Fat free? All Natural? Organic? – Confused!
Breakfast: brown toast with fresh fruit juice. Lunch: turkey on rice cakes. Snack: protein bar. Dinner: sushi rolls.
Sounds like a reasonably healthy day, right? Not so fast. Although each of these foods have a healthy reputation, I’m sorry to say, they’re most definitely don’t make the healthy cut.
These are just some of the many foods that we have been manipulated into thinking are good for us, when in fact they’re packed with sugar and junk.
Fat free, sugar free, multigrain, gluten free, organic, and all natural! These are just some of the lines that come to mind when we think of health foods. But unhealthy choices are creeping among even the healthiest of labels. Many believe that just because a food has one of these wonder lines on the packet that it’s good for them. Wrong.
Here are my top 15 unhealthy health foods:
Aka. everybody’s favourite bowl of sugar!
Granola earned its rep as a “health food” way back in the 60’s because at this time it was in fact leaps & bounds better for you than the run of the mill frosted cereal everyone was having then (who remembers fruit loops & frosty flakes?). But today, this is no longer the case. Beneath the “all-natural” packaging, granola is simply oats (carbohydrates) & dried fruit (sugar) covered in honey (more sugar). Basically the perfect breakfast to widen your waistline and have your belly grumbling an few hours later.
Now don’t start panicking. There’s always a healthier way! To get that crave you crunch, try making your own granola. It’s easy to do, you’ll skip the sugar and will even save money. Opt for nuts & seeds instead of oats, coconut flakes instead of dried fruit & coconut oil instead of honey. Voila! Ps. Add in some cacao nibs for a chocolate twist.
The perfect meal-on-the-go or a complete diet trap? The packaging may make you think it’s giving you all the nutrients & protein that you need, however 9 times out of 10 all they are giving you is a dose of sugar & a whole bunch of empty calories. These “healthy snacks” usually contain just as many, if not more, calories than a candy bar! The key to choosing the best bars: always read the labels! Choose those with the fewest ingredients possible. Or even better, try making your own.
Another marketing buzzword! Sneaky food manufacturers have come up with all kinds of ways to make the same old junk food, except with using ingredients that just happen to be “organic”. One of their favorites is raw cane sugar, which is pretty much identical to regular sugar – sounds healthier though, right? Often the difference between an ingredient and its organic doppelganger is next to none. Always check the table to see what’s inside. Better yet – try to avoid foods that come in packets!
When we think turkey we think lean protein & weight loss friendly. This is totally true for freshly roasted turkey, however, bad news for packaged meat lovers out there – the same cannot be said for the packaged variety. Just one slice of pre-cut turkey has about 1/3 of your daily sodium limit!
Too much sodium causes the body to hold on to excess fluid, increasing blood pressure and placing added strain on your heart. Excessive sodium intake increases risk of stroke, osteoporosis, heart failure, kidney disease & stomach cancer.
As more and more sugar-damning evidence surfaces more people begin searching for sweet alternatives. Agave nectar, or agave syrup, is one of the most popular “natural” sugar alternatives. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news (again!), but agave is absolutely no better than sugar. In fact, it’s worse!
One of the biggest issues with sugar is that is it high in fructose, which causes dangerous metabolic issues when consumed in excess (1). Well, Sugar is about 50% fructose, High Fructose Corn Syrup is about 55% and Agave is 70-90% fructose! So gram for gram, agave is worse for you than plain old sugar. “Natural” doesn’t always mean healthy.
When the war on fat began (the biggest mistake in the history of nutrition!) food manufacturers jumped on board and started removing fats from all kinds of food, therefore starting the “low fat” / “fat free” craze. But the problem was that food tastes like crap once the fat has been removed! So, they started to add in a whole bunch of sugar to taste compensate.
Although the anti-fat argument has since been completely debunked (2), the products are still everywhere. When you see either of these two lines on packaging it means that it is highly processed with lots of harmful sugar. The same goes for everyone out there drinking skim milk thinking its the better choice – it’s not!
You are likely thinking – but its fruit, how can it be unhealthy? To start with, most packaged dried fruit has so much added sugar that it makes more sense that we call it candied fruit. But even unprocessed dried fruit has its concerns. When fruit is dried it shrinks in volume, making you eat much more than you ever would their fresh counterpart.
Let’s use prunes as an example. Prunes are dried plums. 1 cup of prunes has more than 400 calories and over 45 grams of sugar. In contrast, 1 cup of fresh plums has 75 calories and only 15 grams of sugar. In addition, when eating fresh fruit you are also consuming the additional water content, helping you to feel fuller. Simple solution? Stick to the fresh stuff.
In theory traditional sushi rolls are a perfectly proportioned meal – protein & omega 3 fats from the seafood, vegetables from the seaweed and extras, carbohydrates from the rice and even some fermented vegetables in the form of ginger.
