It’s the last week of National Nutrition Month, how is everyone doing with their nutrition goals? Hopefully staying focused, or at least paying more attention to nutrition and what we are eating. The last nutrition topic is the 5 most unhealthy “healthy” foods. There are a lot of claims out there such as “natural”, “low-fat”, “reduced fat”, “organic”, etc. Is it healthy or just healthier than it’s unhealthy counterpart? It’s easy to get overwhelmed and confused by food labels. Here are the top 5 foods that are commonly thought of as healthy, but they are not as healthy as the seem.
Seeing a food claiming ”low-fat” seems to be a healthier alternative than the peanut butter with more fat. Hopefully you read last week’s post about healthy fats so that you know not all fat is bad. Peanut butter is one of our healthy fats that includes omega 6. The problem with reducing fat in your peanut butter is that it reduces the amount of healthy fat you receive. That is the biggest benefit of peanut butter, so you don’t want to minimize. Also, when the healthy fats are removed, it is usually replaced by sugar and/or salt. In this case, it is better to keep the healthy fats and minimize the added sugar/salt. Always compare nutrition labels. Even though it is reduced fat, sometimes it still has the same amount of overall calories. A healthy alternative to “low-fat” peanut butter is eating natural peanut butter. If you look at the ingredients of a natural peanut butter, it should simply say “Peanuts”.
The benefits of foods that contain whole grains include reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer as well as a great source of vitamin E, iron and fiber. However, it is incorrect to assume that multigrain and seven-grain breads also provide these benefits because these products are often not 100% whole grain. Sometimes they don’t include ANY whole grain ingredients. Certain seven-grain and multigrain breads are made from refined, white flour with a small amount of other grains, making them just as processed and refined as white bread. This means they can cause a large spike in blood sugar (as a high-glycemic food), followed by a crash effect when the insulin over regulates the blood sugar increase. How do we avoid buying falsely healthy bread? By reading nutrition labels! (Seeing a pattern here?) Look for breads made from 100% whole grain or 100% whole wheat flour. Avoid breads that include “enriched” or “refined” in the ingredient list.
Salt, the biggest recommendation is to minimize the amount of salt in our diets. But is there a healthy salt? Basically, salt is salt. I blame the cooking industry for making sea salt seem glamorous and different. I’m not one to cook a lot, but it seems like the sea salt craze started because it’s better for cooking. It is also more “natural” than table salt, and “natural” usually signals our brains to think it is healthier. However, sea salt and table salt are almost nutritionally identical and essentially they have the same amount of sodium. I say “essentially” because sea salt crystals do tend to be bigger than table salt crystals. Meaning, in some instances the same volume of sea salt doesn’t take up as much room as the table salt and may contain a little less sodium. However, when we believe that something is “healthier” we tend to use it more liberally, and may actually consume more total sodium using the sea salt. So whether you use sea salt or basic table salt, use it sparingly.
Juice is a good substitute for fruit, right? Only when used sparingly. Unfortunately, another confusing term is “100% fruit juice”. It may not be as healthy as it seems. Fruit contains a form of sugar called fructose. It is what makes most fruits sweet and part of the reason that we want to balance fruit and vegetable consumption. Eating just fruits can load us up with too much fructose. So fruit juices can add fructose to 100% fruit juice without having to specify added sugar on the ingredients list. With fruit juice, simply minimize the amount you drink (i.e., it should not be your only form of fruit intake) or try making your own juice with a juicer. Of course,the healthiest option is simply eating fresh fruit.
Again, this comes down to reading the ingredients list and nutrition label. If you’ve looked at the ingredients list for your favorite protein bar or shake, you may have seen a lot of words that remind you of your chemistry book, not your food label. Meaning these products are processed to contain stabilizers, preservatives, and other ingredients that may not support health. Protein bars and shakes, or powder for shakes, are usually at least 200 calories, almost the amount of a meal (300-500 calories). Where you also need to be careful, is the amount of sugar included. Bars or shakes should not have more than about 15 grams of sugar. However, if you are eating bars that contain dried fruit (which is a good thing), they can contain more of the natural fruit sugars (fructose). For these type of bars, it is reasonable to have up to 18 grams of sugar per bar. Sometimes the solution can be to simply consume half the serving size, especially for the really large protein bars or protein shakes with a 2 scoop serving size. However, if you don’t know what more than 5 of the ingredients are listed on your bar or shake, it might be time to look for a new brand.
What it comes down to is READING nutrition labels and ingredients!! Pay attention to what you are putting into your belly. We only have one body to work with, so we need to take care of that body. As always, contact me with any questions.
Healthy, happy eating!