September 2008

Flush Out Health Food Imposters

Author: Theresa Jackson

The reputation of foods seems to fluctuate as wildly as the stock market. Nutrition gurus have reversed themselves so many times it makes my head spin. Take margarine. Everyone thought this was a healthy food when it first came out. By now, most people know that it is loaded with trans-fats and far worse than the butter it replaced.

Consider other foods we used to shun but now embrace as good for us: certain fats, coconut oil, whole eggs and even coffee come to mind. But what about foods everyone thinks of as healthy? Could some of these be health-food imposters? Let’s take a look.

Canola oil. Here’s health imposter number one. It is a highly processed oil that needs to be chemically deodorized, which frequently creates trans-fats. In addition, the omega-3s in it are easily made rancid by heating. Canola oil’s presence in the marketplace is a triumph of marketing rather than science, as it is only one molecule away from being plastic. Use pressed organic canola oil only, if you use it at all.

Energy bars. Many “energy bars” are loaded with sugar. Some have trans-fats, and most have a ton of chemicals. Read the label carefully. Healthy choices should have at least 10 grams of protein, no hydrogenated oils and no more than a couple of grams of sugar. There are good bars that have more than three grams of sugar, but those are specialty whole-foods bars like LaraBars, which are made from nothing but real fruit and nuts. They’re fine, unless you’re watching your carbs. The other high-sugar bars tend to be only marginally better than candy. If it tastes “too good to be true,” it probably is.

Cereal. Many cereals today say, “made from whole grains.” So what? The fact that something started life as a whole grain doesn’t mean much if it was processed to death. And glycemic index figures from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition show that whole grains can raise blood sugar almost as high as processed ones can. Many “whole grain” cereals have been processed to the point that they have less than two grams of fiber per serving, which makes them fiber lightweights. Whole grain cereals with less than five grams of fiber per serving are probably no better than the cereals they replaced.

Salmon. Farm-raised salmon is another problem. Nutritionists have long urged everyone to eat salmon. It is high in omega 3s and it’s a wonderful source of protein and vitamins. The problem is, we now get most of our salmon from factory farms, not the open seas. They’re kept in pens, fed antibiotics, artificially colored and often contain far less omega 3 than their wild cousins. And according to a study in the American Journal of Science, farm-raised salmon contains significantly higher concentrations of PCBs, dioxin and other cancer-causing contaminants than salmon caught in the wild. Make sure you choose wild Alaskan salmon over the factory-farmed kind. If you can’t get it in the supermarket, try a company like Vital Source. They will ship the highest quality wild salmon and other fish directly to your door.

Soy. Soy’s not the worst thing in the world for you. But it’s been way oversold as a health food. The healthy kind of soy is traditionally fermented, like miso and tempeh, or minimally processed, like edamame. Fermented soy does have real health benefits. But manufacturers slap “soy” on the label of every kind of snack food from chips and nuts to cookies and ice cream, hoping that people will believe it’s a healthy food. It doesn’t become healthy just because it has soy on the label.

Frozen yogurt. The only resemblance frozen yogurt has to real yogurt is that they’re both white. Yes, it can be a delicious desert, but you shouldn’t fool yourself that there’s anything whatsoever that makes it more healthy than ice cream. In fact, the non-fat kind is filled with aspartame, which has been linked to cancer, according to Environmental Health Perspectives. Why not just eat the real thing—ice cream? Just get the highest quality you can find and eat it less often.

The takeaway point is to consider not just what you’re eating but the quality of it: where it comes from and how it’s made or grown. The healthiest foods are the ones that are minimally processed and closest to the state in which they were found in nature. If you could hunt it, fish for it, pluck it or gather it, it’s probably not a health food imposter!

Theresa Jackson is a certified clinical hypnotherapist and nutritional counselor who is also pursuing a doctorate in natural health. She is the founder & president of Wellness Within Centers, offering programs in weight reduction, smoking cessation, stress relief, healing from chronic illness, business and motivation, and golf performance improvement. You can reach the Wellness Within office at 843-986-9700.

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