Once again, I dispel fancy claims on shiny packaging for you. Don’t believe the hype. Don’t be a sucker for advertising or for claims that the supposed health food you are purchasing (which likely comes in some kind of package or box) is really good for you. The slogan was thought up by an ad agency hired by the manufacturer (yes, I watch Mad Men) to sell you the product. Do you think they care about your health? Profit over people. A great example is the Kraft foods “Smart Choices” insignia on certain packaged Kraft foods. Some of those foods are more than 50 percent sugar, but because they are low fat/low cal, that’s a smart choice. The irony is that sugar will kill you faster than fat (good fats, anyway, not damaged hydrogenated fats).
General rule of thumb: if it comes in a package, it’s likely not a health food. How many steps are removed between the food coming out of the ground and landing in your hands? Here are more picks for “health foods” that are bad for you.
1) Microwave Popcorn–popcorn is a low fat, low cal, high fiber food by nature. In general, it makes an ok snack, but corn is actually a grain, and it breaks down into sugar in the body, so if you are sugar sensitive or prone to sugar cravings, popcorn, or any corn for that matter, is not a good snack for you. Moving on, microwave popcorn is about as crappy as it gets. Many of the sugar free kettle corn varieties are sweetened with chemical fake sugars that are neurotoxins (fry your brain, cause headaches, seizures, etc). Others contain partially hydrogenated oils that will clog your arteries. Let’s not forget the artificial butter or cheddar or whatever flavorings. All chemicals. Not to mention safety concerns raised from chemicals in the bags that keep kernals from scorching. So yes, on paper a low cal snack, but what is the trade off? A chemical-filled toxic mess. If you must have popcorn, air pop it with coconut oil and sea salt.
2) Kashi foods–their slogan is “Seven Whole Grains on a Mission,” and their mission is to take down junk food snacks. The irony is that Kashi is pure junk food, folks. They claim to use all natural ingredients, travel to the four corners of the earth to find the best ingredients, whatever. On a recent road trip, I picked up a Kashi TLC granola bar that contained the following ingredients: soy protein isolate, soy grits, canola oil, vegetable glycerin, whey protein isolate. When is the last time you saw a soy protein isolate plant? All lab processed ingredients, down to the canola (ever heard of the canola plant? It doesn’t exist). Sure, you won’t find any partially hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup, as they claim, but it is maddening, the claim that this is all natural. Soy protein isolate is as processed and artificial as ingredients come.
3) Skim Milk–aside from the fact that conventional milk is pasteurized, destroying all enzymes and health-promoting nutrients, skim milk has been additionally processed, the fat stripped away so you’re left with a watery, low fat, highly processed and inert “beverage.” Listen, nature intended for milk to be packaged with its fat because its main vitamins, A & D, are both fat soluble, meaning they need to be consumed with fat to be absorbed by the body. Also, fat is not the enemy! You need fat for brain & cellular & skin health. Skim milk is just gross, and it is not a health food. If you tolerate dairy, seek out raw whole milk, brimming with immunoglobulins for a strong immune system and healthy gut.
4) Rice Cakes–one of my faves to pick on. Rice cakes are another processed food (do you see a trend here?). The methods by which the rice is puffed denatures the protein in the rice, changing the composition of the food (and making it a processed food; there is nothing natural about a rice cake). Aside from the fact that they taste like styrofoam, most have added sugar, and some even have corn syrup, which is worse than sugar due to the processing methods. If you need a quick crunchy snack, grab some Mary’s Gone Crackers brand gluten free cracker, and spread with nut butter or hummus.
5) Fake Meat Products–I could have a field day with this one, because of the fallacy that eating meatless products is better for your health. Most, if not all, of these fake chicken nuggets or soy dogs are highly processed and contain mostly artificial ingredients. Here is an example of part of a label from some “chik’n nuggets:”
TEXTURED VEGETABLE PROTEIN (SOY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, WHEAT GLUTEN, WATER FOR HYDRATION), BLEACHED WHEAT FLOUR, CORN OIL, CORNSTARCH, CONTAINS TWO PERCENT OR LESS OF WHEAT STARCH, SALT, METHYLCELLULOSE, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, DEXTROSE, AUTOLYZED YEAST EXTRACT, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS FROM NON-MEAT SOURCES, SUGAR, MALTODEXTRIN, DISODIUM INOSINATE, SOYBEAN OIL, HYDROLYZED SOY PROTEIN…..
Aside from processed soy, these contain MSG (modified starch, AUTOLYZED YEAST) and a whole lotta chemicals. If you are going to be a vegetarian or a vegan, avoid processed/packaged fake meats and cheeses and stick to mainly legumes and grains.
It is difficult to find “health” foods that are packaged. There are a few exceptions, such as Lara Bars (just dried fruit & nuts). Eat real food that is as close to its natural state as possible, and if you want to grab something on the go, make sure the ingredients are all whole foods (e.g. nothing autolyzed or isolated or hydrogenated) that you can pronounce.
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.