5 “Health Foods” You Can Leave on the Table


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You know how when you see a person who is really into nutrition and fitness, and someone refers to them as “granola crunchy”? Well I am here to take the “granola” out of “granola-crunch”. I really don’t think granola is THAT healthy. Surprisingly, there are tons of foods out there touted as being “health foods” that are simply NOT that healthy. Every time I see someone eating them, pretending that they are doing something so great for themselves, I want to say something and correct them. It usually isn’t appropriate for me to say anything to a stranger, though, and bust someone for their good intentions, but for the future, eat these foods in moderation. Warning: some of them are delicious and that’s okay. Have them in moderation.

1. Granola

Granola is delicious. I am telling you, I really do like some granola every now and then. But calling health nuts “granola crunchy” is kind of the opposite of what true health nuts eat. Maybe it’s because there are tons of people who like to try to eat healthy and catch onto trends. Granola is made by taking oats or another grain, mixing it with sugar, fat, and nuts, and other spices and flavors. Whole grains are great for you, as are spices and nuts; however, most granola has tons of sugar in it and either saturated or unsaturated fats, most of the time refined. Remember, natural fats in foods are much better for you than refined oils. Here’s an example of a granola that you might see in a health food aisle: Cascadian Farms Oats and Honey Granola. 2/3 of a cup has 41 grams carb including 14 grams of sugar (3 1/2 teaspoons of sugar!), 6 grams of fat,and 230 calories.

2. Yogurt

Yogurt is another one of those so-called health foods. And yes, if you go to the store about buy plain yogurt without any sugar and flavor, it’s wonderful for you. It has protein (especially greek yogurt), probiotics to keep your digestive tract in order, and healthy carbs from milk. HOWEVER, and that’s a big however, most of the yogurt you go and buy at the store, YES even your fancy greek yogurt, is more like a dessert than a healthy snack. Take Chobani Cherry Non Fat Yogurt: 1 6 ounce serving contains 140 calories, 22 grams of carbs, 21 grams of sugar (5 teaspoons of sugar!), and 14 grams of protein. Other, less healthy brands, such as yoplait, have as much as 26 grams of sugar per serving (6 1/2 teaspoons sugar).

3. Raw Sugar, Agave, Honey, etc.

Okay, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. It’s still sugar. Sugar is sugar! I can kind of understand the appeal of more natural forms of sugar, they are in fact less sugar percentage wise and have more natural components; however, don’t use this as an excuse to freely eat things with these SUGARS in them. Sugar still is metabolized the same way, and will still lead to diabetes and heart disease if you don’t use it sparingly. And trust me, I am working on this one myself. I love sugar and I am constantly trying to think of ways to cut back so I don’t end up killing myself.

4. Smoothies

I feel like I have kind of focused on sugar in this article. Well, maybe that’s because it is really bad for you. Yet again, smoothies, especially smoothies from health touting places like smoothie king, have tons and tons of sugar — plus fruit, which already has sugar in it. Some things you can do to make smoothies better are to ask for it without sugar, or make smoothies at home with ingredients that you KNOW are real. Otherwise, drink in moderation. As an example, a small smoothie king banana strawberry smoothie has 13 grams of sugar, about 4 teaspoons.

5. Organic Foods

Slap the label organic on something and it’s sure to be a big seller. Why? Because people love organic foods! Because people think they are healthy!! Well, I am here to tell you that just because something has an organic label on it does NOT mean it is healthy. Sure, it’s great that that food was grown without pesticides. I think, though, if you took a whole wheat muffin that was grown with pesticides, and a refined white flour muffin that was grown without pesticides, but then had most of it’s nutrients removed and is highly processed, that the whole wheat muffin would be the better choice. So keep on reading labels and don’t fall for those label tricks.


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Energy Drinks

Energy drinks: Bringing Bad to Worse.

Sugar is not good for your body. This is no revelation for you. I posted that recent article about sugar being directly related to diabetes. So what about energy drinks? Sugar free, even? Don’t be tricked into thinking this will give you some get-up-and-go; really it will just lead to lots of unknowns and potential adverse affects.

Energy drinks usually contain copious amounts of caffeine. Caffeine can be tolerated in moderation for the average person. I would know, I tolerated up to 3 cups of coffee a day for several years! As soon as I cut that out of my life, I started feeling better. If you’re still hooked on caffeine from coffee or tea, it probably isn’t the worst thing you could do; however, energy drinks often contain well more caffeine than you should consume, especially if you are drinking several a day. This caffeine could make you dehydrated, leading to possible renal dysfunction (kidney problems) or other adverse events. If you ARE going to drink energy drinks, and I recommend doing so very much in moderation, NEVER drink more than one.

Sugar is another main ingredient in energy drinks. Even if you get the sugar free, you are getting tons of chemical fake sugar. While this sugar substitutes are still approved by the FDA, they are still chemicals and I wouldn’t put tons of that in your body when we don’t know exactly what it’s doing.

