Monday, December 28, 2015 / ... comments / ,

"Healthy Foods" That Aren't Really Healthy


Is juice healthy? Is low-fat bad? Is sugar bad? Is fat bad? These are common health questions that can make healthy eating confusing. Let's take a look! 
"Healthy" is subjective. Sweetened yogurt may be a healthy choice for the person who normally eats donuts and bacon for breakfast, while considered unhealthy to the vegan or person who usually eats plain yogurt and fruit. However, there are a handful of foods I am often surprised to find friends and family assuming are nutritious. Here are some of those foods marketed as healthy, but really are not, and simple swaps you can make.



Fruit Juice
Do kids need juice?
Many people believe fruit juice is perfectly nutritious and a great way to get more vitamins. While the whole fruit may be very healthy, when the fiber is removed, the juice is absorbed much too quickly. When we eat whole fruit, the liver has time to metabolize the sugars as our body breaks down the fruit. When we drink just the juice, the liver is bombarded with more fructose than it can handle and turns the excess into fat on our bodies. In my opinion, fruit juice is just as unhealthy as drinks with added sugar. Children who drink 1.5 cups of juice per day are 27% more likely to be obese than children who drink less. Not only can fruit juice contribute to obesity and diabetes, it also leads to cavities.
I was happy to see a poster from First 5 in our dentist's office urging parents not to give their children fruit juice. 


Healthier Alternatives:
*Whole fruit. Eat the whole fruit and stick to water for hydration.  
*Infused water: Flavor your water with fresh fruit and herbs. My favorites are cucumber and orange, or strawberry or raspberry and mint. 
I make my infused water by adding strawberries, apples, cucumber, lemon, orange, watermelon, mint, lavender, etc. to mason jars. There are also water infusers available on Amazon that look pretty cool. To wean your family off juice you can also try adding just a splash of juice to glasses of water. 


Fruit Yogurt 

Fruit flavored yogurts are another food loaded with unnecessary sugar. Many of the yogurt tubes marketed to kids also contain carrageenan which may cause gut problems and inflammation. 

Healthier Alternative
Organic plain Greek yogurt or plain non-dairy yogurt sweetened with a drizzle of honey and/or fruit. 

Low-Fat Products  
Fat is naturally found in many foods. When fat is removed, sugar is often used to replace it. One example is low fat peanut butter, which usually uses corn syrup solids (often GMO) or sugar as a filler. Another great example is milk. Whole milk has 11 grams of sugar per cup, while 1% milk has 13 grams. Personally, I choose unsweetened almond milk, which has 0 grams of sugar per cup.

Fat has been vilified, but I like to think of fat as a good guy when it's in pure whole foods like avocados and nuts - if it grows in nature, you're good to go. When it's fat added to cookies in the form of sticks upon sticks of butter plus sugar, we have another story.

Does eating fat make you fat?
Let me make it clear: EATING FAT DOESN'T MAKE YOU FAT. SUGAR MAKES YOU FAT. Okeydokey? source

Healthier Alternative
does eating fat make you fat?
Choose natural real foods and don't worry about the fat. That does not mean you should go eat a box of shortbread cookies.


Skinny Desserts 

A couple of years ago Yummy Hubby brought me "skinny" ice cream home from the grocery store, knowing that I love healthy foods. These diet foods are marketed as healthy alternatives, so I can totally understand the confusion, but I would much rather have the real full fat version. Let's look at the ingredients. Ice cream should have very few ingredients: cream, milk, sugar, and eggs. 
Here are the ingredients in a popular brand of "skinny" ice cream sandwiches: "SKIM MILK, WAFER (BLEACHED WHEAT FLOUR, SUGAR, CARAMEL COLOR, DEXTROSE, PALM OIL, CORN FLOUR, COCOA, BAKING SODA, CORN SYRUP, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, SALT, MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, SOY LECITHIN), SUGAR, CORN SYRUP, POLYDEXTROSE, WHEY PROTEIN, CREAM, CALCIUM CARBONATE, INULIN (DIETARY FIBER), NATURAL FLAVOR, MICROCRYSTALLINE CELLULOSE , PROPYLENE GLYCOL MONOSTEARATE, GUAR GUM, MONOGLYCERIDES, SORBITOL, CAROB BEAN GUM, SODIUM CARBOXYMETHYLCELLULOSE, CITRIC ACID, VITAMIN A PALMITATE, CARRAGEENAN, SALT."  
Yikes!!! I avoid most of the ingredients on that list. It's full of additives, food coloring, probably GMO ingredients (processed non-organic corn and soy products usually are GMO), and fillers. If there are ingredients you can't pronounce or wouldn't have in your kitchen, it's probably best not to eat it. In terms of nutrients, 1 skinny ice cream sandwich has 14 grams of sugar, while one Julie's Organic Ice Cream Sandwich mini's has 6 grams. 

Healthier Alternatives
 

As I mentioned, I prefer whole fat, real food treats to diet ones. They are more satisfying, so you eat less, and are less harmful to your body. They are often lower in sugar, which means that they may actually be the real "skinny" version after all. Some products marketed as skinny or healthy, really are, so just check the ingredients and nutrition facts to find out. 

Best of all, make your own treats! 

