Making healthy food choices can be pretty confusing. For every time we read about some exciting new miracle superfood, it seems another, innocent seeming edible is placed on the Naughty List. Remember when we all thought fat was bad for us, and ate nothing but pasta for a decade? Then came the rise of the low-carb movement, with steak and bacon suddenly deemed healthy breakfast items.
And then there are the often misleading food labels and deceptive marketing campaigns, not to mention the studies that supposedly “prove” the health benefits of this or that food — studies that are sponsored by the food manufacturers themselves! This study, which extols the benefits of cocoa, for example, was publicized by Mars, Inc.
Some of those yummy flavoured yogurts can actually contain more sugar than a Twinkie
Here are 5 foods, widely considered to be healthful, which may not be as healthy as you think.
I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Really, really sorry. But here it is, fellow chocolate lovers: chocolate might not be as good for you as you think.
My favourite evening snack has long been a couple of squares of dark chocolate and a generous glass of red wine. I know what you’re thinking — “but it’s dark chocolate, so that’s okay, right?”
Well, maybe not.
Pure, unrefined cocoa contains flavonoids — antioxidants known to fight free radicals. But much of the chocolate we eat has been refined, a process which destroys those beneficial compounds. And dark chocolate doesn’t necessarily contain more flavonoids, even though it has a higher percentage of cocoa.
It appears there’s no way to tell whether your favorite chocolate bar contains any flavonoids at all. What it likely does contain is a whole lot of sugar and fat, and no real nutritive value. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop eating chocolate, but I am taking it out of my personal Healthy Snack Food category and putting it, sadly, in the Occasional Treat one.
2. Red Wine
I’m doubly sorry. It pains me to write this. But we might be a bit wrong on the red-wine-as-health-food idea too.
There are many studies on the very real benefits of moderate red wine consumption, but other studies show no marked benefit. So confusing! What we do know is that excessive alcohol intake comes with some pretty serious health risks, like diabetes, liver disease and chronic pancreatitis.
Having said all this, I’m not about to pour the rest of my Cab Sauvignon down the drain. The key appears to be moderation: one glass per day for women, two glasses for men. Think of it as a lovely, possibly healthy indulgence with your evening meal — and stop after a glass or two.
3. Flavoured yogurt
I became a vegetarian at the age of 15, sending my poor mother into a frenzy of trying to prevent me from dying of malnutrition. (In her defence, it was the 80’s. Our knowledge of nutrition wasn’t what it is today.)
One animal food I ate by the truckful was yogurt — especially the kind with the fruit on the bottom. My mom was delighted because she thought it was healthy and full of protein. So I ate more.
And yogurt is, indeed, a health food — the plain, unsweetened, boring kind, that is. But get this: some of those yummy flavoured yogurts can actually contain more sugar than a Twinkie!
If you love yogurt, stick with the plain Greek variety, which tends to contain more protein than the regular kind. Try to avoid yogurt made with thickeners such as gelatin, carrageenan or corn starch. These aren’t necessarily bad, but authentic Greek yogurt doesn’t need thickening. It’s so rich and satisfying, you won’t need more than a few tablespoons to satisfy you. And if you really need to sweeten it, stir in a touch of honey or maple syrup; you’ll likely add a lot less than the food manufacturers do.
What could go better with that Vanilla yogurt than a heaping serving of granola? Delicious, yes. But you might as well eat a doughnut for breakfast, with all the sugar you’ll be consuming.
Most commercial granolas are high-sugar products, with up to 12.5 grams of sugar per 100 grams. That’s more than an equal amount of Coke! And commercial granola is also often loaded with fat, which gives it that crunchy texture.
Try muesli instead. This Swiss breakfast staple is raw, often with no added sugars or salt. Even better? Make your own! Here’s a recipe that will make you feel ready to hike in the Alps.
5. Fruit juice
For a long time, drinking juice seemed like the perfect way to add healthy fruit to our diet in a hurry. But while eating fruit is definitely considered healthy, drinking only its juice will not provide the same benefits.
Many respected food experts warn against choosing juice over whole fruit. The reason? Juicing a fruit reduces the benefit of the fiber by pulverizing it (changing its physical structure) or by filtering it (eliminating it altogether). It also tends to increase the rate at which we consume the food, because we don’t need to chew it. It’s far easier to gulp down 8oz of orange juice than to eat the 4-5 oranges it takes to make it. This means we consume more sugar and faster, without the necessary fiber to slow the rate of absorption. My personal advice? Eat whole fruit often; dried fruit, sometimes. As for fruit juice? Another occasional treat.
Eating healthfully doesn’t mean you have to give up your favourite treats altogether. Go ahead and have that square of chocolate or that glass of Merlot. But reward yourself sparingly and they’ll taste even better!