Herbal ingredients and excessive B vitamins are touted as giving you the majority of your energy from energy drinks. Many of the ingredients have been considered safe by the FDA, but others have warning labels, especially when combined with certain medications or chronic diseases. I am not sure I would put that in my body combined with caffeine and sugar, and leave it up to chance whether I’ll have a reaction or not. Excessive B vitamins may not harm you, but they are also unnecessary and generally get filtered out by your kidneys into your urine, making for some very vitamin rich urine! That is what you are paying for, right?

So that’s the bad, what about worse? What’s worse than the above about energy drinks are the following:

-Energy drinks have been linked to numerous medical problems and adverse affects like seizures or cardiac arrest, even death.
-Energy drinks in combination with alcohol have been linked to impaired cognitive function and lower symptoms of intoxication. This can lead to accidents or other stupid actions that may harm yourself or someone else.

So what’s the consensus? There really isn’t anything good in energy drinks. Most of it is either bad, or unknown. There are many reported incidents that are scary and frankly make me uncomfortable. I wouldn’t drink them at all. I don’t, actually. If you do drink them, do so VERY much in moderation. NEVER drink more than one a day, but personally I think one a day is too many.

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Label Reading

Label Reading.

We dietitians will go insane telling you to “READ LABELS”!!! And that is certainly true. Definitely look at every product’s nutrition facts and ingredients labels. Even doing this, however, there are some things on labels that will try to trick you into choosing their product over another. For this, I say, buyer beware. Here are 4 catch phrases and what they really mean.

1. “0 grams trans fat”

This is a new claim that is put on many processed foods to draw you to them. Most people realize that trans fats are one of the worst processed ingredients out there. Most people don’t know where trans fats come from, though. Lobbyists have gotten tricky and the FDA allows a product to claim 0g trans fats if there is up to 0.5 grams in the product. Thus, many companies are using juust enough to make it less than 0.5 gram per serving, or reducing the serving size. Don’t listen to them; instead look on the ingredients label for the word “partially hydrogenated”. Most people need to stay below 2 grams trans fat for the whole day — if you ate 6 products (2 each meal) with ~0.5 g trans fat, you would go over. You probably shouldn’t be eating that many processed foods, though, anyway.

2. “Whole Grain” Or “Made With Whole Grain”

So your doctor/dietitian/etc. told you to eat whole grains. That’s great!! You go to the store and buy something that says “whole grain” somewhere on the label. But what are you really getting? Claims that say “Made With Whole Grains” may just mean that one of the ingredients is a whole grain, and it could be very minimal. What about a product that says “Whole Grain ____ ” on it, like “Whole Grain Bread”? This means that at least 51% of the ingredients by weight are whole grain. Generally they can add white flours in there to cover the other 49%, but that 49% does include moisture, sugar, and other ingredients, so that is better. But what is the gold standard? Look for things that say “100% whole grain” on them. This is made with NO white refined flour, and should be the best option. Again, you have to look at the ingredients label to defeat the problem.

3. Low – Fat

Gummy bears are low fat. What does that tell you? Does being low-fat mean something is good for you? Of course not! It’s just another “claim” trying to get you to buy the product. And of course, they generally fill these products with SUGAR, which is worse than fat in my opinion. So avoid this party line, unless it was something you were going to buy anyway.

4. Reduced Sodium, or Less Sodium

Folks, this is another trick. This simply means that the product has a reduced amount of sodium from the original product. Let’s look at Campbell’s chicken noodle soup for an example. The original product has 890 mg per serving, almost half a day’s worth. The “Less Sodium” variety has 660 mg. Instead look for the words “Low sodium” which means less than 140 mg per serving, “No Salt Added”, “Sodium Free”, etc. Or just read the amount on the label.

So what’s a health nut to do? Read the nutrition facts and ingredients label, ESPECIALLY the ingredients label. Choose foods that DON’T have labels MOST of the time!! Fruits, vegetables, fresh meats — this products usually do not have food labels, which is a good thing! The more processed the food, the worse it usually is for you. If it comes in a box, BUYER BEWARE! We have to start taking charge of our own health before we allow food manufacturers to influence us with marketing schemes. Take charge and tell those manufacturers that you cannot be won over so easily!

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Mediterranean Diets

A Recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that mediterranean diets reduced risk of cardiovascular disease by 30% versus the control group which followed the AHA low-fat diet. Basically saying what many nutrition professionals and holistic medical advisors have been saying all along — worry less about the %macronutrient you are eating, and more about where your food is coming from! Foods that come from plants are healthy! Poultry is generally better than red meat! This is not rocket science – simplistic is effective. It’s just that most Americans would rather have their low-fat 100-calorie-pack laden diet than actually start eating real food. Real food wins again!


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Spices with Benefits

Did you know that turmeric has shown to decrease mutagens in your system, i.e., compounds that increase the number of mutations which may lead to cancer? Cinnamon may help with blood sugar control by increasing the amount of phosphorylation on insulin receptors, thus increasing the amount of glucose translocated into cells for use or storage. Ginger may lower your cholesterol. Onions have been linked to decreased rates of stomach cancer.

Flavor your food often, and flavor it well with seasonings that are not salted. If you do this, you may reap unknown benefits that herbs and spices contain.

*Note: I do not recommend taking encapsulated herbs and spices, especially without approval from your physician.*

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