I had to go into Wholefoods the other day to buy some Coconut yogurt for a recipe I’m testing – nestled next to it on the shelf were some little pots that looked a) intriguing b) yummy. They contained things like Raw Blueberry Cheesecake and Raw Banoffee Pie….I love Banoffee pie however I don’t eat Banoffee pie as I’m extremely good at gaining weight, so when I saw this I thought,’oooh yum’. In a normal supermarket however I would have also have thought ‘and how many calories/sugar/crap are in that then?’ – and checked the label. But instead I saw the word Raw, and the health halo kicked in….
The health halo is what food researchers call the idea that, just because a food has a claim on the front that makes it sound healthier or better for the environment, it mysteriously loses calories in our minds. For example, when 115 people were questioned by a team of health researchers in New York, as to how many calories were in an organic product compared to a regular one, they said it was 20.1 percent less for a yogurt, 23.1 percent less for crisps and 24.1 percent less for cookies. We also tend to think we can consume more of foods labelled low-fat, believe Fairtrade products are less calorific than other brands and according to research from the University of Michigan, are more likely to say we’d skip the gym after eating a dessert marked organic than if we eat a normal one.
I’m pretty aware of all of the above and so still read the labels very carefully – especially on anything marked low-fat. However, when I saw the word raw I was thinking, how bad can it be? Particularly as it was also gluten and dairy free, so reading the label went out the window.
My first inkling to the answer to ‘how bad’ came when I took my first mouthful….wow this is sweet I said to The Boyfriend. I should really have stopped there and then and looked at the label, but we were watching The Following, Kevin Bacon was doing something Bacony and we had the lights down and I couldn’t be bothered to move. In the words of Pretty Woman, big mistake – huge (which is likely to be how I’d end up if I ate too many of these things).
When I was clearing up the kitchen later I decided to see why it had been so sweet – the answer was pretty clear it contains coconut sugar (as its main ingredient), plus coconut nectar and yacon syrup – all of which are sweeteners (it also has dates but we’ll let them off because they are fruit). And yes, while all of these sugars have a relatively low glycemic index (which means they won’t send your blood sugar soaring then crashing) they still have calories and they do still raise insulin which is a green light in my body to ‘gain weight, go on, stack it on’. And yes they also do have more minerals and other nutrients than table sugar, but you’d have to eat a lot of them to get any benefits…..And while Yacon syrup has been touted as a weight loss aid, when I tried it I gained a kilo in less than a week – and came off it very fast. Yet here I was eating something rammed with a mixture of sweet stuff that meant it contained 19.2g of total sugar.
Then I read the calorie count. This was a tiny pot, half the height of a small yogurt pot yet in that tiny pot was 418 calories. For that, I could have eaten the below….
I wouldn’t do any of those things, and if I’d picked up a pot of anything else sweet containing that many calories I’d have put it straight back on the shelf, but I’d been absolutely, completely and totally suckered in by the health halo from the raw food label. Now I’m aware that the ingredients of cashews, coconut, dates, banana were considerably better for me than the koalas or cookies, and that calories from real foods like cashews and bananas do, potentially, act differently in the body than those in processed crap, but still, it was an obscene amount of calories and sugars in such a tiny pot. So, the moral of this story, always, always, always read the labels – even if you are in a health food store. And I’ll now add Raw to my list of things to watch out for.