When you go food shopping, you are usually bombarded with advertising and packaging for foods that are supposed to be “healthy” or “all natural.” The problem is that many of these claims are misleading, and some are outright lies.
The food and dairy industries use clever strategies and buzzwords to market their products to health-conscious consumers. Many of these so-called healthy choices, however, are devoid of vital nutrients. Others can even contribute to a host of health issues. I encourage you to be a label reader, and to keep in mind that foods offer us the best nutrition when they are in their most natural state. Here is my list of foods that are marketed as being healthy but really aren’t, along with my recommendations for healthy substitutes for each of them.
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1. Tropicana Orange Juice
The label says 100 percent, not-from-concentrate juice, so how bad can it be? Well, in order to get you that supposed fresh-squeezed taste, Tropicana and Minute Maid and other juice companies store and seal orange juice in giant holding tanks. By removing all of the tank’s oxygen, the liquid can remain stable for up to a year. The problem is that this process also removes the taste.
That’s when companies add flavoring and scenting chemicals. Due to a regulations loophole, the companies are not required to list these chemicals on the carton, but that’s why these juices tend to taste the same no matter where or when you buy them.
For a healthy substitute: Drink fresh organic vegetable and fruit juice. When you juice your own fresh fruits and vegetables, you are able to retain most of the vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals (phytonutrients) found in the whole plant. Drinking fresh juice is an easy and delicious way to add nutrition to your diet.
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2. Kashi Whole Grain Cereal
The Kashi brand, which many consumers do not know is owned by the Kellogg’s Company, has come under fire in recent years for using genetically modified (GM) and pesticide-treated ingredients.
Despite the healthy claims on Kashi packaging and advertising, the Cornucopia Institute conducted a test of Kashi’s GoLean cereal in 2011, for example, and found that it contained 100 percent genetically modifed soy. Some Kashi cereals also have included irradiated cinnamon, genetically modified corn flour, canola oil, corn meal, corn bran and soy lecithin. What has been Kashi’s response? “Factors such as pollen drift from nearby crops and current practices in agricultural storage, handling, and shipping, has led to an environment in North America where GMOs are not sufficiently segregated. As a result, some of our foods include ingredients made from genetically engineered crops.”
For a healthy substitute: I recommend Purely Elizabeth organic cereal, a line of all-natural and organic foods using nutritious alternative grains and seeds that do not contain sugar, dairy, wheat or gluten.
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One of the biggest benefits of careful marketing as a “healthy” drink, milk can actually have a negative impact on your health. Human beings are the only species that drinks the milk of another species, and a growing body of research is showing that drinking cow’s milk is not good for you.
Many of us naturally lose the ability to digest milk after the toddler years, a condition known as lactose intolerance. Current studies show that about 75 percent of the world’s population has this condition. Although it is touted as an essential source of calcium, studies by The Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School have shown that calcium from drinking milk does not help prevent osteoporosis or reduce the risk of bone fracture. In fact, the animal protein contained in milk could actually contribute to bone loss.
Here are other concerns with drinking cow’s milk:
- Dairy consumption increases the body’s level of IGF-1, insulin-like growth factor-1, which has been associated with certain types of cancer.
- Milk aggravates a condition known as irritable bowel syndrome.
- The consumption of milk has been linked to allergies as well as sinus conditions and ear infections.
- Milk is high in saturated fats and cholesterol, which have been linked to heart disease.
For a healthy substitute: Try organic, unsweetened almond milk. It’s a good tasting non-dairy beverage that you can use the same as you would milk by the glass, on cereal and in recipes. Organic, unsweetened almond milk is gluten-, cholesterol- and lactose-free and is a good source of calcium as well as vitamins D, E and A.
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4. Wheat Bread
In an effort to ban white bread from their diets, many Americans have jumped on the wheat bread bandwagon as a “healthy” substitute. While processed, bleached white bread is no bargain for your health, most commercial brands of wheat bread are not much better.
Wheat contains a protein called gliadin, which actually acts like an appetite stimulant. Due to wheat’s unique carbohydrate, amylopectin A, consumption of wheat also triggers the formation of small, dense LDL particles in our bodies. These LDL particles, which appear on a standard cholesterol panel as “bad” cholesterol, are a factor in the increased incidence of heart disease in the United States.
A vicious cycle has occurred when people follow their health professional’s recommendation to cut fat from their diet and to eat more whole grains. By eating wheat bread in the hope of following this advice, many patients are actually doing themselves harm. Wheat can contribute to higher blood sugar, increased blood pressure and high triglycerides, all contributing causes of heart disease.
