Health food imposters – how to spot them

Monday, June 13, 2016 1:06:08 PM Pacific/Auckland

By Kim Bulder, Naturopath & Medical Herbalist 


Many so-called health foods are anything but. Below are some of the most common foods where the imposters can sneak in if you don't carefully read the labels and know what to look out for: 


The yoghurt section of the supermarket contains many health food imposters. Some have up to 2 teaspoons of sugar per single serve pot and contain no beneficial live cultures.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: great yoghurt really only needs 2 ingredients – organic whole milk and live cultures. Go for unsweetened, and skip the low fat options for a healthy whole food experience.

(Clearwater’s Yoghurt is an absolute favourite, made on the farm in Geraldine, New Zealand).


Gluten free food does not necessarily mean health food. Some gluten free foods are highly processed, contain high levels of sugar, refined flours with very little nutritional value, and artificial ingredients.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: 100% natural, unrefined whole ingredients. Check the label for sugar levels. (Purebread make some really good wholesome organic gluten free breads).


While the antioxidant properties and health benefits of dark chocolate are well documented, it pays to closely read the label before ripping virtuously into anything called ‘dark’ chocolate - many contain up to 50% sugar and have less than 50% cocoa.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: at least 60% cacao or cocoa solids– and this should be the first ingredient listed, NOT sugar; ideally organic, no refined sugar and no milk products (then it's milk chocolate not dark chocolate!).

(Pana Chocolate, handmade organic raw cacao chocolate, is seriously the BEST chocolate I have ever eaten).


Manuka honey is sometimes blended with cheaper honeys, and while there is nothing wrong with this provided the label clearly states it is a blend, if you are wanting the benefits it’s best to buy 100% New Zealand Manuka honey. Also be aware there are different grades based on the level of methylglyoxal, an important compound naturally occurring in Manuka honey. Ideally the amount of methylglyoxal is stated on the label so you know exactly what you are getting.


Largely assumed to be a healthy option, most commercial muesli bars in fact contain high levels of sugar, vegetable oils and refined grains – exactly the same unhealthy ingredients as found in cakes and biscuits.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Again, it’s all about carefully reading the label. Go for bars that are 100% natural, have high proportions of nuts and seeds, sweetened with honey or dates rather than sugar or glucose syrup.

Even better, try making them yourself…


10 minutes to make, and only 3 ingredients:

- 400g unpitted dates (soften in warm water first if needed)

- 300g raw cashews (or other raw nuts - ideally soak overnight in water)

- ½ cup desiccated coconut

Drain nuts and dates if pre-soaked, combine all ingredients in food processor and pulse until they bind together. Add a pinch of sea salt if you like.

Press firmly into a tray, refrigerate until firm, then cut into bars, squares, or crazy shapes, go nuts!

You’re done. Store in the fridge and enjoy as a delicious, wholesome snack.

You can experiment with adding extra ingredients like raw cacao, or try Dr Libby’s Brain Balls


In summary, if it’s not made by you, READ THE LABEL CAREFULLY, not just the marketing on the front.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

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The Manuka Shop