Food Is Not Your Enemy

“Healthy” Foods That Aren’t
February 27, 2013, 5:53 pm
Filed under: Dairy, Grains, Meat, Oils, weight loss | Tags: , , , ,

It can be tough to answer the question “What should I eat today?” There is so much conflicting information out there about what’s healthy and what isn’t. One year eggs are healthy. Then they’re not. Then they are again. Butter is awful and margarine is fabulous–no, wait, margarine is actually awful, and butter is good! Granola is healthy hippie food. Wait, what? Where’d you hear that?

The food industry preys on our uncertainty by smacking more and more “health claims” in large font on food packages. If you believe what you read, Teddy Grahams are a great choice as they are a “good source of calcium” and offer “whole grains.” Of course, if you read the ingredients the first ingredient is white flour and these little bears also contain partially hydrogenated oil (a.k.a. trans fats, which are a disaster for heart health), high fructose corn syrup, and artificial flavors. The calcium was added so that Nabisco could make the claim that they contain calcium. Thanks for that.

Following is a sampling of some other foods that you may think are healthy–either because the front of the package says so, or because we’ve just heard over the years that they’re healthy–but that are actually not that great for us …

Cooking sprays. How is it possible that every brand of oil that comes in a spray can has no fat? All oil, no matter what kind, has 120 calories per tablespoon. But if you check the labels, you can see for yourself: zero calories, zero fat. Turns out this is a serving-size issue, as pointed out by nutrition professor/author Marion Nestle. One serving is generally a fraction-of-a-second-long spray of the product. And since the amount of oil that comes out in a quarter of a second provides a quarter gram of fat, and the FDA doesn’t require food companies to list anything below half a gram on the Nutrition Facts label, we’re led to believe these oils contain no fat. But they do, just like any other oil. Plus, they tend to contain a bunch of chemicals. You’re better off using olive oil (excellent for heart health) or a pat of organic butter (contains vitamins A and D).

Granola. Oats are the basis of granola, so what’s the problem? Sugar and calories, that’s what. Many granolas have 140-200 calories per quarter cup serving, and some have as much as 18 grams of sugar per serving, which is the equivalent of 4 1/2 teaspoons of sugar. Eat more than a quarter cup (which is easy to do), and you could easily be looking at a 400- or 500-calorie snack, all the while thinking you’re eating “health food.” Instead, enjoy your oats in the form of homemade oatmeal (plain oatmeal that you sweeten yourself, not the pre-flavored instant packs).

Flavored yogurt. Sugar is again the issue here. While plain yogurt is quite healthy for us, vanilla, strawberry, coffee, and all those other pre-flavored yogurts can have as much sugar as ice cream, if not more–a serving of Stonyfield low-fat vanilla yogurt, for instance, has 21 grams of sugar, while a serving of Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream has 19 grams. A better yogurt option: Choose plain yogurt and add your own honey or pure maple syrup or fruit–you’ll never use as much sweetener as the pre-flavored ones use.

Chicken (in chain restaurants). KFC sells a chicken pot pie that has an ingredient list 518 words in length. Cheesecake Factory’s chicken dishes routinely exceed 1,500 calories. And McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets contain TBHQ, a form of butane (lighter fluid). Not exactly healthy stuff. At fast food and chain restaurants, a healthy meat like chicken is more often than not transformed into a monstrously unhealthy thing. What seems like a lower-fat, lower-cholesterol food becomes little more than a carrier for salt, fat, and chemical additives. Buy an uncooked organic or free-range, humanely raised chicken and prepare it at home instead.