But once again the modern twist has turned these rolls into a not-so-healthy “health food”. We triple the rice portions (and even sweeten the rice!), deep fry the fish, lather in the mayo and coat it in teriyaki (sugar sauce) and drizzle soy (sodium sauce) on top. One California rolls is the equivalent of eating two sandwiches with fake crab meat, and a spicy tuna roll would be 1.5 mayo & tuna sandwiches.
Don’t want to give up your sushi lunches? Grab some sashimi and a miso soup and maybe some edamame for a much healthier sushi option.
Ever ask yourself why rice cakes are so wonderfully light and airy? This is because they contain as much nutrition as, well, air (with some sodium on the side!). Rice cakes are the ultimate diet snack food fad. In reality they are majorly lacking in fiber and even classify as a carb dense food meaning it can triggers inflammation and wreak havoc on your poor gut.
Confused? Let me explain. A rice cake only weighs 9g however it is 80% carbohydrates. In contrast, a potato (which we are all so quickly to call a “bad carb”) can weigh 170g but will only be 23% carbohydrate.
We are always told to snack on a combo of carbohydrates, protein & fibre – so trail mix seems like it could be the perfect snack. Unfortunately, most are also packed with not-so-healthy extras such as deep fried banana chips, salty peanuts and “yogurt” covered raisins. So once again a seemingly healthy energy snack turns into anything but. Try making your own healthy trail mix with natural nuts, seeds & cacao nibs.
These drinks are designed for athletes who require electrolytes (salts) & sugars to help them recover from or get through vigorous workouts.
Most normal people don’t have a need for additional salts, and they absolutely do not have a need for liquid sugar. Many consider this drink choice to be the healthier option compared to sugary soft drinks, when in fact there is really no fundamental different between the two. Instead reach for some coconut water (with no added sugar) or just stick to pain old H20!
A whole grain breakfast made into a grab-and-go monstrosity! Instant or flavored oatmeal packets are made from refined carbohydrates (with no fibre) and have far more sugar & sodium than regular steel cut oats. Not to mention the sugar syrup that is usually (generously) drizzled on top! This killer combo of minimal fibre + added sugar will cause your blood sugar to spike and likely leave you hungry just a few hours later.
Do yourself a healthy favor and use steel cut oats. It may take a few extra minutes but with all that additional fiber and nutrition, your body will thank you later. Jazz it up with some nuts or seeds for a dose of healthy fats and protein & toss on some berries for a sweetener.
The healthier option when compared to white bread, right? Once again we have been completely brainwashed thinking we are making the smart choice by reaching for the slightly-darker bread.
Unfortunately, the majority of whole wheat products aren’t actually made from whole wheat. The grains have been absolutely pulverized into very find flour, making them just as bad for blood sugar as their refined counterparts. Believe it or not – whole wheat bread has a similar glycemic index as does white bread! (3).
Even when your bread is actually made from whole wheat, it’s still not that great for you. These breads contain refined grains, lack fiber and spike blood sugar. Although this may have been a healthy grain back in the day, the stuff has been so processed and altered that you’re best of just avoiding the lot. Studies comparing new and old whole wheat shows that modern wheat will likely cause inflammation and increased cholesterol levels, when older wheat will not. (4,5).
When we think wrap we think the lighter & healthier – right? Sorry again – wrong. Don’t let their thin appearance trick you. Wraps often contain more saturated fat, sodium and calories than 2 slices of whole-grain bread! They have also likely been made with hydrogenated oils & refined flours, meaning they have far less fiber and a bunch of trans fats. When selecting your wrap of choice make sure that there are no hydrogenated oils and look at the ingredient list and make sure that whole grains are the very first thing listed. If the coast is clear then load it up with your favourite vegetables, healthy fats and lean proteins and enjoy! Oh and make sure not to undo all your good work by lathering it in pre-made salad dressings. Even better, have you ever tried lettuce wraps?? Collard greens work wonders.
Many think that drinking a large glass of 100% orange juice is giving their body all the vitamin C goodness they need for the week. The problem is that even if you are drinking the unprocessed “good stuff” (not the store bought sugary crap – some of which are less than 10% real fruit!) your body can still only absorb a certain amount of this vitamin at once, beyond that it is all absorbed as excess sugar.
Unlike smoothies, which are made by blending whole fruits and vegetables, juices are made through a process which extracts the juice, isolating it from the nutrient dense pulp. With the fiber taken out, which usually slows down the sugars pathway to the liver, the liver will panic and an insulin spike will follow.
If you love freshly squeezed juice, I recommend going for a green juice with as little sugary fruits in it as possible. Or even better make your juice a smoothie & enjoy!
For a total breakdown of whats good and what’s not-so-good check out my Lighten Up program. You will learn how to look past confusing labels and know exactly what to eat to give your bod everything it needs so it can work for you to make you become your healthiest self. You will get food nutrition, recipes, snack suggestions, meal plans & much much more. Here’s a little preview: