8 “Health” Foods I Wouldn’t Eat
Most of us want to eat healthy. But, it can be a bit overwhelming trying to sort out the hype from the health. Especially when so many food companies trick us into thinking their product is a health food.
How can we tell a real health food from a fake? It’s not easy. The first tried-and-true rule is: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Any food with outrageous claims on the front label is a red flag. True health foods are close to the way Mother Nature intended foods to be, so don’t need a health claim. There are literally thousands of foods disguised as healthy at the grocery store that you’d be far better off not eating, from banana chips, organic soups or frozen entrees, and bottled smoothies to bottled teas and multi-grain breads. Here are just a few foods that appear healthy, but I sure wouldn’t eat them!
1. Fruited or Flavored Yogurt
The healthy bacteria, called probiotics, in some yogurt are great for your physical and emotional health, and possibly even your waistline. However, most flavored or fruited yogurts have up to eight teaspoons of added sugar, more sugar then you’ll find in some candy bars. With most people consuming more added sugar than has ever been consumed by any living creature in the history of the planet, or between 20 and 40 teaspoons a day, we need to cut way back on sugar, not keep piling it on!
2. Coconut Oil
A food that claims to cure almost anything is a sure bet it’s a scam. Claims abound that coconut oil can cure everything from poor immune function, thyroid disease, and heart disease, to obesity, cancer, and HIV. There is no evidence, other than a handful of studies on heart disease, to prove any of these promises. Coconut oil is typically lumped into the saturated fat category with other no no’s like butter and lard, and the entire category should be limited to 7%-10% of calories.
3. Energy Bars
The vast majority of these bars are just sugar-laden candy bars in disguise. Protein is the big fad right now, but in reality, protein is the only nutrient most people already get too much of. Everything else, from vitamin A to zinc, is often found low in our diets. For many of these bars, you also get more than a teaspoon of artery-clogging saturated fat or too much sodium, plus ingredients like palm oil.
4. Greek-Style or Yogurt-Covered Dried Fruit
Yogurt coatings on raisins, malt balls, almonds, or pretzels do not make a health food. While regular dried fruits, such as plums (a.k.a., prunes), have no fat and no added sugar, Greek-style or yogurt-covered fruits have 80% more calories. All of the extra calories come from the teaspoon and a half of artery-clogging fat and teaspoon loads of added sugar. Don’t think you’re getting any yogurt either. The first ingredient is sugar followed by palm kernel oil. There isn’t anything close to probiotics. In fact, these sweets are more like candy than health food.
5. Sports and Energy Drinks
Energy and sports drinks are either high in added sugar, salt, or both and have literally dozens of ingredients and many of those, outside of water and vitamins, have either no health benefit or are detrimental to you health. They also often contain citric acid, which erodes and stains teeth.
6. All Natural Reduced Fat Potato Chips
This might sound like a nutritional have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too snack, but like the old adage says, if it sounds to good to be true, it is. First, chips have so little nutritional value and so many calories that they, like soft drinks, contribute to our expanding waistlines. These chips might be “all natural” potato, oil, and salt, but they have the same calories as a regular chip, a teaspoon and a half of fat, and more than 100 milligrams of sodium for every small handful of chips. I have yet to find a chip snack (be it banana chips, veggie chips, or potato chips) that wasn’t a nutritional disaster.
What looks like a fish and taste like a fish, but is closer to an aquatic cow? That’s right…tilapia. Wild tilapia feeds on lake plants and algae, but most of the almost 500 million pounds of tilapia consumed last year was harvested from pens and cages in Latin America where it was fed pellets of corn and soy akin to cheap chicken feed. That might explain why its nutritional content is closer to beef than salmon. It supplies a meager 240 milligrams of omega-3s compared to 2,590 milligrams in an equal serving of salmon. Granted, it’s lower in calories and slightly lower in cholesterol compared to extra-lean beef, but don’t be fooled into thinking you are getting a serving of omega-3-rich seafood. Batter and fry it and it’s no better than a cheese burger.
8. Sandwich Meats
Repeatedly, research shows that processed meats, whether it’s bologna or luncheon meats like ham or turkey slices, increase the risk for a host of health issues, from heart disease to infertility. While one ounce of real turkey breast supplies 10 grams of protein and only 21 milligrams of sodium, a slice of “lean” turkey sandwich meat typically supplies less protein and up to ten-times the sodium. Typically, sandwich meat has added cornstarch, salt, sugar, sodium phosphate, propionate, diacitate, and/or nitrites. The nitrites alone have been linked with increased inflammation.
