Say this for “junk food” products – for all their faults, they aren’t too hard to pick out. When purchasing candy bars, pretzels, potato chips, soda, fast food and similar products, consumers generally know what they’re getting – tasty treats with virtually no redeeming nutritional value. By the same token, shouldn’t it be blatantly obvious which foods are nourishing to the human body?
Well, no so fast. True, you can’t go wrong by stocking up on celery, apples, red peppers, and other such foods with sterling reputations. But there are numerous foods taking up space on store shelves that masquerade as “healthy” products. Below are some popular items that often do more harm than good to your body.
We’ll start off with “low-fat” products, which amateur dieters frequently use in hopes of shedding pounds. Though the “low-fat” advertising hook is technically correct, food manufactures often substitute other dubious ingredients into these very same products, rendering them little better than items frequently classified as “junk food.”
Low-Fat Granola Cereals – A cereal that’s made with granola, and is low in fat? What’s not to like? The answer to this question is simple – tons of sugar. It’s not at all uncommon for just a cup of granola cereal to contain upwards of 25g of sugar and 370 calories. To put this in proper perspective, consider that candy bars usually feature a similar amount of sugar, and roughly 100 to 150 fewer calories. You’re much better off buying high-fiber cereals, which can have the added bonus of containing low amounts of sugar.
Low Fat Yogurt – Another food with a frequently misleading résumé is low fat yogurt. A cup of low fat flavored yogurt provides your body with a boost of vitamins – while simultaneously flooding it with an avalanche of sugar. In fact, some brands of low fat yogurt are absolutely drenched with sugar, to the tune of roughly 25g per serving. This infusion of sugar is comparable to an 8 ounce serving of your favorite soda. If you are especially concerned about your sugar intake and overall health, consider swapping those cups of low fat yogurt for Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt, even in its low fat forms, is brimming with protein and calcium, and will almost certainly contain significantly less sugar.
Pretzels – While most people probably don’t consider pretzels to be especially healthy, they also tend to think of them as having little impact on their diet and health. A closer look, however, reveals that you may want to think twice about purchasing this salty snack. Eating a small bag of pretzels quickly adds 220 calories into your diet. This wouldn’t be cause for alarm if these calories were accompanied by much-needed vitamins and nutrients – but they’re not. Rather, pretzels fill you up with “empty calories,” a common name for calories with little nutritional value attached to them. Fortunately, a vastly superior alternative exists in the form of almonds, which are renowned for their sizable reserves of protein and healthy fats.
Low Fat Nutrition Bars – Here’s yet another example of questionable advertising. Many so-called “nutrition bars” attract customers with claims of being “low in fat.” While this is technically accurate, it doesn’t give shoppers the whole story. Subtracting fat from the equation means that other ingredients must be added to the bar in order to satisfy consumers. After all, who wants to eat a bland and tasteless nutrition bar?
Therein lies the problem; in order to make their nutrition bars taste better, food manufacturers inject them with sugar and other additives. One such ingredient is glycerin, a sticky, colorless substance used to bind the bar into one piece. Despite not being listed as a type of fat, glycerin is actually a fatty acid, serving to secretly inflate the bar’s fat content. Essentially, by snacking on a supposedly “low fat” nutrition bar, you might very be getting more fat than you bargained for. If you find yourself in need of an afternoon pick-me-up, opt for fresh fruits and veggies instead. Nuts would also be a solid choice.
Meal Replacement Shakes – Many dieters, frustrated with conventional diets, turn to meal replacement shakes to reduce their caloric intake. On the surface, this seems like a plausible strategy; your average meal replacement shake contains fewer calories than a typical meal.
Unfortunately, a diet based on a steady consumption of meal replacement shakes can easily backfire. These products are crammed full of sugars and fats, effectively sabotaging your diet before it gets off the ground. In addition, essential vitamins and minerals are in short supply in most meal replacement shakes. Consequentially, a diet based around these shakes can leave your body lacking the nutrients it needs to function at an optimal level.
The Cholesterol Boosters
In addition to expanding your waistline, junk food can also increase your cholesterol up to worrisome levels. But it isn’t just the usual suspects that can increase cholesterol levels; many of the foods we regularly eat are surprisingly high in saturated fat.
Mashed Potatoes – Not all variations of mashed potatoes are created equal – some brands are low in fat, and are actually good for you. On the flip side of the coin are the mashed potatoes served in restaurants, which are often drowning in butter, salt, sour cream and cream cheese. If your concerned about your cholesterol, pass on mashed potatoes covered with various toppings.
Ground Turkey – Ground turkey that is mostly lean can still contain significant amounts of fat. For example, 85% lean ground turkey has about 12.5 grams of fat in a 3 ounce serving. If you still want to enjoy your lunchtime turkey sandwich without worry, pay close attention to the amount of turkey you eat.
