There are quite a few foods on the market that we assume are healthy, but it pays to look twice. A lot of the problem is what we've been told for decades- that all fat is bad, so if it's low fat or fat free, it's healthy. A fat-phobic mindset is typical with most people searching out the fat-free products on the grocery store shelves under the impression that they are healthy.
More and more information is coming out now indicating that saturated fat is not the evil we have been led to believe it is. Ironically, the fats and oils that have been promoted as healthy are the processed vegetable oils that are actually proving to be harmful. There are more and more books out now with information about this; a current best-seller is The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz; check your library or amazon to find more information. One step the food industry has taken to their credit is to eliminate trans fats from their products. Natural fats are much better than anything that has been altered or completely manufactured in a plant somewhere. For instance, margarine is not good since it is made from processed vegetable oils, while butter, its natural counterpart, is better. Your body knows what to do with saturated fats; altered vegetable oils are another story.
The other issue is sugar and grain products. Both sugar and grains trigger an insulin response and insulin is what moves fat into fat cells, promoting weight gain. We have been told that fat is what puts on weight, but actually it is sugar and carbs that trigger the fat response. And now sugar is being targeted more and more as the real culprit in heart disease. Weight gain is the immediate issue, but the resulting chronic diseases of diabetes and heart disease are the real danger.
Here are a few choices you'll find in your grocery store that are generally considered healthy. See what you think.
Butter is free photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Yogurt comes in at the top of my list, conjuring up images of hard-body, exercising, health-conscious and, yes, skinny people. The problem with yogurt is that they strip out all the good fat, then add sugar, leaving us with two problems. First, the natural fat is what leaves you feeling satisfied. When it is removed, they have to add sugar to make it edible, which is the second problem. Most people are so programmed to requiring a sweet flavor, they won't eat yogurt with the natural zing that it has without any sweetener. So here comes the load of sugar to retain the customer base. If you have read my post The Science of Weight Loss, you will know that it is sugar that puts on weight, not fat. So eating those little single serving containers of yogurt certainly won't help in weight loss, but instead will add to the problem. And without the natural fat, they will still leave you feeling empty.
One way around this is to buy the large containers of generally fat-free yogurt making sure it has no added sugar, then add a little stevia if you need the sweet, and stir in cream to replace the fat. Try tasting it with just the added fat; you may not even want the extra sweetness from stevia.
Yogurt is free photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Fruit Juice and Sports Drinks
Fruit is natural, so it has to be healthy, right? To a point, yes. But the sugar in fruit- fructose- is actually one of the worst forms of sugar where weight gain is concerned. (See Fat Chance by Robert Lustig; link below.) And a glass of fruit juice has as much sugar in it as a cola. An orange is one thing, eaten with the fiber that helps your body deal with that fructose, but a glass of juice from several oranges is definitely fructose overload, something that is very hard on your body. If you want to lose weight and avoid the inevitable fallout in the form of diabetes and heart disease, avoid fruit juice.
And while I am on the subject of fruit, I will mention here that if you want to lose weight, you might want to avoid the fruits with the most sugar- bananas, grapes and raisins all have high fructose content. Berries and melons are on the lower end.
Sports drinks are no better than fruit juice, with sugar content that rivals carbonated drinks in some cases. And along with all that sugar, there is an enormous amount of salt. Unless you are an olympic athlete, you surely don't need these drinks. Your body needs water, not these sugar and salt-laden concoctions.
Orange Juice is free photo from Wikimedia Commons.
In an effort to market processed foods that will be purchased by health-conscious consumers, manufacturers have reduced or eliminated oils and fats from their products in keeping with the fat-free dogma promoted by the "experts" and package them in green wrappers. But to make their products palatable, the sugar content has to be greatly increased, making this stuff anything but healthy.
It's a basic rule of thumb that you just don't buy stuff off the shelves in a grocery store if you want to stay healthy; you shop the outside walls where the produce, the dairy and the meat departments are. Anything in a box is probably not good for you to start with, but all those green packages that try to create the image of health are even worse. Packaged cookies that are wrapped in green are still processed, manufactured cookies with a pot load of sugar.
The color green is used universally to promote conservation, recycling, healthy things in general, and it evokes a response that if it's green, it's good. Food manufacturers cash in on this mental association to promote their products as good and healthy. I don't think so.
Recycle sign is free clip art from clker.com.
Whole Grain Products
The latest push from food manufacturers in the name of health is the trend toward whole grain. Granted, whole grains are better than the refined, processed versions we all ate years ago, but there are drawbacks here. First, bread labeled "wheat" probably only has a small amount of flour in it that is actually whole wheat. It is probably mostly refined wheat flour, so you may not be getting what you think you are. If you want whole wheat bread, look for bread that is labeled as 100% whole wheat.
But the main issue is that wheat products in general are full of carbs and carbs are what put on weight, whether they are whole grain or not. The only difference is that the whole grain version is slower to digest and thus slows your insulin response to the flour. Refined flour hits your system very rapidly, spiking your insulin levels while whole grain flour is assimilated much more slowly. But there is an insulin response regardless, a response that will produce more fat. If you are trying to lose weight, you have to cut back on carbs whether they are whole grain or not. This goes for breakfast cereals and pasta as well, and any other products made primarily with flour.
