By law, packaged foods must be labeled with calorie contents, ingredients and slogans that satisfy the advertising standards authorities – so we must be well informed consumers when it comes to what we are buying correct? Well not as much as we may think, take a look below at the top 8 supposedly ‘healthy’ foods that are actually no better than a candy bar.
Thank you Running from Buffalo for this Guest Post.
Cutting carbs and processed foods, I have become one of THOSE food bloggers, may it be Atkins, Paleo, Primal or more generically, a part of `the Clean Brigade’ regime.
I had decided to make the transition from ‘normal’ eating using Phil Maffetone’s 2-Week-Test. I had read about the Maffetone-Method in Chris McDougall’s latest book Natural Born Heroes last summer and was determined to try it out as soon as an opportunity arose. There was the allure of help with my increasing back problems, an unhappy stomach while running and a general lack of interest in my beloved sport, three marathons later, without significant personal improvement.
The 2-Week-Test is designed to reset your body’s system: no processed foods, no sugar (yes, that includes fruit), dairy, honey, or any types of carbs (legumes, pasta, bread etc.). The idea being that we have gotten so used to feeling sluggish, tired and bloated from an overconsumption of refined sugars, that we don’t notice it any more and lay blame elsewhere. In two weeks it could be possible to turn this around by fine tuning our senses, to the effects that certain foods have on our bodies and wellbeing.
I was on the last day of this strict diet when my boyfriend and I found ourselves next to a very talkative, obese gentleman on a plane to Salt Lake City. Having prepared for airports and planes where we would be unable to eat anything, we had brought along some cut veggies, hard-boiled eggs, and a variety of roasted nuts. This immediately caught our neighbor’s attention and after a brief introduction, he started to tell us about his troubles with diets and hunger pangs. Proceeding to ask us a million and one questions about our thoughts on proper eating, my boyfriend’s advice seemed to impress him: Read the labels and don’t eat anything that you cannot picture in your head.
One of his last questions took us by surprise, and we couldn’t find an adequate answer for it at the time. Ever since then, it has nagged me in the back of my mind and today I decided to put pen to paper in answer of the following: ‘What is the worst food, that people think is actually good for you?’
My bias in answering this question lies in believing that today we are eating far too many refined carbohydrates for our own good and that there is always an alternative to processed foods. Hence, my personal list of “Eight foods you think are good for you that actually are not”:
- Low or fat-free ‘anything‘
This includes, fat-free yoghurt, skim milk, low-fat cheese and lunch meat. When fat is removed from dairy and other products, guess what is also removed? Flavour, in abundace. Therefore what do you need to do in order to bring flavor back to the table? Sugar and salt. Go ahead and compare the ingredient list in a fat-free natural yoghurt with the whole-milk version next time you are in a supermarket. You will be stunned.
In addition to this, the fat in full fat yoghurt is actually good for you. Contrary to popular belief fat, unlike (refined) carbohydrates, are not stored immediately as body fat after consumption. Our body needs healthy fats to function properly.
- Alternatives to butter
‘I can’t believe it’s not butter!’ Ever since I’ve moved to the States, I’ve wondered why that was such a popular catchphrase. I’ve always liked natural butter and when I first tasted the hydrogenated brand, I almost spat it out again.
Believe me, I do believe it is not butter. What’s wrong with it? The main ingredient in butter is milk; churned over a period of time and boom, you have butter. Margarine or any butter-alternative on the other hand, is a highly processed food made of vegetable oil (the worst oil to eat in itself) and full of trans fat (now band in many places such as the UK). Read what others have to say about this and then decide next time you go shopping.
- Fruit juice
Many people believe that fruit juices, especially those not from concentrate and without added sugar are good and healthy, contributing to one of your five a day – right? And urge their kids to have a glass of OJ in the morning for a ‘healthy’ start to the day (much like Nutella – can you believe it?!). However juicing removes all that is nutritious in fruits – fiber, vitamins you name it, essentially all that is left is sugar water and flavoring.
- Whole Grain Bread
What is being marketed as `whole grain’ today, most of the time still contains highly processed flour and only partial grains, even worse are the brands that simply market dyed white bread as a healthy brown alternative! There are a few people trying to change this, but until then, even ‘whole-grain bread’ is a processed food that quickly turns into sugar in your digestive system. When grains are processed, the part of the food that spoils most easily is removed. This part also happens to contain the most nutritious value.
- Sports Drinks
While I was skiing a few weeks ago I suddenly became very aware of the number of kids having Gatorade and Powerade during lunch breaks with their parents. They would not let their kids have soda (’cause we all know sodas are bad), but sports drinks are ok. Health and Fitness magazines are constantly telling us to have sports drink instead of water while exercising, since they contain electrolytes and vitamins. I thought it might be obvious that they do however contain an equally large amount of sugar, sweeteners and artificial flavorings. Hardly the regular drink of choice for healthy, growing bodies and surely not a better alternative to soda. Water is best – be it birch, coconut or fruit infused if you must have a slightly sweeter alternative.
- Granola, cereal and health-bars
Are highly processed and contain a lot of sugar. We have been tricked into thinking that a healthy start into the day includes a bowl of cereal with (skimmed) milk. Do you ever wonder why you are often hungry again only one or two hours after breakfast? Because cereal not only contains a lot of added sugar, but even its main ingredient, refined grains, are sugar in disguise which is very quickly used up by the body and stored away in fat reserves. KIND bars might be an alternative made of natural ingredients, but they still are mainly carbs. Keep those to a minimum and do not let clever advertising and labelling trick you into thinking that these are healthier for you than other processed foods or even candy bars.
- Artificial sweeteners and zero-calorie drinks
If you think that having a beverage without calories is good for you, please think again. Take a look at the label – can you picture any of it? Artificial sweeteners trick our body into believing that it will soon process sugar so it goes into fat-storage mode, which can actually lead to weight gain. No calories also means no nutritional value. Why would you consume anything that has no positive effect on your body whatsoever, even lacking in energy-value.
- Trail mix
Theoretically, these contain a lot of great foods – nuts, dried fruits. The problem is, more often than not, there are also copious amounts of chocolate chips in them, the nuts are salted beyond recognition and the dried fruits contain a lot of sugar with much less nutrients than their fresh counterparts. Just because the label shows a happy hiker in the wilderness does not make this a healthy food. Make your own. Roast some nuts and flavor them to your liking, mix them and add just a few raisins or cranberries. Cheaper, healthier and much more delicious: here are some great ideas – I love the garlic almonds!
This is the organically growing list of good-bad foods from Doro Hoffmann. Please feel free to comment with additional ideas and thoughts on how to expand or limit it and your favorite healthy alternatives!