Healthy foods all to often are both over-priced and tasteless. I’m not talking about the truly healthy foods, like garden fresh vegetables and tree ripened fruits. I mean the foods of supposed healthy convenience that allow us to shortcut preparation and to make us feel good about ourselves and our choices by opening a package or a bottle or a can.
Here are a few foods that are foisted upon us being healthy that may not necessarily be so, and why the claims and expectations may exceed the reality.
The two biggest names in the “vitamin water” game are the original Vitamin Water, owned by Coke, and Sobe Life Water, owned by Pepsi. If being marketed by these two purveyors of high fructose corn syrup laced poisons isn’t enough to raise the red flags, read on.
There are a bunch of other pale colored drinks with healthy sounding names playing the same game. Names that make it sound like they are plain old water with some nutrients added. Which is true, if you consider eight teaspoons of sugar a nutrient.
Vitamin Water and Life Water both contain 32.5 grams of sugar per bottle, so you might as well hydrate after a workout by drinking a bottle of water while eating a full sized Snickers. In fact, the Snickers has a tad less sugar, at 30 grams. But then again, you could go for the full rush of 45 grams of sugar and chug down a can of Coke.
I know there are low calorie versions out there, like Vitamin Water 10, but it still is made to appeal to people who prefer to drink their vitamins in a sweet, liquid formulation. And, after all, they’re just trading sugar for artificial sweeteners, which is a bad idea in a multitude of ways. Those sweeteners have some possible long-term side effects and might even trick your body into slowing down its metabolism, causing you to actually gain more weight than if you were on the regular stuff.
But maybe your particular brand uses stevia, the trendy natural sugar substitute. Well, at least be aware that stevia also has some questions about its use, and has been banned in the EU.
Basically, you name a sugar substitute, and a study somewhere will identify an organ failure or type of cancer associated with it.
Bran tastes terrible, proving that it must be good for you. That’s why it’s so much easier to stuff that sawdust-like substance down your reluctant gullet in the form of a bran muffin. Unfortunately, nearly any type of muffin you use is also sending the bran down with a spoonful of sugar and enough fat to choke a Sumo wrestler.
The main ingredient in muffins is cake, and the main ingredient in cake is fat. If you noticed that muffin wrappers tend to be grease soaked to the point of translucence, you might have put this together already. But you might not know that a medium-sized blueberry muffin has more calories than a McDonald’s Sausage McMuffin that’s the same size. Almost half of those calories are from fat. Actually, a third of the fat you are supposed to eat in an entire day.
Switching to bran doesn’t stop the muffin from being worth its weight in sausage, egg and heart attacks. Assuming bran muffins are any better for you is like replacing the chips in chocolate chip cookies for raisins and calling it health food. Structurally, it’s still mostly cookie. Switching to a bran muffin gets you down to a just under the calorie count of a Sausage McMuffin. Still a long way from healthy.
Trendy places like Starbucks are already on top of this with low fat muffins. While it’s true that they brought the fat calories down to a much smaller percentage of the whole, the overall calorie count is still very much in the McMuffin range. Also, by taking the fat out of a muffin it just ends up being a tasteless, dry, mutant form of a scone.
Granola and Cereal Bars
Granola bars. Now there’s a food that has to be good for you, right? If they taste awful, then maybe. If they taste good, it’s probably the same ingredients that make candy bars taste good: sugar, fat and chocolate.
Sure, these bars all look really similar, with white or green boxes sporting pictures of lumpy beige bars and smiling women in yoga clothes, but they run the gamut from healthy sawdust bricks to Snickers bars in eco-themed wrappers.
The Quaker Oats True Delights Bar, for instance, contains raspberries and chocolate and supposedly is pretty tasty. It had better, because pound for pound, it’s pretty much got the same amount of fat and calories as that Snickers bar.
Sure, there are granola bars out there that are actually good for you and not made of candy, but they taste like granola. If you want to be healthy, you gotta pay the price. Your body won’t like doing without fat because through most of the history of our species, fat meant quick energy we could use to run away from a woolly mammoth. So in spite of a wooly mammoth not being spotted in the known world for several thousand years, you can’t trick your body into not wanting it. You just have to suffer through and modify your taste and learn not to give into unthought-out impulses.
Fish has long been recognized as being good for you. It’s recommended by doctors, health nuts and the Japanese, who attribute their national average longevity to eating more fish per capita than almost anybody else on earth. It is opposed only by people who don’t like fish, and of course, fish.
However, in recent years, we’ve been hearing a lot of horror stories filled with claims that fish are poison. Strictly speaking, this is inaccurate. Fish aren’t poison. They’re merely filled with poisons.