Photo credit: Meng He via Compfight
Photo credit: Katherine Lim via Compfight
Do One of These Diet Do’s
Instead of fruited or flavored yogurt, choose plain, nonfat or low-fat yogurt with at least five different bacteria, such as acidophilous, bifidus, and rhamnosus. Then sweeten it yourself with a little all-fruit jam or fresh fruit.
Instead of coconut oil, use olive oil sparingly.
Instead of most energy bars, snack on half a whole wheat bagel with some peanut butter and an orange. If you choose a bar, choose one that you recognize all the ingredients and can pronounce them, and preferably one that is only nuts and dried fruit, such as some KIND bars.
Instead of yogurt-coated snack items, choose fresh fruit, or if you want dried fruit, do it, but be careful to stay within recommended serving size limits, since calories add up fast.
Instead of energy or sports beverages, drink water. Or, for your vitamins, eat fresh fruit. For example, watermelon is 92% water and contains vitamins A and C, potassium, fiber, and a host of antioxidants.
Instead of chips (potato, veggie, banana, apple, etc), snack on crunch baby carrots.
Instead of tilapia, choose salmon, mackerel, herring, or sardines, which have high levels of brain-boosting omega-3 DHA. Aim for two servings a week.
Instead of sandwich meats (hot dogs, bologna, sliced ham or turkey, etc), cook your own chicken and use leftovers for sandwiches.
The Latest Must-Read Nutrition
The Gut-Waistline Connection: The type and diversity of bacteria in your gut could be a factor in the size of your waistline, according to a study from the University Medical Center Groningen in The Netherlands. Gut bacteria samples were compared to body mass index (BMI) and blood lipids in 893 people. Results showed that 34 types of bacteria were associated with people’s triglycerides and HDL levels and with BMI. Lack of diversity in gut bacteria also was linked to increased body weight. Factors associated with a less diverse microbiome included C-sections, lack of breast feeding, and diets filled with processed foods. It is unclear whether this lack of microbiome diversity is a result or the cause of poor eating habits. It is clear this microbiome can be altered through diet, including eating more colorful fruits and vegetables, seafood, fiber-rich whole grains, and other real foods.
Fu J, Bonder M, Cenit M, et al: The gut microbiome contributes to a substantial proportion of the variation in blood lipids. Circulation Research 2015;September 10th.
I’ll Drink to That!: Resveratrol, a phenolic compound in red wine and berries, might lower Alzheimer’s risk, according to a study from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. A pharmaceutical-grade supplement of resveratrol (500 milligrams – the amount of resveratrol obtained from approximately 1,000 bottles of red wine) was given daily to a group of seniors with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. A second matched group served as controls. During the year, the resveratrol group showed a stabilization in the level of a protein, called amyloid-beta 40, in their spinal fluid. This protein typically decreases in spinal fluid as Alzheimer’s worsens, possibly because more is being deposited in the brain contributing to the plaques that mark Alzheimer’s. By stabilizing this protein, the researchers suspect, “…this may be an indicator that resveratrol slows disease progression.” Previous research shows that resveratrol activates a gene called SIRT1, which is linked to longevity, much in the same way that calorie restriction appears to stall the effects of aging.
Turner R, Thomas R, Craft S, et al: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of resveratrol for Alzheimer disease. Neurology 2015;September 11th.
Eat Like a Greek: Breast cancer risk drops when women follow a Mediterranean-style diet. In a study from the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain, researchers randomly assigned 4,282 women, ages 60- to 80-years-old, to eat either a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil (4 tablespoons a day) or with nuts (one ounce a day), or a low-fat control diet. After almost five years, 35 cases of breast cancer were confirmed. The women were at high risk of heart disease and had an average body mass index (BMI) of 30, which is considered obese. Compared to the control group, those women following the Mediterranean plus olive oil diet had a 68% lower risk of developing breast cancer. The Mediterranean diet plus nuts also reduced risk, but to a lesser degree. It is unclear why olive oil had the best benefits, although the researchers speculate that compounds in olive oil might inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells and kill abnormal cells.
