires more land, deforestation, and resources to produce the same amount of food. In terms of providing enough food and preserving nature, organic farming may be less sustainable than you think.
I don’t mean to dissuade you from organic foods altogether. The key takeaway on organic foods is that there seems to be no reason to overpay for organic vs conventional in almost every scenario. You shouldn’t feel like you’re eating unhealthily if you don’t buy organic. More fruits and vegetables of any kind is a great idea for your health and body composition. If you have access to a farmers market or locally grown produce with fair prices, support local business and buy from them if you’d like.
While I don’t like to classify protein powders as supplements because of their food-like macronutrient composition, they are undoubtedly the most popular product in the supplement industry. This popularity has led to every company under the sun developing ultra-special formulas from every source imaginable. You can find dairy-based whey, egg, soy, hemp, pea, blends, and more. In addition to the source, these have different classifications like concentrates, isolates, hydrolyzed, cross-micro-cold-filtered, and other crazy terms.
So, what’s the difference?
As you can probably guess by now, the difference is slight. Every source will be coveted as the holy grail of protein, but whey seems to reign supreme. The amino acid content – or the building blocks of protein – of whey outshine other sources in terms of favorability for muscle hypertrophy and recovery. Unless you’re avoiding animal products or lactose, you should go with whey. If you go with a plant-based protein, I’d suggest a blend.
As for the fancy filtration and processing, the differences between absorption rates seem to be too small to justify the increase in price. Unless you’re an elite athlete, the potential benefits of fancier processing methods aren’t worth your time or money.
Note: I do recommend a whey isolate like Hydrowhey because of its improved digestion in those with lactose intolerance or even the borderline intolerant. You also get fewer carbs and fats with most isolate powders. And as far as price goes, keep reading.
The number one thing I can recommend is to look at the price per serving, price per 25g of protein, or even price per gram of protein. As you can see in the images below, you can break the price down as far as you want to get an accurate view of what you’re paying for protein. Sometimes, the price per serving could be skewed by the actual protein per serving. Your goal with protein powder should be to get one thing – protein – and nothing else.
Peanut Butter vs Almond, Cashew, & Exotic Nut Butters
I’ll let the infographic do the talking on this one. Almond and peanut butter are almost identical in terms of calories and macronutrients, yet almond butter is perceived as the healthier option. There are several claims against peanuts being the inferior food such as it containing pro-inflammatory compounds, certain acids that may interfere with nutrient absorption, and the fact that it’s a legume – not a nut. While most of the logic is sound in these claims, the research doesn’t hold up. Not to mention, almonds share many of the same properties and would be just as guilty.
The verdict? At this point, it’s hard to say that almond butter is superior in any way other than its slightly higher vitamin/mineral content. I’ll let you be the judge but in my opinion, the boost to vitamins and minerals probably isn’t worth five extra dollars for every jar I go through.
Subjective-Biased Bonus Fact: Peanut butter tastes 1000x better than almond butter.
Halo Top & Low-Calorie Ice Cream vs Generic Frozen Yogurt
One of the best examples of superior marketing and pricing power is Halo Top ice cream. Marketed as the healthy ice cream with very few calories, a high-protein content, and an even better taste, it seems like a no-brainer. The caveat is that you’ll have to pay north of $5 per pint in most places. Looking at the infographic below, you’ll see there’s little nutritional difference between Halo Top and Kroger’s generic frozen yogurt. This is where
This is where you might be thinking about quality and all calories not being equal. And don’t get me wrong, the quality of calories DOES matter. You could argue that Kroger’s version has more sugar, while Halo Top uses less artificial sweeteners, sugar, or preservatives. And maybe you’d be right, but I couldn’t tell you. I haven’t looked beyond the calories and macronutrients at the ingredient list because ice cream isn’t going to be a large part of my diet.
I would include ice cream in the 10-15% of my total calorie intake that’s reserved for fun foods. These fun foods are foods that fall outside the things we know we should be doing. (i.e. fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts and seeds, water, healthy fats) With a small percentage of foods coming from things like Halo Top or frozen yogurt, the quality of calories is a much smaller concern than the overall calorie content, which will influence weight gain and body store changes.
Don’t major in the minors with treats or fun foods like this. Save your money or buy whichever tastes the best and you enjoy. The choice is yours and yours alone.
- Don’t forget, the quality of your calories matters, but the total amount of calories matters more in terms of weight loss or weight gain. When faced with the decision to buy two products with similar calorie and macronutrient breakdowns, don’t feel guilty to go with the cheaper version. More expensive does not mean healthier.
- Always know why you’re following a particular protocol or school of thought. If you want to eat 100% organic produce, that’s cool, but you should be able to tell someone why you’re doing it with 100% confidence.
- If you liked this article, it would validate all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into making the infographics above if you shared it with your friends.
- These are only a few of the
hundredsthousands of comparisons you could make between healthier options and their cheaper alternatives. I’m curious to see what you can find. Shoot me an email or share it on the Facebook page when you come across something good.
If you’re interested in learning more about nutrition for fitness and healthy living, I’ve put together a free eBook on the topic. It covers everything from calculating your metabolic rate, calorie and macronutrient needs, diet strategies, as well as food guides and recipes. You can learn more about Nutrition Made Easy 2.0 here or enter your info below to download your copy.