For a healthy substitute: Ezekiel sprouted bread is made from organic, sprouted whole grains and no sugar. While most commercial breads contain refined wheat or pulverized whole wheat, Ezekiel bread contains four types of cereal grains (millet, barley, spelt and wheat) and two types of legumes (lentils and soybeans). The grains and legumes are organically grown and allowed to sprout before they are processed, mixed together and baked.
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5. Granola Bars
Although it is often regarded as a healthy snack or breakfast item, granola is often a high-fat and high-sugar cereal. Similarly, eating a granola bar can be like eating a large cookie or a brownie! Here where it pays to be a careful label reader. Granola bar labels can reveal many sources of hidden fat.
The national nutritional goal is to keep fat intake down to 30 percent or less of your daily calories. Athletes should strive for 20 percent or less. Since granola and granola bars are calorie dense, portion control is very important. Look for whole food ingredients and nix bars that list high fructose corn syrup, artificial ingredients or preservatives on their packages.
For a healthy substitute: Lara bars are a whole-food blend of unsweetened fruits, nuts and spices. Each flavor contains no more than nine ingredients. They are portable, tasty and convenient for a nutritious snack.
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We see it in frozen form in the ice cream section and packaged in all sorts of colorful combinations in the dairy case. Yogurt has become the go-to healthy choice for a nation of dieters. But are most commercial brands of yogurt really healthy?
Probably not. In fact, the chances are good that you would be just as well off it terms of sugar, calories and artificial ingredients to eat a bowl of ice cream as many yogurt products. Here is a laundry list of ingredients found in many popular brands.
- Modified food starch and corn starch — used as a stabilizer and emulsifier.
- Gelatin — often made from animal bones, gelatin is used as a thickener.
- Potassium sorbate — used to neutralize acids, to prevent mold and to increase shelf life.
- Aspartame– an artificial sweetener.
- High fructose corn syrup – used in place of sugar HFCS may alter the body’s insulin levels.
- Tricalcium phosphate — calcium supplement, often made from bone ash.
- Food dyes – sometimes including carmine, which is made from crushed cochineal insects, an arthropod native to Mexico and South America.
For a healthy substitute: This coconut kefir yogurt recipe is rich in beneficial probiotics, high in protein, dairy-free, sugar-free and delicious. My family and I top ours with crushed sprouted nuts or fresh berries for added taste and nutrition.
- 16 oz. coconut meat (if frozen, thawed)
- 1 T coconut kefir
- 1 capsule dairy-free probiotic
- Juice of 2 fresh lemons
- Juice of 1 fresh lime
- Half cup raw coconut water
- Blend all ingredients in blender until creamy and smooth.
- Pour into a glass jar or glass and cover with cheesecloth or other breathable fabric and secure with a rubber band. Leave out at room temperature overnight and then refrigerate. If the yogurt loses its creamy consistency overnight, just blend again until smooth.
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7. Vitamin Water
It sounds like a great combination, doesn’t it? What could be wrong with vitamins and water? Marketed as a healthy alternative to soda or other sugar-laden drinks, most vitamin fortified waters are too good to be true. To prove my point, here is the label information from one such product:
Nutrition Facts: serving size 8 fl oz; servings per container 2.5; calories 50; total fat 0g; sodium 0mg; total carbohydrate 13g; total sugar 13g; protein 0g
Vitamin C 60%; vitamin B3 10%; vitamin B6 10%; vitamin B12 10%; vitamin B5 10%, Zinc 10%
Ingredients: vapor distilled/deionized water, crystalline fructose, citric acid, vegetable juice (color), natural flavor, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), natural flavor, vitamin E acetate, magnesium lactate (elecrolyte), calcium lactate (electrolyte), zinc picolinate, monopotassium phosphate (electrolyte), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine hydrochloride (B6), cyanocobalamine (B12).
When you keep in mind that even though the serving size listed as 2.5, most consumers drink the entire bottle at one time, this list points out that these products contain similar amounts of sugar, calories and other additives and preservatives as most sodas. In addition, these beverages contain synthetic vitamins which do not provide the same health benefits as the vitamins and minerals we obtain directly from whole foods.
For a healthy substitute: When you are ready to hydrate, drink plenty of fresh filtered water. For added flavor and nutrition, add a few slices of fresh lemon or orange and cucumbers. Be sure to store your fresh filtered water in a glass carafe to avoid any absorption of chemicals from plastic pitchers or containers.