Toledo E, Salas-Salvado J, Donat-Vargas C, et al: Mediterranean diet and invasive breast cancer risk among women at high cardiovascular risk in the PREDIMED trial. Journal of the American Medical Association’s Internal Medicine 2015;September 14th.
Photo credit: Yevgeniy Shpika via Compfight
Food & Mood Tip –
Ironing Out Fatigue
If you’re a woman battling fatigue mid-afternoon, look to your iron intake not a cup of coffee for the solution. As many as 80% of exercising women and 20% of women in general are iron deficient. Iron is critical to fighting fatigue. As a component of hemoglobin in the blood and myoglobin within the cells, iron is the key oxygen-carrier in the body. When iron levels decrease, the tissues become oxygen starved, resulting in fatigue, poor concentration, and reduced work performance.
Compared to men, women have almost twice the daily iron requirement, but consume half as much food. A well-balanced diet supplies approximately 6 milligrams of iron for every 1,000 calories. Based on this ratio, women must increase their average intake from 2,000 calories to at least 3,000 calories daily to meet their daily requirement of 15 to 18 milligrams (iron requirements are as high as 25 milligrams a day for women with heavy menstrual losses or who use intrauterine devices for birth control). The bottom line? If you’re a woman and you’re tired, get your iron levels tested. Request a “serum ferritin” test, which is a much more sensitive indicator of iron status than is the typical hemoglobin and/or hematocrit tests.
Mood-Boosting Recipe of the month –
Stir-Fried Chicken Mu-Shu (From The Food & Mood Cookbook by Elizabeth Somer and Jeanette Williams)
Searching for that Mu-Shu recipe that tastes just like the one from your favorite Chinese restaurant? Here it is! We have taken short cuts by using prepared coleslaw mix, purchased Asian Plum Sauce, and tortillas. Skip the chicken and make it vegetarian Mu-Shu.
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (boiled and shredded). Set aside covered.
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 medium sweet yellow onion, peeled, thinly sliced and chopped
1/4 pound fresh Shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 16-ounce package coleslaw ready mix
1 tablespoon cooking sherry
3 tablespoons of Asian plum sauce or Hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 cup green onion, thinly sliced
8 6-inch flour tortillas, warmed
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1) Heat sesame oil in a large non-stick wok or frying pan. When pan is hot, add onion and Shiitake mushrooms. Cook until onion is tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add a little chicken broth if necessary to prevent from burning.
2) Add 4 cups coleslaw mix, add remaining chicken broth and stir-fry approximately 2 minutes until coleslaw is wilted, but crisp. Do not overcook.
3) Mix together in a small bowl the sherry, plum or Hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and cornstarch until smooth. Add to vegetables in pan along with shredded chicken. Stir until sauce is thickened, approximately 1 minute.
4) Transfer to a large platter. Sprinkle with green onion.
5) Wrap tortillas in damp towel and warm in microwave for 1 minute.
6) To serve, spread each warmed tortilla with warmed plum or Hoisin sauce. Add chicken Mu-Shu, sprinkle with cilantro, and roll up. Makes 8 servings.
Nutritional Analysis per serving: 260 Calories; 21 percent fat (6 grams); 1 gram saturated fat; 36 percent protein; 43 percent carbohydrate; 3 grams fiber.
Your Nutrition Questions Answered
1. Do the fats in olive oil and other healthy fats convert to trans fats when heated on the stove?
No. Trans fats are formed from polyunsaturated fats only be the addition of hydrogen and that is done chemically and not just by heating oils. While cooking extra-virgin olive oil to high heat will lower the amount of healthful phytonutrients found in that oil, it will not convert it to harmful trans fats.
2. Does eating extra protein build muscle?
Protein is the only essential nutrient that Americans already get enough or even too much of, according to every national nutrition survey dating back to the 1960s. While people in the active stage of serious body building require extra protein, even their protein needs decline once the muscle is built and they are only maintaining that extra muscle mass. In short, the only way to build muscle or slow muscle loss as you age is to do strength training exercises several times a week. A few studies suggest that older people might need slightly more protein to maintain normal muscle mass, but the evidence is unclear. That means shooting for 0.5 grams of protein for every pound of “healthy” body weight (excess body weight as fat does not require protein to maintain other than the muscle to carry around the extra weight). Protein does have a modest effect on satiety, at least in a few studies. However, when it comes to weight loss, it’s the total calories, not the amount of carbs, fat, or protein, that counts.
