Have you fallen for the illusion of healthy foods? Marketing works, and it seems that many of us are quick to jump for labels that say low-fat, fat-free, no trans fat, gluten-free, all-natural, organic, etc.
Unfortunately there is far less control over food labels than we would like to think.
As an example, the folks in charge of organic certification told me that a field could be labeled organic even if a bordering field used chemical pesticides. Apparently pesticides honor field boundaries?
In some places, “organic” products might only contain one or two organic ingredients.
Over and over again, I have told people – unless you buy from a producer that you know and trust, or you grow/raise your own, you honestly never know what has gone into the production of your food.
There are other products that are marketed as “healthy” but … well, they’re not.
They’re actually loaded with artificial ingredients and chemical fillers that have been linked to numerous health problems and even some types of cancer.
Isn’t it time we get real about what we put in our shopping carts?
Instead of going by the misleading label, turn the product over and read the ingredients!
Here are some of the biggest offenders of ‘healthy foods’ that aren’t so healthy, and healthier foods that replace them.
Table of Contents
Sports drinks – there are a lot of liquids that fall under that category. Electrolyte replacers, glucose drinks, and name-brand beverages like Gatorade and Powerade are all under the umbrella of sports drinks.
They’ve been marketed as healthy for years, especially for athletes who become dehydrated and lose electrolytes while working out. Parents are often advised to keep some Gatorade on hand for when someone in the family comes down with an illness that causes vomiting or diarrhea.
Not long ago, when I was having serious problems with dizziness and fatigue, the Emergency Room doctor told me that I have orthostatic hypotension.
Basically, my blood pressure drops like a rock when I stand up unless I keep my sodium levels high enough.
The prescription? “On your way home, grab a Gatorade and a big bag of chips. Get your sodium levels up. Then have a Gatorade a day until you feel better. And eat more salt.”
Well, if the doctor says so, it must be safe, right? If you didn’t know better, you could be forgiven for thinking that those drinks are as healthy as advertised, replacing all the good stuff in your body and hydrating you at the same time. Plenty of people think so, after all, including doctors who should really know better, and more than $5 billion a year is spent on these. (Which is a good reason to keep up the advertising myth, isn’t it?)
I have to admit that I was so wiped from the hypotension that I didn’t even think twice about the advice until some of my readers pointed out that those drinks are absolutely terrible for me.
They were right, of course. There are definitely better ways to keep my sodium levels up.
Okay, so why are they SO bad?
Their main claim is that they keep you hydrated better than plain water. When you are exercising, you should be drinking 4-6 ounces of water every fifteen minutes.
Unfortunately, research shows that glucose drinks don’t work any better than water. But since they contain salt, they make you thirstier and you end up drinking even more.
You’re probably going to drink more sports drink than you would plain water, but it’s not because your body is recognizing how good it is for you.
And most of you reading this aren’t like me. Hypertension is much more common than hypotension, and it’s more likely that you need less salt in your diet.
And what’s the deal with the electrolytes that are supposedly replaced in our body during a strenuous workout?
That’s a huge selling point for these sports drinks, isn’t it? It’s why even some doctors suggest keeping them on hand for diarrhea and vomiting. So even if they’re no good for hydrating, they must still be good for replenishing electrolytes?
Well, definitely not during exercise. You’d have to work out hard for three to four hours to lose enough electrolytes to even make it a concern. Even then, a sports drink isn’t going to replenish them. That huge blast of sugars, salt and calories is definitely not necessary, and you’re better off replenishing electrolytes and salts by eating a healthy diet … with water.
Regular, free water straight from your faucet.
Smoothies and Fruit Juices
Who doesn’t love smoothies? We often associate smoothies and fruit juices with healthy eating. They’re made of fresh fruit, after all, which adds to their wholesome image.
Smoothies can be healthy, with fresh fruit, skim milk and maybe ingredients like flaxseed or powdered greens, but the overwhelming majority are just a delicious way to pack a lot of unnecessary calories into your diet.
If you go out with friends and choose a smoothie instead of ice cream, you might just as well have had an ice cream sundae. The smoothie might well have the same amount of fat and calories, especially if it has full fat milk, added sweeteners and other additions.
Homemade smoothies, though – that’s a whole different matter! We have them all the time at our house, with skim milk, unsweetened fruit and either low fat frozen yogurt or frozen fruit. We love frozen bananas in ours!
