We are bombarded by advertising and beguiling food packaging enticing us to try this or that product because it’s healthful. Maybe it’s fat free, or sugar free, or made with whole grains, or baked not fried. It can get so confusing, figuring out what to eat. What’s healthy and what’s not this week? Hard to keep up with the research.
Let me make it real easy for you. If it’s in a package or a box, it’s processed to some degree, refined–meaning it’s been stripped of vital nutrients–or refined and fortified with artificial nutrients added back in. So, you know what I’m going to say next: stick to whole foods, eat out of the box, eat what comes from nature, and you can’t go wrong. If it hasn’t been around for over a thousand years, don’t eat it. To further clear some confusion, let’s take a look at some popular foods most consider healthy.
1. Yogurt. This is one of my faves, because everyone thinks yogurt is a health food, right? There are so many options! Fat free, sugar free, low fat, fruit on the bottom, whipped. Let’s look at the label on Dannon Yogurt’s Light & Fit Cherry. Less than 100 calories!
Ingredients: Nonfat yogurt (cultured grade A non fat milk, Modified Food Starch, Fructose, kosher gelatin, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D3), water, cherries, fructose, Natural & Artificial Flavor, Aspartame, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate, Asulfame, Sucralose, Sodium Citrate, Red 40, Blue 1
Now, I don’t have time to get into the specifics on these ingredients, but suffice it to say that this is a highly refined and even toxic product. It’s filled with chemicals, artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives, but it also contains aspartame sugar substitute, which is a neurotoxin that can have serious side effects and long term consequences. Folks, stay away from this stuff, commonly found in diet sodas and sugar free products. Seriously, it’s better to have the sugar than to ingest aspartame.
Back to yogurt: if it’s a fruited variety, it’ll be loaded with up to 10 teaspoons of sugar per single serving if it doesn’t contain a toxic sugar substitute. Skip the non fat versions: vitamins A&D in yogurt are fat soluble, meaning you need to consume fat with these vitamins in order for your body to absorb them. Nature is funny like that: it knows exactly what we need in our food for optimal health before it’s been tinkered with in a lab.
Plain, organic regular yogurt is fine. It contains probiotics to help digestion and is naturally low in sugar. Our palates are so used to overly sweetened foods that you may need to get used to its naturally tart flavor. Add your own berries or a bit of honey and enjoy.
2. Canola Oil. This is another good one. We’re told that canola is high in omega 3 fatty acids and holds up well to high temp frying, a great choice! You know what? Not. Canola is highly refined, usually genetically modified, and heated to such high temps during its processing that any very heat sensitive fatty acids are destroyed. During the chemical extraction process, solvents and deodorizers are used. You usually get it in a plastic jug at the store, and plastic reacts adversely with fats, changing its chemical structure and leaching chemicals into the oil. ALWAYS buy cooking oils in glass, never plastic.
Canola is not a healthy choice. Use coconut or palm oil for high temp frying. For baking, use safflower or grapeseed oil if you need an oil that doesn’t impart much flavor. Stick to the healthy fats, and always choose unrefined: coconut oil, olive oil, ghee or butter, flaxseed oil (do not heat; use in smoothies or salad dressing), sesame oil, walnut oil, safflower or grapeseed (occasionally).
3. Sugar-free foods. This is kind of a no-brainer when it comes to food processing: if something is made with or exists with sugar, and the sugar is removed and usually replaced with a sugar substitute, it is a refined and chemicalized product that is no good for your health. There are many sugar substitutes out there: splenda, equal, sweet n low, to name a few, and these contain saccharin, aspartame, or sucralose. As I mentioned earlier, these sugar subs are highly toxic to your brain and can cause anything from headaches to seizures. Note to self: I think I’ll dedicate a blog post to sugar substitutes one of these days.
Anyway, refined sugar is bad in excess, yes. Use rapadura or other unrefined sugars in baking. If you’re diabetic, use stevia or agave. But for god’s sake, stay away from chemical sugar free substitutes and the products that contain them: diet sodas, candy, yogurt, cookies, gum, whatever. Seriously, it’s better to just eat the sugar. Better yet, make your own version of the product at home where you can control the ingredients when you need a treat. You can use stevia for baking.
4. Muffins. Muffins sure are tasty, I’ll give ’em that. But they’re also loaded with calories (around 600) and unhealthy trans fats and sugar. Yes, even the bran ones that seem healthy. Avoid, or make your own. I tried a wheat, sugar, and dairy free muffin the other day: it was made with buckwheat flour, applesauce, dates, and walnuts. Here’s a great healthy muffin recipe for you.
ed. note: I was going to add several more fake healthy foods, but this is already too long so you’ll have to tune in later for more.
(Gluten Free option) Muffin Base
2 cups gluten free baking mix (such as Pamela’s) OR whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2-3 tbsp agave nectar or honey, depending on how sweet you like
1/2 cup nut or hemp milk for dairy-free, or plain kefir or yogurt
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup grapeseed, olive, or coconut oil
1-2 tsp spices, depending on what else you add in
pumpkin (1 cup) with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg to taste
1 cup blueberries
dried fruit/nut combo: cranberries, walnuts, dates, anything that appeals to you
poppyseeds, bananas, apples, whatever
Preheat oven to 400. Combine flour, spices, baking powder, and salt and whisk well in bowl. Combine eggs, agave, milk, pumpkin, oil, and vanilla; add to dry ingredients. Stir until moistened. Spoon batter into muffin tins. Bake at 15 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.