Skip to main content

Healthy Alternatives? [publisher's letter]

Publisher Tracy Patterson with her dog sitting in the desert resting up from a hike

Tracy Patterson

After reading this month’s Conscious Eating article, I felt compelled to add a couple of thoughts that immediately came to mind. Despite the idea that plant-based milk alternatives are better for us, and they well may be (that’s not the point of this letter!), it doesn’t free us from the task of ingredient checking.

Although I’ve always been an ingredient checker, I tended to slack off in the beginning when it came to healthy alternative choices, such as almond milk and gluten-free bread and pastries. However, I soon came to realize that not all almond milk brands are created equal, and that most plant-based milk alternatives have a lot of ingredients, as opposed to, well, milk.

The first thing I learned was that if I don’t want my almond milk to be sweet, I have to make sure it says “unsweetened,” because the regular versions contain added sugar or some other kind of sweetener. I also noticed the plethora of “gums” on the list—most of these are used as fillers and/or thickeners, and so far, are deemed on the safe side for consumption. Of course, being deemed “safe” by the FDA doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a healthy choice.

I’ve come to discover that the “favorite” ingredient in at least some of the gluten-free breads and pastries is xanthan gum, and I discovered it in my non-gluten-free cheesecake too! Not only is this gum found in food products, it’s also in personal care items (e.g., toothpaste and lotions) and industrial products (e.g., paints and adhesives, like wallpaper glue) as well.

The lesson I’ve learned is that no matter what “flavor of the day” is considered a healthy alternative, it’s up to us to be vigilant about our ingredient checking and to research questionable ingredients to make sure that they are in fact healthy for our own unique needs.