Juice deserves a bit of attention, too. In recent years, it has finally gotten that attention – and the verdict is not good for juice. Some experts say that juice, even 100% pure fruit juice, is no healthier for children than a cup of soda. Other experts blame fruit juice for the rise in obesity rates in children. Decades ago, most children drank milk and water, but now people of all ages indulging in a variety of “healthy” fruit juice.
Fruit juices are basically water and sugar. They’re okay in moderation, and by that I mean those tiny little glasses of juice that you get served at very nice restaurants. Beyond that, you’re just adding empty calories without any nutritional benefit. Any drink that doesn’t provide nutrition but does pack in as many calories and sugar as soda needs to be included in the ‘limited treats’ section of our diets.
When it comes to beverages, water is best.
“Whole Grain” Products
When you order toast at a restaurant, or a sandwich at the deli, do you get asked ‘White or whole wheat?’ I’ll bet you do AND you have probably heard (or said) “I’m eating healthy, so I’ll have the whole wheat.” After all, they say – the whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead.
Everyone has become infatuated with whole grain products because they’re better for your health. Whole wheat bread from the grocery store tastes so awful that health is the only reason I know to eat it. And now you can buy ‘whole wheat’ English muffins, nasty tasting crackers that advertise their health qualities on the box, and … well, if you’re buying white bread, expect to get that look.
Especially if you’re buying white bread for children.
The problem with all of this whole wheat hype, though, is that not all whole grain products are the same. If you don’t know the difference between true whole grain and the wannabe fakers, you might as well just buy the white bread. It generally tastes better and it’s just as healthy (or unhealthy) for you.
A lot of products – bread, bagels, cookies, crackers and definitely cereal – have ‘whole grain’ slapped on them in ways that are very misleading.
The reality is that many of these products just add a pinch or so of whole wheat, enough to change the appearance, so that they can list it as ‘whole grain’ – even though it still contains mostly bleached flours. If you check the ingredient list, you’ll find cornflower oil, soy flower oil and high fructose corn syrup, too. Don’t rely on manufacturers to tell you whether the product is good or not – check to see what types of grains are really being used.
Made with whole grains
Think about this one for a moment. If you have a hundred pounds of bleached white flour and you add one pound of whole grains, then you are making it with whole grains. It sounds good, but it’s absolutely meaningless.
Wheat flour or 100% wheat
Well, that’s important to know if you’re avoiding wheat. It doesn’t tell you anything about the wheat being used, though. The purest white bleached wheat flour is still 100% wheat. It’s just not 100% OF the wheat berry.
This is another completely meaningless term. If you have six different grains in there, but they are all refined, processed, and bleached beyond recognition, then it is technically ‘multigrain’. There are no health benefits over the plain white loaf of bread, though. You want whole grains, with their germ and nutrition intact, not a blend of refined grains.
Don’t be fooled by the packaging! (There’s a life lesson in there for you folks.)
Take a good look at what is actually inside. Is the first ingredient a whole grain or a flour made from whole grains? If it doesn’t say “whole” – literally, that’s the word you’re looking for – then you can quite safely assume you’re looking at a refined product.
And just in case you’re wondering, you don’t want to see sugar or corn syrup as a main ingredient in your grain products, either!
Sometimes there can be a clear-cut case in favour of low fat products. After all, unless you’re four years old, you should not be having full-fat milk and cheese.
But what about other products? Well, unfortunately, you’re usually just trading out fat for high levels of sugar and additives. That’s why you need to be very cautious when buying anything that says “low fat” or “fat free”.
For most foods, flavour comes from fat. When the fat is removed from a product, the taste is impacted. (Fancy a fat-free avocado? Some butter with all of the fat removed?)
Since the manufacturer wants you to buy their product, they have to add extra sugar and sweeteners to bring back some taste – and those are accompanied by a lot of extra calories.
You’re not getting the FAT that you are trying to avoid, but you’re not really cutting back on CALORIES. And unless you have a way of burning off those extra calories (in which case you could have just had the full fat foods), we all know that excess calories are stored in the body as fat.
No wonder we have an obesity epidemic when the diet foods are causing us to gain weight.
It gets worse, though. Sometimes they do NOT add sugar to bring back the flavour.
Sometimes they use chemical flavourings.
If you’re only looking at the nutritional facts, everything looks fine, but if you dig into the ingredient list, you might start making funny faces in the grocery store.