The good news is you have a choice of what kind of poison you want to eat in your fish.
Do you prefer mercury? Try ocean fish. Apparently, the oceans are full of mercury, mostly thanks to coal-burning power plants and chemical processing plants and people dumping their obsolete computers, cell phones, and other devices which contain mercury. And almost all fish contain at least some trace amounts of mercury.
According to the EPA, children, pregnant women and women who think they might possibly get pregnant someday should completely avoid four species of fish that seem to be mercury superstars, while not eating more than one moderate serving of even a low-mercury fish a week.
You can avoid mercury by eating farmed fish. They have grown up nice and safe from mercury contamination. On the other hand, they may have been exposed to a toxic mixture of pesticide runoff, nutrient poor feeds laced with hormones, antibiotics, and other substances you just don’t want to know about. One expert suggests the safe limit on farm-raised salmon is one dinner every five months. I’m pretty sure my doctor wouldn’t raise too much of a fuss if I smoked cigars more often than that.
Fast Food Salads
In the recent crusade against unhealthy foods, fast food chains like McDonald’s have been trying to lure in the health nuts by promoting “healthy” items on the menu, like yogurts and salads.
The reason that “healthy” is in quotes is that fast food restaurants’ salads are often even worse for you than their burgers. The Wendy’s Mandarin Chicken Salad, for example, beats the quarter pound Wendy’s Double Stack cheeseburger in fat, sugar, carbs and total calories. Where’s the healthy choice in that?
Fortunately, most fast food restaurants have nutrition information brochures stuffed somewhere out of view that you can use to research menu items before diving in. The new health care bill actually requires them to put the info somewhere visible but that takes all the challenge out of it. So let’s just say if the salad has lots of
dressing, meat, cheese or bits of fried food on it, the addition of lettuce does not lessen the damage.
People associate protein with muscle, because that’s what muscles are mostly made of. However, muscles going into your stomach doesn’t translate to muscles coming out of your biceps. Your body breaks down what you eat into tiny components, and rebuilds these components into whatever it thinks it needs.
And to most Americans’ annoyance, what it thinks it needs is usually fat.
Again, you have to take a look back at evolution. Your body doesn’t know we haven’t moved out of the Stone Age. After all, it’s still on the lookout for that wooly mammoth. And the only way to convince your body that all this extra protein is supposed to be for making new muscle, and not fat, is to work out. And when you get done working out, work out some more.
If you are sitting on the couch or in a desk chair all day, your body doesn’t care whether you are giving it carbs or protein, it’s going to make what it wants to make out of them. Except that in making protein into carbs, or fat, it dumps the protein’s nitrogen and makes it into urea or uric acid which, in large amounts, can screw up your kidneys. And that could be forever if the damage is repeated over and over.
According to one expert, even a heavy exerciser would only need to double their protein intake at most. Most people need about 50 to 70 grams a day, depending on how much they weigh, and the average American eats about 100 grams a day as part of their normal diet. If you need more, you can easily get 30 to 60 grams from a single chicken breast.
If you want to lose weight, it might help to replace meals with protein shakes, by not adding protein shakes to your meals, but then you’re missing out on the vitamins, fibers, and nutrients you get from real food, leading to trouble in the long term. Ever wondered exactly what scurvy was? Try complete meal replacement and you just might find out.
So whether you’re a bodybuilder looking to buff up with minimal effort, or a fatty looking for a magic food substance that doesn’t make you any fatter, protein shakes aren’t really the answer.
Herbal supplements are a booming market of remedies ranging from old school to New Age. None of them are regulated by the FDA, so your bottle of Ancient Chinese Vitality Root could be powdered dog excrement for all you know. It could also cure cancer and help stall the aging process. It’s a crapshoot.
Consumer organizations do their best to keep an eye on these things, however, and Consumer Reports made a list of herbal supplements that are downright dangerous. Number one on that list is a Chinese remedy for eczema. This FDA alert tells of two people who took it hoping to clear up some skin problems and ended up needing kidney transplants.
One of the more well-known supplements on that list is kava, which is supposed to be a kind of herbal Prozac.
Unfortunately, evidence started to appear indicating that, while it might make you feel good, it also destroys your liver. Kava advocates theorize this might have been caused by companies looking to cut costs by grinding up the entire kava plant, including leaves and stems, which may contain toxins, in addition to the traditionally used root.
Which brings us back to the beginning: There’s no FDA to ask manufacturers, “Hey, what are you guys doing with the leaves and stems over there?” So they’ll just throw any old thing right in. They could be grinding up pulverized concrete and fruit fly larva for all any knows.
Remember: People still sell snake oil. They just market it in capsule form and put pictures of leaves on the bottle these days.