There are a number of foods that receive a great deal of attention from the media because of the purported health benefits. But are they actually good for you? The truth is that the food industry can be misleading, and it will often claim that a food is healthy when it actually should be avoided. Here are five supposedly healthy foods that you need to be aware of:
1. Ready-Made Granola and Granola Bars
Although the made-from-scratch granola can be quite healthy (largely depending upon the nature and types of ingredients), commercially produced granola and granola bars typically contain large amounts of salt, sugar, saturated fat, trans fat, and calories. Unfortunately, most of the calories from these ready-made granola snacks and cereals are empty calories, due to their limited amount of nutritional value versus their high-calorie content. It’s important to always read the nutrition labels and ingredients on foods before you buy them. For pre-packaged granola, look for simple ingredients with little to no sugar, salt, and additives. Granola can be enjoyed in a healthy form, absolutely, but the commercially produced variety does you more harm than good with its high calories, and for that reason I say you put it on your list of foods to avoid.
2. Sport Drinks/Vitamin Water
Most of these drinks, depending on the brand and serving size, contain a lot of sugar. The tricky part is that sugar can be disguised as many other ingredients, such as sucrose, dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup, and maltodextrin, which means it’s difficult to figure out just how much sugar you’re actually consuming. Most of these drinks contain very few minerals and vitamins by volume and are often high in calories. And in addition to their empty calories, they’re usually artificially colored. Drink water or freshly squeezed, high-pulp fruit juice instead. And after a vigorous workout, have a banana. Bananas are rich in potassium and will deliver all the healthy benefits of a high-calorie sport drink at a fraction of the cost.
3. Store-Bought Muffins
There’s a phrase I want to share with you that helps me to avoid eating muffins: muffin top. I hear that phrase and I remember that I don’t want the muffin top, and so I’ll steer clear of the muffin. Made-from-scratch muffins, for which you can control the contents, can be made to contain healthy fats and high amounts of fiber, and can be a nutritious snack or part of a meal. However, commercially made and store-bought muffins frequently contain a lot less fiber and nutrients, and they definitely top my list of foods to avoid. These kinds of muffins are also usually loaded with fat, salt, sugar, and calories. Store-bought muffins and the like can contain anywhere from 375–500 calories—more calories than what you would find in a medium-sized donut—and 10 grams of fat.
4. Low-Fat Deli Meats
I would recommend that you just avoid this type of food entirely. Not only do deli meats contain high amounts of nitrates and nitrites—which have been linked to several types of gastrointestinal cancers—typically, deli meats, regardless of where they have been purchased, contain huge amounts of sodium and the notorious monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is a common food allergen. Try sliced chicken breast, tuna, salmon, almond butter, or eggs for your sandwich filler. Or perhaps load your sandwich with vegetables and avocado, and a little mustard for a zip of flavor.
This type of drink product has become popular in commercial cafes, restaurants, and fast food outlets because it is thought to be a healthier alternative to a milk shake. Smoothies made from skim milk; almond milk; natural yogurt; and frozen, liquid, or raw fruit can be a very healthy vehicle for consuming a lower-calorie, nutrient-rich drink. Unfortunately, commercially made smoothies are often made up of mixes derived from high-fat, high-sugar, and high-calorie recipes, which deliver a lot of taste but not much else. To create a tasty, healthy smoothie, try low-fat yogurt (frozen or non), or low-fat milk with ice, and blend in tropical fruits like mango or papaya. There are many other fruit combinations that taste great together, and you can have fun figuring out which ones you like best. Just remember to remove all the seeds and pits if you’re using fresh fruits.
“Happy April Fools’ Day: 12 ‘Health’ Foods Fooling Us All,” Huffpost Healthy Living web site, April 4, 2013; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/01/april-fools-day-healthy-foods_n_2980863.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular#slide=2281079.
Nieman, D.C., et al., “Bananas as an Energy Source during Exercise: A Metabolomics Approach,” PLoS One http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0037479#s3, last accessed April 5, 2013.