Healthy is the new sexy as we all strive to be super conscientious about exercising regularly and eating well.
But did you know that not all healthy food is made equal? The shocking truth is that unless you’re in the “know” you blissfully continue to eat as well as you can without too much concern regarding your healthy choices. So why is it that nutritionists avoid certain foods that are touted as “healthy”? Here are 10 foods that on the surface seem healthy enough yet nutritionists worth their salt won’t touch:
1. Almond Milk
First of all, nature did not design almonds to produce milk! Yes, they are jam packed with goodness, but only if you eat them.
Milk is produced from animals and, with the exception of coconuts, there are no plants that produce milk. In order to extract “milk” from almonds including soy, cashew and rice, it needs to be refined. This process strips pretty much all of the plant’s nutrients leaving behind a watery substance which is then fortified with synthetic minerals and vitamins, not to mention the additives that are thrown in to add thickness and sweetness. In essence, if you drink almond milk you could be doing yourself more harm than good.
2. Multigrain Bread
Multigrain bread is often advertised with the very misleading notion that “more is better”, well, this isn’t always the case!
The issue with “multigrain” is that you really don’t know whether the wheat is whole or over milled, i.e., refined, which has stripped all the nutrients right out of the wheat leaving it no better than white bread. There is also no indication of the nutrient value of the grains, (different grains have different nutrient worth) whereby the packaging may say the product contains more than one grain but any secondary grains could be in negligible amounts. Therefore, it is really important to check the labels, and nutritional information of multigrain bread to ensure the first word of the first ingredient says “whole” and then to check there are no artificial colorings added to give it a “whole wheat” look.
3. Ready Made Sushi
Sushi is turning up ready-made by the bucket load. The health conscious consumer perceives it as “healthy” because it contains fish, seaweed, ginger and wasabi which are indeed health promoting.
However, ready-made sushi’s bulk component is sweetened white nutrient devoid rice. This spikes blood sugar and insulin levels as the low fiber content means the carbs are broken down more quickly in your digestive system. Then adding insult to injury, there is a meagre fish (often imitation fish such as the dyed red crab sticks) or vegetable content, and lashings of high-fat sauces or deeply fried tempura. Therefore, ready-made sushi is a low-protein, low fibre, high-calorie meal that is not very healthy at all.
P.S. For the wasabi lovers: it is mostly an imitation paste made from a combination of horseradish, mustard powder and green dye!
4. Trial Mix
Yes, trail mix is energy-packed and definitely a winner when put up against a candy bar, however, it mustn’t be confused with a healthy snack!
The danger lies in the fact that most pre-packaged trail mixes have undergone a transformation from its humble beginnings of a once nutrient-dense snack into an indulgent dessert. The ingredient list has been extended from nuts and dried fruit to include salty nuts, sugar-packed dried bananas (typically fried!), bits of chocolate along with excess sugar, oils, and preservatives. This once naturally nutritious snack has now been relegated to the danger list by nutritionists, unless of course, you make it yourself by mixing and matching raw nuts and dried fruit from health food stores.
5. Tea Drinks
Why is it that nutritionists won’t touch tea drinks and consider them unhealthy when tea is constantly being touted as health promoting?
Firstly, they contain a very small fraction of the powerful antioxidants found in their freshly brewed counterparts. These antioxidant molecules are highly active and oxidize fairly quickly, which means that bottles sitting on the shelf for a while have little if no nutritional value. Secondly most of the main manufacturers of tea drinks use refined sugars such as corn syrup or fructose as a sweetener. These sugars wreak havoc with blood sugar levels causing uncontrollable food cravings and mood swings. Worse still are the teas sweetened with artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, where research has linked it to causing headaches, brain tumors, brain lesions and lymphoma. In addition, let’s not forget the extra chemical mix of artificial colorings, preservatives and flavors that are thrown in!
Pretzels have been popping up in snack boxes and packed lunches since the fat-free craze of the 90‘s, but the reality is that they are not very healthful at all. In fact, they can be described as nutritionally empty!
They are made from enriched white flour that lack fiber that quickly spikes your blood sugar and causes you to crave more and more. They are often advertised as lower in calories and fat compared to chips, and yes they are, but one serving provides almost a quarter of salt a person needs each day and eating too much salt increases the risk of high blood pressure and developing heart disease. Furthermore, unadulterated pretzels are bland so to achieve a pumped up flavor an assortment of chemical seasonings are routinely added.