Tropical Plant Fruits – Generally speaking, you don’t have to worry about cholesterol levels when eating fruit. There are a few notable exceptions; coconuts, coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil and cocoa butter all contain relatively high levels of saturated fats. If you take a tropical vacation in the near future, you may want to steer clear of pina coladas. A 12 ounce version of this popular drink packs a staggering 602 calories and 20 grams of saturated fat.
The Really Deceptive “Healthy” Foods
While many of the foods on the above lists can certainly trip up numerous consumers, savvy shoppers can often avoid them by simply looking at the nutrition label (or just by looking at the product – how could mashed potatoes dripping with butter possibly be good for you?). Unfortunately, there are some foods that can mislead even the most health-conscious individuals. Below is a list of such foods that might exact a surprising toll on your health.
Multigrain/Whole Wheat Breads – Many shoppers know that white breads aren’t especially healthy, as they are frequently packed with refined carbohydrates. When it comes to bread, the refined ingredient in question is white flour, which is used to boost white bread’s longevity and taste. While these dubious ingredients might make a product more appealing to consumers, they can have dire consequences for your health and waistline.
Though they might appear to represent healthier alternatives to white bread, a significant number of multigrain and whole wheat breads feature grains that have been thoroughly stripped of their nutritional value through the refining process. The good news is that it can be relatively easy to pick out these misleading types of bread – assuming you know what to look for on the nutrition label. Common “red-flag” ingredients include “bleached flour” and “unbleached enriched wheat flour.”
Salads – How could salads possibly be bad for your health? After all, don’t salads immediately come to mind when it comes to ideal foods for a sound diet? Aren’t they brimming with a wide variety of nutrient-heavy vegetables, thereby giving your body the vitamins and minerals it needs to fire on all cylinders?
Well, the above assumptions would normally be right (with some notable exceptions, of course – it’s highly unlikely that a dieter will shed pounds through a steady consumption of taco salads). Ingredients such as lettuce, tomatoes and peppers are generally considered to be health food superstars. However, many salads served in restaurants are routinely doused in mayonnaise and high-calorie dressings. To avoid this problem, ask your server to use olive oil or vinegar to spice up your salad.
Low-Fat Peanut Butter – On the surface, peanut butter appears to be an excellent choice for lunchtime sandwiches. The only apparent drawback is peanut butter’s high levels of fat. To get around this pesky issue, shoppers often buy reduced-fat brands of peanut butter, mistakenly believing that such products are good for their health.
First, it should be noted that peanut butter generally doesn’t contain saturated fats, which are associated with a whole host of serious medical problems. Instead, peanut butter features monosaturated fats, which are good for your health when consumed in appropriate amounts. Furthermore, food manufactures often replace the “healthy” fats in peanut butter with sugar, a common tactic used by producers to make their foods taste better to consumers. You don’t have to be a nutritionist to see the problem with this strategy, as high intakes of sugar tend to go hand in hand with a litany of health problems.
Bran Muffins – Unlike other foods mentioned in this article, bran muffins aren’t inherently bad for your health. In small doses, they shouldn’t be a threat to derail your diet. If you’ve patronized a bakery or coffee store recently, however, it is blatantly obvious that must muffins hardly qualify as “small.” The muffins sold to modern consumers are simply too big, often packing in excess of 350 calories, with some of the biggest offenders tipping the scales at 600 calories. If you’re still reluctant to part with your daily bran muffin, then consume it in moderation, eating half for breakfast and saving the rest for later.
Smoothies – In theory, a blend of fruits and low fat dairy goods should provide for an enjoyable yet healthy beverage. In practice, the hidden ingredients in smoothies render them little healthier than sodas. Many smoothies are loaded with sugar, ice cream and sherbet, a combination that quickly overshadows any nutritional benefits offered by this popular drink. Rather than buying smoothies from restaurants or coffee house chains, make your own smoothies instead. This way, you’ll know for sure that your drink is free from unwanted additives.
Sports Drinks – If you frequently watch sporting events on TV, you’ve no doubt seen flashy ads for various sports drinks. These commercials, buoyed by sizable budgets and impressive production values, give the impression that sports drinks rejuvenate and revitalize tired bodies. What these advertisements don’t tell viewers is that many of these drinks are chocked full of calories; in 20 ounce servings, sports drinks usually contain around 125 calories. The ever-present menaces of sugar and high fructose corn syrup are also common ingredients in these beverages.
When it comes to shopping, it helps to remember a Latin phrase that has survived through the centuries up to modern times – caveat emptor, or “let the buyer beware.” While avoiding certain types of junk food is child’s play – it’s doubtful that anyone confuses the nutritional value of doughnuts with that of celery – some products can mask their deficiencies through clever marketing and other gimmicks. By carefully reviewing and researching the foods you buy and eat, you can help guard your body from the many Trojan horses found in grocery stores and restaurants.
The proceding article was written by an employee of Natural Knowledge 24/7.