There is one more consideration here, one brought up by a couple authors. The premise is presented in a couple books, one called Grain Brain by David Perlmutter, MD, and another called Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD. Both books document the damage wheat does to your body.The information in these books is quite startling, showing exactly how the gluten in wheat flour affects your body in a myriad of ways, from celiac disease to Alzheimer's to arthritis. Going gluten-free isn't only for those with celiac disease; this protein is truly damaging to our health.
Whole Wheat Bread is free photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Looking for a quick snack? Read the label first before you start eating one of those granola snack bars. They are loaded with sugar. Manufacturers love to label these products to look like they are all natural and so very healthy, evoking images of mountains, fields, all things natural. Think again. Once more, you are looking at a grain product with added sugar that will do nothing but pack on more pounds. Nuts make a much healthier snack.
Another consideration where snack bars are concerned are the protein bars. I'm on rather shaky ground with this one, but I want to mention the possibility of overloading on protein and causing reactions in your body to a diet that is too acidic. Protein leaves acid residue that affects your body in a lot of ways- that protein has to be neutralized to be processed, and if insufficient alkalizing minerals are consumed, your body will use bone calcium, weakening your bones. For more information on this process, see my post Protein, pH and the Alkaline Diet.
"Nature Valley Trail Mix Bar - fruit & nut" by BrokenSphere - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Hidden Sugar in Everything
Read your labels- there is sugar added to just about everything. Start with salad dressing. We all know that salad is about as healthy a meal as you can eat, but if you dump red French dressing on it, you just defeated your purpose. First, you'll have a load of processed vegetable oil all over it, and second, a whole lot of sugar. Ranch dressing seems to have about as low a sugar content of any I've seen. But to avoid the dressing trap altogether, I toss together my own by sprinkling flavorings straight onto the salad- herbs, a little stevia, salt, pepper and dried onion, then throw on some olive oil. (I've never cared for vinegar and oil.)
Beware that ketchup, barbecue sauce, even peanut butter all have added sugar. Food manufacturers add that sugar to keep your business. Jorge Cruise (The Belly Fat Cure) recommends limiting daily intake of sugar to 15 grams/day. It adds up in a hurry. Many LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) diets recommend avoiding dairy because of the lactose content that can add too much to your sugar intake.
One other product worth mentioning is vegetable juice. I still buy bottles of the juice, but most of the brands I've seen do have some added sugar, though I noticed that the Walmart brand has a sugar free version available now.
The safest way to go is to shop the outside of the grocery store- stick with the produce, the meat and the dairy departments to avoid the processed stuff that is a health catastrophe waiting to happen.
Great list of research links by Zoe Harcombe linking sugar to chronic disease of all types:
The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz. New York Times best seller that challenges the generally accepted belief that fat is bad. Haven't bought this one yet, but plan to at least get the library copy to read.
Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It by Gary Taubes. I can't recommend this book highly enough. All the science is presented on how your body regulates your fat and how to manage your weight.
Fat Chance by Robert H. Lustig. This one takes everything Taubs presents a step further, and is written in an easy-to-read humorous style. Lustig presents more on the hormone system of regulating fat, and why fiber is so very important to weight loss. I highly recommend this book. I found it first in our local library, but opted to buy my own copy to mark up.
Sugar Nation: The Hidden Truth Behind America's Deadliest Habit by Jeff O'Connell. Excellent book about the effects of sugar on the body and how to fight diabetes and win.
Belly Fat Cure by Jorge Cruise- this book explains the insulin connection and includes recipes to get you started. He has a whole program you can sign up for, and he also has an email list you can join with tips on how to stay on a low carb diet.
Grain Brain by David Perlmutter- this book is truly an eye-opener, full of studies that show the connection between grain products (carbs as well as gluten) and obesity, heart disease, diabetes, but most alarmingly, Alzheimer's.
Wheat Belly by William Davis- another book that exposes the dangers of an excess of carbs from grains and starchy vegetables, wheat in particular.
Alzheimer's, Dementia and Statins- Statins are dangerous drugs that cause memory loss and muscle damage.
Cholesterol- Mother of All Scams- The whole cholesterol scare has been based on faulty research and has been exploited by pharmaceutical companies to keep an otherwise healthy population on their drugs.
Protein, pH and the Alkaline Diet- How the pH of the food you eat affects your health.
Breakfast Cereal Diets- Really??- Why eating cereal can't possibly help you lose weight for the long term.
Restless Leg Syndrome- Treat the Cause, Not the Symptoms- My experience with RLS and what has helped me.
Six Ways to Take Charge of Your Health- Six different things I found as I started my research into health through nutrition.
Sugar- The Real Villain- This was my first blog post on this subject; some information is repetitive, but there are other points made, as well as links and a list of sugar substitutes.
They Told Me He's a Quack- Several people I have found out about that have gone against the tide of public opinion and "expert" advice and have given thousands of people help and hope.
The Dumb American Diet Is Killing Us- The way most Americans eat has resulted in a population of obese, chronically sick people.
Water for Health- Why we need water to stay healthy.
Why You Can't Trust the Medical Industry- The entire medical industry has been corrupted by greed. It pays to be skeptical.
Hormone Balance and Estrogen Dominance- Regularly prescribed HRT has serious side effects; there is an alternative.
Arthritis and Osteoporosis: They CAN Be Reversed- Two conditions that can be reversed naturally as proven by doctors who have treated their patients with natural supplements.
Phonics and Dyslexia- Information that can help dyslexic adults as well as children, and a post about the phonics-whole language wars and why phonics wins every time hands-down.
Quill pen is free image from Wikimedia Commons.