So Called Health Foods That Aren’t Healthy

Sometimes shiny packaging or the right buzz words distract us into making purchasing decisions we might not otherwise bother with.

You see something on an infomercial that looks like it’s the bee’s knees, but once it gets to your home, you open the box and your heart sinks because what you’ve got is not what you thought it would be. It’s cheaper, flimsier, smaller or just not as cool as it looked in the commercial. But the advertising was good, you fell for it and now you’re left with less that what you expected.

This same kind of thing happens in the food world all the time too. Advertisers know what sells, so they hype up their products to be more than they are, knowing full well that we, the public, will probably end up falling for it. The only difference is that with food, you often don’t know you’ve been duped. It tastes good, so you keep eating it, thinking you’re getting some health benefits to boot.

Here are a few of the common products and buzz words used to sell us on “health” foods that actually aren’t so healthy.

Antioxidants — Sure, antioxidants are good for you. Really good for you. But you don’t need them added to your bread, breakfast cereal and orange juice. You get a good amount of antioxidants if you’re eating your fruits and vegetables and throw in the occasional superfood. Foods fortified with antioxidants are just a gimmick. It’s a way for producers to cover up the fact that their processed food isn’t particularly good for you. Don’t buy a product because it has antioxidants added, get your antioxidants from real foods or supplements.

Health Beverages — Essentially, these are soft drinks with some vitamins and herbs thrown in. Don’t let the green bottles with pictures of butterflies on them fool you; this is not the stuff that a healthy diet is made from. Even if it has brewed herbal tea, 100% of your vitamin C or 10% real juice, if there’s a bunch of sugar, chemicals and preservatives in it, it’s not good for you. Also watch for “natural flavors.” These are chemical flavorings and they’re anything but natural.

Omega-3 Fortified Margarine — The only reason these spreads even exist is to provide a way of replacing natural fats with fake ones, or at the very least blending fats to make them mimic the way other fats look, feel and taste. But why bother? Now that the myth of saturated fats being bad for you is starting to come apart, the spreads are having difficulty justifying their existence. If butter is perfectly healthy (which it is), what’s the advantage of a processed spread? So they’re adding things like omega-3 fats to their blends to try to hang on to their customers. Fish are the ideal foods to be getting your essential omega-3s from, seed oils like flax or chia are second best. Processed foods, like fortified fat spreads, orange juice or bread are not a good source since they come with all the other processed ingredients in tow.

Organic Junk Food — Now don’t get me wrong here — organics are a good thing. It’s important to eat organic as much as you possibly can, avoiding the chemical pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and whatever else they’re spraying on things these days. It’s also the only way to be sure you’re not eating genetically-modified foods. BUT, the organic label is not the same thing as “healthy”! Organic potato chips are still potato chips. Organic candy is still candy. It’s not magically made to be a health food simply because its ingredients have been grown without the use of pesticides. Junk food is junk food, people. Organic junk is better than non-organic junk, but it’s still junk.

Sugar By Another Name — Sugar is not good for you. Even fancy or healthy sounding sugar like “evaporated cane juice” (juice is good for me, right?), “raw sugar” (raw foods are healthy!) or other misleading terms — it’s all sugar. Even organic sugar is still sugar. It may not be genetically modified, but it’s still going to negatively affect your blood sugar levels, it’s still going to rot your teeth and it’s still going to ruin your health. Maple syrup, agave, honey, cane juice crystals, sucanat, turbinado, demerara, concentrated fruit juices, anything ending in ‘ose’ — all sugar. Don’t be fooled!

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, holistic nutritionist and trained chef working in Toronto, Canada.

A Quick Review:

I agree that this isn’t entirely accurate especially the stuff mentioned on anti-oxidants. I recently learned this during my University lecture in the course, “Nutrition and Food”.

Anti-oxidants are good for reducing free radicals/oxidative species in the body because they help, “oxidize” their electrons and give them to the free radicals which requires electrons to be stable/satisfied in order to prevent the body from any hypersensitivity (e.g. high in Na and Cl ions (the free radicals) in NaCl (aka salt) will cause hypertension).

One should avoid taking supplements when taking antioxidants unless it’s absolutely necessary that you’re not consuming any foods high in anti-oxidants which is unlikely. Also, labels termed, “Rich in anti-oxidants” are actually good for you, but if they mention that they help prevent cancer or cardiovascular disease, then that’s when it’s termed inappropriate to label, “High in anti-oxidants” on food products. Overall, more research should be done on labels containing, “Anti-oxidants.”