See Next Month for Answers to These Questions
1. What has more calories a tablespoon of butter or a tablespoon of olive oil?
2. Is it true that you should eat the crust because it is the most nutritious part of the bread?
Label Lingo –
What does “high fiber” mean?
In order to make this claim, a food must supply at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. The minimum daily suggested intake for fiber is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. More is better.
Food Finds/Food Fails:
1. Gardein Classic Meatless Meatballs: These tasty little vegetarian meatballs are low in calories (50 calories per meatball) , supply 15 grams of protein per serving with no cholesterol, trans fats, or palm oil, and almost no sugar. The sodium is a bit high, but you’ll recognize and be able to pronounce all the ingredients. They are great in sandwiches, pasta dishes, or just as a snack.
2. Fresh Broccoli: 1 cup of this vegetable supplies more than your entire day’s need for vitamins C and K, and ample amounts of folic acid, potassium, and vitamin A, as well as almost 2 grams of fiber, all for 25 calories! Add to salads, dunk in low-fat dips or steam and add to soups, stews, casseroles, and more.
1. Brown rice syrup (also known as rice malt syrup): This sweet goo is not a healthy alternative to table sugar. In fact, there is little difference between the two and in an arm wrestle for nutrition, table sugar might just win. Brown rice syrup is made by exposing cooked rice to enzymes that break down the starch into simple sugars. It contains no fructose, which is good, right? Actually, no. It is almost entirely glucose, which is why it’s Glycemic index score is about as high as you can get or 98 out of 100, which means it will dramatically spike blood sugar levels, increasing the risk for weight gain and diabetes.
2. Soy, Safflower, or Corn Oil: A growing body of evidence shows that our diets, which are too high in omega-6 fats found in soy, safflower, and corn oil and very low in the omega-3 fats in fatty fish, such as salmon, contribute to numerous diseases, from heart disease to dementia. While out bodies evolved on diets that contained, on average, a ratio of about 2:1 for omega-6s to omega-3s, today we average 11 times (some estimates are as high as 40 times) more omega-6s than omega-3s. Add more omega-3s, especially DHA and EPA from seafood, into your diet and cut way back on these other oils!
This Month’s Menu Ideas:
Put know how into practice with this simple, nutritious meal plan. Eliminate the snacks if you want to cut additional calories. And, with all the menus in my newsletter, feel free to tweak to your food preferences and choices.
Make-Ahead Breakfast: The night before, mix 2/3 cup low-fat granola and 2/3 cup soymilk in a bowl. Place in refrigerator. In the morning, add 1/2 diced green apple (such as Granny Smith) and mix.
Top with 1/2 sliced banana.
Low-fat latte made with dark-roasted coffee and 2/3 cup warmed low-fat milk w/ DHA
Tuna salad sandwich made with 3 ounces of drained tuna packed in water, 1/4 cup chopped celery, 1 tablespoon diced red onion, 1 teaspoon mustard, 2 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise, dried dill and pepper to taste; and lettuce on 2 slices 100% whole wheat bread.
Tomato-Corn Salad: Mix two chopped tomatoes, 1/3 cup corn kernels, 2 tablespoon s diced red onion, and 2 teaspoons chopped cilantro with rice wine vinegar and salt to taste.
1 cup broccoli flowerets dunked in 2 tablespoon low-fat Ranch dressing
Sparkling water with a lemon slice
1 serving Stir-Fried Chicken Mu-Shu
1/2 cup steamed brown rice
Coat the following in 2 teaspoons olive oil, garlic powder, salt, and pepper and grill or broil for 5 to 10 minutes, turning occasionally: 1/3 cup peeled and cubed eggplant, 1/3 cup green bell peppers sliced into 1/2 -inch strips, 1/2 cup zucchini cut into 1/2 -inch rounds
1 cup low-fat milk w/ DHA flavored with vanilla extract
Afternoon or Evening Snack:
2 100% whole wheat Fig Newtons and a 6-ounce glass of apricot nectar.
Nutritional Information: 1,785 Calories, 25 % fat (50 g fat, 14 g saturated), 20% protein (89 g), 55% carbs (245 g), 31 g fiber, 954 mg calcium, 499 mcg folate, 1,807 mg sodium.
What has Elizabeth been up to?
November 30th: She was on AMNorthWest talking about how to include healthy vices into your diet.