"Fit Food": Why "Fit" Doesn't Always Mean Healthy When it Comes to “Food"

So-called “Fit Food” has not only come to a grocery store near you...it’s taken over the shelves all but entirely. Food manufacturers of all sizes -- from large-scale to niche -- and across all categories of food types -- from salad dressings to ice cream -- have rolled up their sleeves and started responding to the ever-increasing demand consumers have for “fit” or “healthy” foods. In addition to store shelves overflowing with “healthy” and “fit” foods, national and local meal delivery services have popped up offering various types of meals (from Keto, to to Diabetic, to Paleo, and more) as the trend toward healthier eating continues to grow.

Responding to consumer demands is nothing new, after all. Business of all kinds must adapt to what the market wants: food manufacturers are not looking to make the world a healthier place...they are looking to create sales and lots of ‘em. Just take a walk down memory lane to see how diet trends over time have evolved: in 1982, responding to the diet and ditch the sugar craze of the 80s, the Coca Cola company launched Diet Coke. In 2018, Coca Cola vowed to launch a more natural form of stevia-sweetened soda -- responding to the current trend of eating ‘whole’ foods that are considered to be more ‘natural’.

If today’s grocery stores, restaurants, and meal delivery services are brimming with ‘healthy food options’, shouldn’t it follow that today’s population is healthier and more fit than ever? According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), that’s just not happening. Data from 2015-2016 indicates that 39% of American adults were considered obese -- and the diseases that accompany obesity, such as Diabetes Type 2, were on the rise.

The U.S. Weight Loss and Diet Industry is worth a staggering $66 billion dollars today...so...what gives? Why are Americans spending so much on "fit" and “healthy” foods...and ending up in the hospital, anyways?

The truth is: claims around what is "healthy" and what is "fit" (and "all natural") are, by and large, unregulated...which means, "healthy" and "fit" foods are decided by the company, not an independent organization/evaluator. Unfortunately, choosing healthy foods isn't simple because virtually anything could be considered healthy....

"Fit Food" Issue #1: processed foods are a big problem

One of the biggest issues with why "fit" foods are popular...one of the biggest issues with why the supermarket is full of "fit" foods but people aren’t getting "fit" is that the foods in supermarkets are, by and large, processed. Processed foods are problematic because they are often high in sugars, chemicals, and low in actual nutritional content.

A strict definition of processed foods would be any food that is changed in any way from its natural form. Canned vegetables, foods that have been fortified with vitamins or fatty acids such as Omega-3, bottled salad dressings, and ready-to-eat foods such as yogurt are all examples of processed foods.

Even when processed foods are meant to be healthy, the processing they undergo results in substantial nutrient loss. Processed foods that are low in sugar may not actually be low in sugar -- there are far too many ‘no sugar’ or ‘low sugar’ alternatives for food out there today that are, in reality, just as damaging to your body as actual sugar.

Agave nectar, for example, can cause your blood sugar to rise just as fast as actual sugar -- and with that, you are at risk for all the associated damage that goes along with consuming actual sugar. 

The quality of ingredients matters when it comes to nutrition -- and, unfortunately, far too many meal delivery services, restaurants, and food manufacturers cut corners whenever possible. They may not cut corners on what customers see (packaging, dining room decor, website, and so on)...but behind the scenes, and on your plate, the quality of ingredients could very well be subpar. 

Walk into any restaurant or prep kitchen walkin freezer and you’ll likely see box after box of pre-made, heavily processed foods that will be served to guests, “healthy” or not...yikes.

"Fit Food" Issue #2: calorie-reduced or fat-reduced foods aren’t necessarily healthy

Time and time again, researchers and thought-leaders on health today are coming to this conclusion: healthy eating is about quality, not quantity. Just because you can a lot of a certain food, doesn’t mean you should or that it’s good for you.

Because a calorie is not just a calorie, the real question to ask is this: what is behind that calorie? Macro and micro-nutrients matter; empty calories are empty calories regardless of how few there are. With too much emphasis on reducing calories, and not enough emphasis on increasing nutrient-rich calories, dieters can end up in a very unhealthy position. Foods with more calories, such as fruits or nuts, may seem like a poor choice at first glance -- however, when you look under the hood, you’ll discover that they actually are full of fiber, and as a result, fewer calories are absorbed by your body during digestion.

With current health research indicating that certain fats can be incredibly beneficial for disease prevention as well as weight loss and maintenance (for example, the Keto diet), ‘fit foods’ that are considered ‘low-fat’ are a particularly alarming trend. The efficacy of low-fat diets is up for debate: after a year on a low-fat diet in one study, participants didn’t see sweeping changes in terms of weight loss and cardiovascular health improvement.

“Fit Food” Issue #3: when diet foods lack nutritional value, they leave you hungry

What do you do when you feel hungry? You eat. Aside from emotional attachments, what causes you to feel hungry? Not having enough of the nutrients you need.

A risk of diet foods is that they often lack the nutritional value your body needs, especially if you are trying to lose weight (and are exercising more) or fight off illness (and your body is working hard). Those low-fat yogurts may look tempting, but they could actually leave you feeling hungrier. The same goes for low-calorie pretzels, fruit juices, and breads….why? Any food that causes blood sugar to spike -- and then crash -- can wreak havoc with your appetite throughout the day. Bottomline? Beware ‘low-calorie’ and ‘low-fat’ foods that are full of empty calories, carbs, and not much else.

We can talk about processed foods, and empty calories, and micro-nutrients, to death...however, if we do that, we’re ignoring the big elephant in the room. What’s that? We are all relying on convenience foods in ways both large and small, healthy or not. We just don’t have enough time in the day to cook our own delicious, balanced, filling meals. Processed foods, frozen meals, restaurants -- not to mention services such as Uber Eats….they are all a symptom of a larger problem: as a culture, here in St. Louis and beyond, we’re time pressed and the problem is only growing. The data is in: Americans are working more than anyone else. Maybe, depending upon your circumstances, there simply isn’t enough time in the day to hit the gym, put in a full day at work, take the kids to ballet or soccer practice, enjoy a hobby, and get all the usual household chores down -- plus whole foods cooking.

As a result, healthy meal delivery services such as Pure Plates, based in St. Louis, are popping up to help meet the needs of Americans today. We do all of the heavy-lifting: meal planning, sourcing local, organic produce whenever available, keeping costs down, making everything taste delicious -- and our happy clients get easy to heat meals that are as good for their health as for their time management.

Unfortunately, for all of the reasons above, not all "healthy" and "fit" meal delivery services are truly serving quality meals. The "health" factor of the meals you get is 100% dependant upon what the service considers healthy. As a consumer, the responsibility is on you to research and find the right meal delivery service that keeps your health and goals at the forefront of everything you do....(and, if you're in the St. Louis area, give Pure Plates a try).