I’m often surprised by the things I find in self-labeled “healthy eaters’ ” kitchens when I go to their houses. It’s not that I’m rummaging through their fridges and cupboards hunting down offending foods or anything, but the things I happen to see are often surprising.
Eating holistically takes effort, but a few small changes in your kitchen can go a long was towards leading a healthier lifestyle. Here’s a few of the offending foods I find most often.
Table salt has been refined of all its minerals except for sodium chloride. Unrefined sea salt has a full mineral profile including 92 different trace minerals. The human body needs a balance of minerals and when it takes in too much of just one type of mineral it can run into problems (eg. high blood pressure). Conveniently, unrefined salts tend to have a nutrient profile that mimics the needs of the human body. Although salt in general has been demonized, unrefined salts are actually quite good for you.
Alternative: Unrefined Sea Salt (Celtic sea salt, Himalayan Rock Salt, etc.)
Mood disorders, the eroding of intelligence, the affecting of short-term memory, headaches, killing of beneficial bacteria, gastrointestinal problems, migraines, seizures, dizziness, blurred vision, allergic reactions, increased blood sugar, weight gain, birth defects, cancer, brain tumors and diabetes – the list of complaints against artificial sweeteners is massive and seems to get bigger every day. You find these sweeteners in many “Diet” or “Sugar Free” products, but quite honestly these artificial sweeteners are worse for you than the sugar they’re replacing.
Alternatives: Unpasteurized Honey (not for cooking), Stevia, Agave Syrup, Real Maple Syrup
The edible oil industry started out convincing us that its product was healthier than butter despite the fact that it was made of hydrogenated oil, a significant source of trans fats. These days they’ve all switched to interesterified fats since hydrogenation is no longer a popular option. These fats have been found to raise blood glucose levels and depress insulin levels; unsurprising since the fats are something not found in nature. Why not use healthy, vitamin-rich organic butter, just as our ancestors did for generations without having any ill affects on their health?
Alternatives: Butter, Ghee
Remember how omega fatty acids are delicate and need to be protected from heat and light? Well guess what vegetable oil is primarily made of – polyunsaturated fats. Oils like sunflower, safflower, corn, and soy to contain at least 60% polyunsaturates. This high polyunsaturate content makes these oils very susceptible to heat and oxygen damage, and damaged oils are specifically associated with heart disease, raising cholesterol levels and a host of other health problems.
Alternatives: Olive Oil (for cold or light cooking applications), Coconut Oil (for higher temperatures), Butter
Everyone assumes soy milk is a health food, but in reality it is a processed food product. Soy should only be eaten if it has been fermented, as with soy sauce, miso, tempeh or nato. Otherwise it is full of anti-nutrients that are a detriment to your health. If you can find a fermented soy milk it would likely be quite healthy, but I’m convinced that no such product exists.
Alternatives: Almond Milk, Cashew Milk, Goat Milk, Homemade Nut Milks
Salad Dressing and Mayonnaise
Loaded with chemical preservatives, artificial flavorings, processed fats and MSG, bottled salad dressings are a good way to turn your healthy salad into something unfit for human consumption. Bottled mayonnaise is not much better with its damaged oils and preservatives. Considering these two condiments are so easy to make, and that you save a bundle making your own, why bother buying them pre-made.
Alternatives: Make you own!
From the Weston A. Price Foundation, “Dry breakfast cereals are produced by a process called extrusion… In his book Fighting the Food Giants, Paul Stitt has tells us that the extrusion process used for these cereals destroys most of the nutrients in the grains. It destroys the fatty acids; it even destroys the chemical vitamins that are added at the end. The amino acids are rendered very toxic by this process… This is how all the boxed cereals are made, even the ones sold in the health food stores. All dry cereals that come in boxes are extruded cereals… there are no published studies [on the effects of consuming of boxed cereals] at all in the scientific literature.”
Alternatives: Hot Cooked Grains, Poridge, Raw Granola
As stated in the Ayurvedic tradition “raw honey is medicine, cooked honey is poison”. Any health benefits you’ve heard about honey refer to raw, unpasteurized honey. The process of pasteurization kills most if not all of the nutrients and enzymes naturally present. Pasteurized honey is really just fancy sugar.
Alternatives: Unpasteurized Honey (found in farmers markets and specialty food stores)
Let me qualify this first by saying you could do worse for beverages than store bought pasteurized juice – sodas, diet sodas, sugar filled powdered drinks. But pasteurized juices are not something to be drinking regularly. The pasteurization of the juice kills all the heat sensitive vitamins and enzymes, making the juice little more than a sugar drink. The only time I condone drinking these juices is as a base for a smoothie that includes whole fruits and vegetables with all their vitamins, fiber and enzymes intact.
Alternatives: Fresh Juices, Homemade Whole-Fruit-&-Vegetable Smoothies
Sauces and Seasonings
Bottled sauces like bbq sauce or sweet and sour sauce are rarely anything more than sugar, color and artificial flavorings. Similarly, spice mixes and flavor packets are nothing but salt or, worse yet, MSG. This is lazy cooking that really isn’t saving you much time, but you’re paying for it with your health.
Alternatives: Real Herbs and Spices
Cold cuts, hot dogs, bacon, even veggie dogs and burgers, often contain preservatives known as nitrates. They’re added to prevent oxidation, for flavor and for their anti-microbial properties. Nitrates, and their close cousin nitrites, are highly toxic and carcinogenic and, worse yet, can cause methaemoglobinaemia, a condition characterized by headache, weakness, tachycardia, and breathlessness which occurs with excessive conversion of haemoglobin to methaemoglobin, which is incapable of transporting oxygen. There is evidence that natural foods, like raisins, could actually be used as an alternative to nitrates in these foods.
Alternatives: Real Meat, Nitrate-Free Meat or Veggie Products.
The Whites – White Bread/Pasta/Rice
So much has been written about the benefits of choosing whole grain products over refined ones it hardly seems worth mentioning. Whole grain products have more fiber, more nutrients and, in my opinion, more flavour than their refined counterparts. Seems like a no-brainer.
Alternatives: 100% Whole Grain Breads, Alternative Grain Pastas, Brown Rice
The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef, living in Toronto.