San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

The price of convenience

Julie Godfrey

Julie Godfrey

I came across an article the other day asking if sugary cereals and a chocolate drinks could really lower cholesterol, and it struck me how easy it is to fall into the marketing trap, believing anything on the box. In truth, five minutes in the kitchen is often far healthier for body, mind and wallet.

Have a think. How many people buy oat-based cereals that claim to help lower cholesterol, and then wonder why nothing happens? Who buys drinks with added antioxidants and vitamins as these are “healthy?” Who chews on a “nutritious” cereal bar as a late breakfast at work? Sorry to burst the bubble, but with many products, as well as ingesting nutrients that your body needs, you may be overdosing on sugar, fat and salt.

Convenience foods are a staple for many people, yet media bombardment of what’s good for us (vitamins, antioxidants, fiber) and what’s not (saturated fats, sugar), has made buying them a confusing process. So when a product says that it will lower cholesterol, or is full of antioxidants or has no fat or sugar, then life suddenly becomes easier – or does it? 

Food and beverage marketing is a minefield of misunderstanding. One is led through such a labyrinth of claims that it is easy to forget the basic, often far healthier and more economical homemade version. So here are a few considerations to help put some common sense back into food shopping.

The most useful habit you can have is to read ingredient and nutritional labels. Low fat often means high sugar. Some products such as soy based drinks and yoghurts can provide health benefits, but you may have to consume several servings a day to achieve these, which can significantly increase sugar intake. Granolas contain oats which are good for the heart, but this benefit is somewhat negated when they are baked in honey and oil. Low fat spreads contain heart beneficial plant sterols, but these have been processed and are thus no longer in their natural state. Also margarines are a very processed product. Alternatives? Try a little natural butter and plenty of vegetables which will provide sterols in their natural form. In the mornings, mix a few unsalted nuts, seeds and a spoonful of dried fruit in with a half cup of jumbo oats and you have your own healthy breakfast cereal. For convenience, you can even make a batch in advance. With drinks, buying a bottle or carton is convenient, but really, how difficult is it to toss some roughly chopped fruit into a blender and blitz with water or milk for 30 seconds? This homemade version provides vitamins, minerals and (assuming you don’t filter off the “bits”) fiber. Boxed juices may have some vitamins and may be fortified with antioxidants, but are usually concentrated, generally have no fiber and (if you buy nectar) added sugars. So go back to basics and if you really can’t resist the latest wonder product, investigate it carefully and understand exactly what you are feeding yourself and your family.

Julie Godfrey BSc (Hons) is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and full member of the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT). See or email

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