What ARE those ingredients? Carrageenan, xanthan gum, locust bean gum, guar gum, sodium alginate, cellulose, malodextrin, polydextrose. They are Generally Recognized as Safe by the American FDA, by the way.
Some people are quite content to have small amounts of these (and some are willing to have plenty), while others might think twice about it. There is no sense detoxxing your environment, eating clean and healthy, and then chomping down on crackers containing malodextrin.
Malodextrin comes from plants, but it’s so highly processed that it can only be made in a factory. It causes blood sugar spikes (bad if you’re diabetic or genetically inclined to diabetes), is really harsh on your gut bacteria (bad if you’re at all prone to autoimmune issues), and it’s basically a sweetener with no nutritional value (really bad if you’re cutting back on fat to lose weight!).
You may be better off eating the regular food, getting a little more fat but sticking to natural ingredients, especially if you have other health conditions.
Those cute little pink, blue and yellow sweetener packets at restaurants – those are artificial sweeteners. We’ve had them around for a while, so most people are familiar with them.
Saccarin. Sucralose. Aspartame. Rebiana.
Let me say this right now – no matter what the manufacturers want you to believe, these sweeteners are far sweeter than any natural sugar and they have all gone some kind of chemical alteration before making their way to your plate.
They’ve all been linked to cancers of one sort or another and they all have side effects like stomach upset.
If that’s not enough, they affect the brain chemistry and make you actually crave sweetness. (Sugar sweetness in your food, I mean, not the sweetness of a toddler climbing on your lap for a cuddle.)
Craving a sweet treat? Have an apple or a banana or any other WHOLE fruit with natural sugars. The fiber ensures that the sugars are released slowly in our blood, which helps keep us full for longer.
A friend of mine who is diabetic once put it to me this way: “Marie, these artificial sweeteners are poison to me, too. But sugar is much more of a poison to me because of my diabetes. For you, there’s absolutely no reason to use an artificial sweetener. Choose something that’s natural.”
Granola and Protein Bars
There is something about those granola and protein bars. They’re easy to store, pack, grab and eat. And hey, they’re made with whole grains, nuts and dried fruit.
Can’t go wrong grabbing a protein bar, can I?
Okay, they have one advantage – they’re portioned out into small amounts. Even if it’s not really the healthiest snack in the world, a granola bar still packs in less than 150 calories and contains at least some healthy ingredients.
Unfortunately, those whole grains, nuts and dried fruit are surrounded and held together with high fructose corn syrup and other nasty sugars, and they’re surprisingly low in nutrients. With all of the additives and fillers, a couple of dried raisins and a teaspoon of rolled oats might be all the healthy stuff you’re eating.
What if you eat them for energy?
Well, you’d be better off having a handful of nuts, a boiled egg, or a piece of sharp cheese, along with an apple or an orange. You’ll get more energy and better nutrients, and it will last longer.
Don’t fall for the hype with this one. Those bars are a chemical storm in your mouth.
Veggie and Multigrain Chips
Hello, I’m Marie and I’m a carbohydrate addict.
I admit my addiction, and I will also admit that I totally fell for the hype when it came to veggie and multigrain chips.
After all, an all-natural, healthy version of the potato chips I love? They taste good, they’re crunchy, they’re made with a few simple ingredients, and we’re dancing in the streets because now chip snacks have some of their reputation back. Even regular chip manufacturers are playing into that with baked, healthier potato chips, but VEGETABLE chips? There’s a party going on now!
The plain truth is that vegetable chips are no healthier than regular chips. After all, regular chips are made from potatoes, and that’s a vegetable, so what makes them healthier if they contain carrot or spinach or corn? The problem isn’t the vegetable.
These products are so highly processed that they retain little – if any – of their original nutrients.
And if salt is an issue for you, watch out. They’re loaded with it.
Whole grain and multigrain chips have the same problem. They’re marketed as healthy and most people consider the to be. But they have the same amount of fat, sodium, and calories as regular chips. They’re just made with corn instead of potatoes. And if they’re flavoured, then they contain the same artificial flavourings as regular potato chips.
Craving a veggie snack? Eat vegetables. A salad packed with greens, boiled eggs, a bit of sharp cheese and some homemade crunchy croutons will satisfy your cravings for the crunch, protein and vitamins.
Be a smart shopper and an even smarter eater. Take the time to look at the ingredients and avoid the hype of misleading, “healthy” labels.
Choose healthier foods that replace these very unhealthy fakers!