Frozen Yogurt
I know. I know some of you are going to hate me for messing with your fro-yo, but let's just take a look. According to the Yogurtland website, a serving size is 4 ounces. 4 oz is a minuscule amount to put into their enormous cups, which most people fill to the brim and load with toppings. On our last visit, my kids filled the small sized cup about 3/4 of the way full and that came out to 7 ounces. Now, here's the bad news. 4 oz. of their plain tart flavored frozen yogurt comes in at 36 grams of sugar. Fill up the cup and your looking at close to 70 grams of sugar. Without fat or fiber to slow down absorption (just like juice, remember?), you're practically mainlining that sugar to your liver, which then produces fat.

Healthier Alternatives:
acai bowl kidsacai bowls recipe

*Plain Greek Yogurt with Stevia or honey and fruit
*Acai Bowl
*Whole fruit smoothie (I don't add juice)
*Homemade ice cream

Sports Drinks 

Sports drinks were made for athletes as a way to replace lost electrolytes and carbohydrates after strenuous exercise. Many people consume these drinks who are not athletes and the excess sugar and sodium is not beneficial at all. There is no reason for these drinks to end up in school lunch boxes or after kindergarten soccer games. Not only are many of these drinks loaded with sugar, they also contain additives and artificial colors, which many people consider to be unsafe and are not even legal in some European countries. The bright colors should be an immediate red flag.

Healthier Alternatives: 
*Water is almost always the best source of hydration.
*Coconut water. Coconut water is a natural source of electrolytes including sodium and potassium.
*Nuun Electrolyte Tablets: I pop one of these in my water bottle during long runs, hot yoga classes, and gym sessions. They create a tasty fizzy drink without any artificial colors.

Diet Soda 
I remember years ago finding out that diet soda had zero calories and thinking that made it okay for my body. I knew it didn't provide any nourishment, but I didn't realize it could be so damaging either. How wrong I was. Diet sodas are (usually) sweetened with artificial sweeteners which are thought to be carcinogens. Not only are the artificial sweeteners and food dyes potentially dangerous, diet sodas don't seem to help with weight loss either. Studies have found that drinking diet soda is actually associated with being overweight (source). Some artificial sweeteners have been associated with increased appetite (source), so really, diet soda could be ruining your diet.

Healthier Alternatives: 
*Kombucha - my kids think Kevita sparkling probiotic drinks are soda. Kombucha is naturally sweet but low-sugar and an easy way to improve gut health and your immune system. The only downside is that it can be pricey.
*Sparkling water with a squeeze of juice or a few drops of flavored stevia if you really crave that soda taste. Side note: unlike artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, and Sucralose, stevia is a natural herb that has been used as a natural sweetener for hundreds of years. Just make sure you are using a pure form, as there are popular brands that contain unhealthy additives.
*Cup of tea with a little honey or coconut syrup

Smoothies from the Juice Bar 

Are smoothies healthy?
Smoothie shop smoothies may be tricking you. You think you're getting something healthy, when in reality you're getting scoops of ice cream with some fruit thrown in masquerading as a fruit smoothie.  The last time I was in one of these shops I watched 3 huge scoops of ice milk go into one smoothie. Don't be fooled by ingredients like "ice milk, frozen yogurt, or sorbet." They have just as much sugar as ice cream and are completely unnecessary fillers. Why are they used? They are cheap and sweet. My smoothies taste the same but are made with quality ingredients and no added sugar. I'd much rather have fruit for a snack and then a scoop of ice cream for dessert.

A peanut butter smoothie from Jamba Juice has about the same amount of sugar (72 g./16 oz) as a chocolate shake from In-N-Out (65g/15 oz) Think fruit smoothies are better? The vitamin-C orange smoothie lists sherbet as the third ingredient and packs 98 grams of sugar in a large. Sugar is an immune system depressant, so this is not my favorite way to cure that cold. (source)

Healthy Alternatives: I absolutely LOVE smoothies and enjoy one several times a week. Make your own smoothie or buy one from a place that doesn't use ice cream products. Locally Whole Foods, Natural Cafe, and Backyard Bowls come to mind. By making your own, you'll save money and know exactly what is going into your snack. 
Healthy Chocolate Milkshake Recipe I wrote for Zulily 

Some Processed Gluten-Free Foods

Although it's trendy, gluten free doesn't always mean healthier. To make processed foods that traditionally contain gluten taste good, additives and extra sugar are often used. Gluten free baked goods are often higher in sugar, sodium, and calories. Unless you have Celiac disease, gluten may not be a concern at all. Here's a great little article on the subject. Personally, I enjoy a little bread when I want it, but since I rarely consume processed foods and stick to a whole food, plant centered diet, most of the food I eat is naturally gluten free. For example, my little vegan pies pack more nutrition than a cookie and are naturally gluten free since they are made from nuts. My favorite gluten free crackers are from Mary's and are naturally gluten free - just seeds and whole grains.

On another note, I have always wondered why in the US so many people seem to be sensitive to wheat products while when I learned to cook in Italy this did not seem to be the case at all. My suspicion is that it has something to do with the horrendous pesticides that are used in US. GMO use may in fact be to blame for gluten sensitivities. Source.  This is just one reason to choose organic whenever possible.

Healthier Alternatives: 
*Skip processed foods in favor of fresh fruits and veggies
*Choose naturally gluten-free organic snacks like Mary's Crackers
*Choose organic wheat products if not on a gluten-free diet

Did I miss any foods you would add to this list? Let me know!

Disclaimer: Recipes, wellness tips and nutrition advice are not intended to offer personal medical advice, diagnose, or treat any medical issues. All blog content is for entertainment purposes only. Always consult with your doctor about your personal health. Always do your own research on products and companies before using a product you find on the internet. 

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