7. Gluten Free Products
The aisles in supermarkets for Gluten-free products are expanding rapidly as gluten free has become all the rage, and indeed “Gluten Free” is almost a buzz word in many a conversation! The label “gluten-free” does not necessarily equate to healthier except, of course for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
Voluntarily choosing gluten free foods limits important sources of carbohydrates, such as pasta and bread, which can be a viable method to help with weight loss. Not only that, the gluten-free products often have higher fat, sugar and salt content to improve the flavor or texture, and if it’s packaged or processed, which is pretty much what you see on those supermarket shelves, then you’re actually looking at artificial nutrients as well. Furthermore, by excluding whole groups of foods, you put yourself at risk of low intakes of certain vitamins, minerals and fiber. The best gluten-free foods are not products at all, they are simply fresh fruits and vegetables!
8. Rice Cakes
Let’s look at the humble low-fat, low-cholesterol, verging on tasteless rice cake that must be good for you. After all, one large-sized, lightly salted cake has only 40 to 50 calories, no fat and no cholesterol. Actually their nutritional content is just about zero too.
There is a whole lot of nothing to find on the nutrition facts label after calories and salt (sodium). Even for those that feature whole grains, the germ, the nutritious part, is often removed. They lack fiber and protein which are two essential ingredients for keeping hunger at bay. Rice cakes therefore, are no more than refined carbohydrates (the same scenario again: quickly digested, converted into sugar and causing chaos to our body’s metabolism) that have been sprinkled with salt, and possibly enhanced with an artificial flavoring that often contains sugar and fat.
9. Instant Porridge
If you’re grabbing the sachets or pots of instant porridge, then your morning bowl may not be as healthy and nutritious as you think it is. Although instant porridge does have some nutritional benefits it gets a bad wrap for a reason!
For starters, instant porridge is partially cooked and then dried for fast preparation, which in essence turns it into a “processed” food. However, the main problem is with the added ingredients used for flavor, texture and taste! For example, in some brands guar gum is used for texture because the fiber content has been destroyed during processing and caramel color is used to trick your taste buds into believing that you’re eating real porridge. Furthermore, most brands will have at least 3 to 4 teaspoons of extra sugar plus extra sodium which acts as a preservative. This means that instant porridge is already loaded with sugar, salt and a cocktail of artificial nonsense before it even hits your bowl. Of course porridge is a good breakfast choice but not the instant type.
10. Low Fat Yoghurts
Although yogurt is a healthy food you do need to apply some caution especially of the ‘low fat’ varieties.
When manufacturers reduce fat content in yogurt they add a lot of refined sugar (the worst is high fructose corn syrup, a processed sweetener and preservative) and artificial additives to compensate for the lack of taste. Ironically, this will make you put on weight and increase the risk of obesity because it disrupts the insulin regulators in the body. Typically, a low fat strawberry yogurt has only 2% fat but a whopping 17g of sugar which is a third of a woman’s recommended daily sugar intake. And don’t be fooled by thinking you’re getting real fruit either because often there is barely enough to color the yogurt, to compensate for this artificial color, flavor and even more sugar is added! Therefore, any yogurt that has “low fat” on the label is a warning sign to avoid it.
Take Home Message
To stay tuned into making healthy choices it has become ever more important to read the labels and see what you’re getting because so many “healthy” foods are now modified for looking good and for long shelf life instead of taste and optimum nutrition. This leaves so many people misled by foods which are flogged as healthy. In a perfect world we should all be looking at the nutritional content of foods because this is what nutritionists do and is the main reason why they won’t eat certain “healthy” foods!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Marina is a Nutritionist (ANtur) based in London and co-founder of The Green Ward; a Nutritional Therapy Practice that transforms lives through clean eating and training programmes. Originally an Art Director, Marina switched careers to follow her passion for healthy living by returning to University to study Nutrition with Sports Science and graduated with a first class honours degree. Her Sports Nutrition Research Dissertation was selected last year for presentation at The Nutrition Society Conference and she has since written several Nutrition blogs. A mother of three, her wealth of experience with cooking wholesome organic meals is greatly influenced by her Italian origins.