The interesting thing about nutrition is that there are many theories and diets that work wonders for some people but can also cause a complete disaster for others. Sometimes nutrition theories become popular due to some (weight loss) success stories and turn into fads that can last decades. The low-fat craze is the nutrition myth that sticks out most in my memory. Most people know now that low-fat is not necessarily a good thing. Many food products are a result of nutrition fads and popular theories and most of the time these food products really aren't healthy. Food companies come up with some pretty convincing points in their marketing but most of them don't make much sense in reality.
When I'm out and about in the world and I hear people say they trying to be “good” and eat healthy food, it kills me to see what they think is a “healthy” food. I see them suffer through eating some horrible food creation because they think it is good for them but most of the time it is a nutrition myth or a result of misinformation given through a (Monsanto) marketing campaign.
These are some foods I often hear people say they are eating when they are trying to be “good,” that shouldn't be a part of anyone's diet at all.
“Breakfast cereals are supposed to be good for you, and the relatively unprocessed ones still are, but most are now so thoroughly processed and sugared and filled with additives that they might as well be cookies.“- Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat (excellent read, I highly recommend it.)
Breakfast cereal is one of the biggest scams in the food industry. We've all seen the commercials for Special K, letting us know how much weight we can lose by eating it every morning. I'm sure you have read the heart healthy claims on the Post Frosted Shredded Wheat box letting you know it helps lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease. These claims are backed by bogus information and advice you certainly already know. In her book, Marion Nestle explains how she dug deeper into the claim on the Post Frosted Shredded Wheat box that the cereal “will help you lost 10 lbs the heart healthy way,” and the advice included this:
- Replace 2 meals a day with a serving of any Post Healthy Classics Cereal 1/2 cup fat-free milk and fruit.
- Focus on portion control at mealtimes.
- Add more physical activities into your day.
Really?? I think the food companies have little faith in our intelligence. I highly doubt that their weight loss claims have anything to do with point #1 and everything to do with points #2 and #3 in that list of advice. Of course if you focus on portion control and more physical activity anyone would lose 10 lbs. regardless of whether or not they ate Post cereals. In fact, I would go as far as to say I think one could lose even more weight if they left out point #1 completely and ate a breakfast full of real whole foods instead of this processed, sugared junk.
The nutrient content of cereals is the main point food companies like to point out to show you it's a healthy food. The cereal Total, says it has 100% of your daily vitamins in one serving. The vitamins are not naturally found in the ingredients they use to make the cereal, food companies add in these vitamins during the processing. These vitamins are not well absorbed into the body because they don't come along with all the other things needed to assimilate them such as fiber and phytochemicals that can never be found in processed foods such as cereal.
Cereal is a processed food void of any valuable nutrition. To add to it, they are loaded with sugar and food dyes. Breakfast cereal is most definitely a junk food, not a healthy food.
Low-fat and Fat-free Yogurt
I remember as a teenager when my friends all started worrying about their weight, it was common to see one bring low-fat yogurt for lunch and brag that that's all they would eat. This is definitely a way to reduce the amount of calories you eat but in no way nutritious or healthy. First, low-fat yogurt is not a whole food. It has been processed to take out the fat, pasteurized “to kill possible pathogens” and all the other potentially healthy properties of yogurt, and loaded with additives. Some additives in yogurt include high fructose corn syrup, modified food starch, soy lecithin, cornstarch, artificial flavors, and more.
In addition to the processing the manufacturer adds in quite a bit of sugar in the form of sweetener and fruit. Eating a low-fat yogurt for lunch is just like eating a dessert food because it's mostly sugar – milk sugars and then the added sugar the food company puts into it to make it taste good. Without the fat that naturally in yogurt the milk will digest quickly into the system much like sugar itself.
A major health selling point for low-fat yogurt is that it has probiotics! Yes, it may have a small amount of probiotics but the potential health benefits from the probiotics is off set by the amount of sugar in the yogurt so it's really doing no good at all. Sorry to say that low-fat yogurt is not a healthy food.
Health food stores carry so many nutrition bars there are whole sections dedicated to them. Just like fat-free yogurt and breakfast cereal, most of these bars are a health food in disguise. These bars are advertised as a healthier option then a candy bar and some are marketed as a good option for before or after a workout. I don't know about you but I don't really see any really fit people eating these things.
Take a look at the nutrition facts on the Clif Builder's Peanut Butter Bar, in just one bar you will get 20g of sugar and 310g of sodium. Yes it includes 20 grams of protein – which is the “selling point” on most of these bars but it's not worth it if it comes with all of that sugar and sodium. You'd be much better off eating 2-3 ounces of almonds or walnuts and you'd get about the same amount of protein without all of the sugar and sodium.
If you really want to create a healthy lifestyle and eat wholesome foods it can be confusing in a crowded marketplace of products that are marketed as “healthy.” My purpose here is to show you that foods that are generally accepted as healthy are not always so healthy. We must be informed consumers in order to take our health into our own hands by reading labels and asking questions. We can't put our health and our children's health in the hands of a food company's marketing team. It is a sad but true reality that we are constantly being deceived into believing that these foods are healthy when they are actually really bad for our health.
To dig deeper on this topic, I encourage you to read books like Maron Nestle's What to Eat or Michale Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma. Both of these books were part of the “text books” I read when I attended the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and started my education on these important topics.