You’re eating better foods for your health…or are you? Food advertising and labeling is so tricky these days, it’s sometimes hard to realize the difference between the real thing and a gimmick. Here are ten common food items that you may think are good for you, and replacements for them that actually are.
Drink this water and it’s just like drinking a vitamin, right? Why actually eat nutrients in fruits and vegetables when you could just drink them in this delicious beverage? Sure they have been loaded with vitamins and minerals (albeit synthetic, or man-made, which do not act the same in our bodies as the nutrients coming from whole foods) but they have also been loaded with food coloring, preservatives and chemicals, and either sugar or artificial sweeteners. Believe me, any tiny benefit you might receive from the vitamins are completely outweighed by the health risks you take when you ingest this chemical cocktail.
Real Healthy Alternative: Instead, make your own vitamin water by filling a pitcher of filtered water with fresh fruits, cucumber slices, and herbs. Refrigerate overnight to let the water infuse. Strain out the fruit and enjoy the water.
Energy, Protein, Fiber Bars
It’s so tempting to buy any sort of packaged bar when you are hungry and in a hurry. Maybe you grab a protein bar because you think you need more protein, or an organic “energy” bar as a snack, or a fiber bar – they all sound super healthy, right? The truth is that you might as well just grab a candy bar, with all of the sugars, chemicals, and preservatives that are added. Again, the benefit of a little extra protein, whole grain, or “fiber” (which by the way, is usually wood pulp, not actual food fiber) fails to exceed the cost of the calories, sugar, and cancer-causing chemicals on your health.
Real Healthy Alternative: A piece of fruit, carrot or celery sticks are just as easy and portable to grab as a bar for a snack. In a pinch, choose a packaged bar made with just a few ingredients that you recognize as real food-most Larabars are a great choice.
We know everyone (including us) is telling you that you need plenty of protein each day to be fit and healthy, and to lose fat. A little protein powder mixed in with a smoothie seems to be an easy answer, and once, we thought it was for us too. But protein powder is a highly refined, highly processed food, no matter what form it comes in, and it isn’t necessary. Unless you’re trying to win a body-building or figure competition, getting enough protein in at each meal really doesn’t have to be that difficult.
Real Healthy Alternative: Plain Greek Yogurt is a great food that is fermented, contains healthy bacteria, and lots of protein. Try adding this to your smoothies instead, or mix it with some nut butter and fruit for a delicious, high-protein meal.
Whole Wheat Products
Real whole grains and whole wheat are perfectly healthy, but many, if not most, of the whole wheat products that you see packaged in stores are not. One look at the ingredients of a bag of “100% whole wheat bread” and you will find a chemical storm that will make your head spin, along with added sugars like high fructose corn syrup. Real bread and real pastas have a very short shelf life, and this just doesn’t work for the food company’s bottom line, so they add all sorts of toxic ingredients so the bread can sit on the store shelves longer.
Real Healthy Alternative: If you have time, try making your own bread at home using real grains. Otherwise, read the ingredients carefully and look for products with just a few real food, recognizable ingredients, or buy from a local bakery. Or, use lettuce wraps like butter leaf or collard leaves instead.
“Healthy Choice”, “Lean Cuisine”; the names would certainly imply that you are making a healthy decision when you purchase one of these pre-packaged frozen meals. But calorie and portion control DOES NOT always mean healthy! Take a look at the ingredients on the back, and you will find high amounts of sodium and preservatives.
Real Healthy Alternative: When you make nutritious, home-cooked meals, make extra and freeze or refrigerate it for quick, re-heatable meals on the go without all the extra stuff.
I don’t think any of us are naive enough to think that something like Fruit Loops or Cookie Crisp is healthy, but many boxed cereals do claim to be healthy or to help you lose weight. The box says “first ingredient is whole grains!” or claims that if you eat a bowl of their cereal everyday you’ll lose an inch from your waist. But look at the ingredients list and again, you’ll find synthetic vitamins added to give the illusion of nutrition, as well as loads of sugar, chemicals, and additives to increase shelf-life and taste.
Real Healthy Alternative: Old-fashioned rolled oats made into oatmeal, topped with real fruit is a great way to start your morning. Or, make your own cold cereal by combining dry rolled oats and nut butter, and add fruit and milk.
Yogurt and Frozen Yogurt
Plain yogurt itself is a healthy food, with live bacteria that is beneficial to your digestive system. But most yogurts you find on the shelves have added sugars and yes, preservatives for flavor. The low-calorie versions have only replaced fat and sugar with unhealthy artificial sweeteners. Frozen yogurt instead of ice cream may also seem like a good alternative, but most also have tons of sugar to mask the flavor of having removed most of the fat, and healthy bacterias have all been destroyed in the cooking process.
Real Healthy Alternative: Buy plain yogurt (greek yogurt is the best choice) with no other ingredients added, and add your own fruit, raw organic honey, nut butter, nuts, cinnamon, vanilla, etc. You can even make your own frozen yogurt by combining fruit, honey, and greek yogurt in a food processor and freezing it.
A turkey sandwich or lean ham wrap seems like a healthy choice for a meal, right? But most deli meats use very low-quality (mechanically separated, yum!) pieces of meat that would be inedible without all the sodium, sugar and preservatives added. They are also loaded with known cancer-causing agents like caramel coloring and nitrates.
Real Healthy Alternative: Grill your own meats and slice them up, keeping them in the fridge for your sandwiches and wraps.
When you think of the word vegetarian, healthy comes to mind, right? After all, vegetarian food implies vegetables. But many of the meat alternatives that food companies have produced to create a convenience for vegetarians are far from healthy. Tofu is highly processed, much like the deli meats listed above, as are many of the veggie burgers, veggie hot dogs, and cheeses. Read the label and you will find the same processed chemicals as main-stream food products.
Real Healthy Alternative: The fermented soy-bean tempeh is a great meat alternative that, in my opinion, tastes better than tofu anyways. Other plant sources of protein that are healthy include edamame, black beans, miso, lentils, spirulina, quinoa and hemp.
Ever skipped the ice cream or milkshake and gone with a fruit smoothie thinking you were making the healthier choice? If you purchased your smoothie from a restaurant or the refrigerated section at the supermarket, you probably just chose just as much if not more sugar than the ice cream. Commercial smoothies may contain fruits and vegetables as well as other healthy additions, but at the cost of added sugars, syrups, or artificial sweeteners. Buyer beware.
Real Healthy Alternative: Make your own smoothie at home in a blender!