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Healthy Foods to Avoid (Part 2 of 2)

In the first article in this two-part series we talked about four healthy foods that aren’t so healthy: yogurt, low-fat cheese, wheat bread, and vegetable oil.

Time for four more. Starting now …

Margarine

foods to avoid listMargarine and other pseudo-butters are actually worse for you than real butter. Esteemed cardiologist Aseem Malhotra agrees.

When researchers analyzed the effects of butter vs. margarine from the famous Framington Health Study, they found something astonishing: heart attack incidence increased with higher margarine consumption and decreased slightly with people who ate more real butter.

It’s important to note that most margarines have now phased out trans fats—the deadly type of fat that could account for some of those numbers. However, nearly all margarine and so-called “better than butter” products are still loaded with artificial ingredients, fillers, and inflammation-causing oils.

Food marketing is largely to blame for the surge in butter substitutes and mass confusion among consumers. As we all know, health claims sell. But the claims with fake butter products are unproven.

What to Eat Instead

  1. Choose a grass-fed butter from a local farmer.
  2. Buy grass-fed butter brands like Organic Valley and Kerrygold.

Diet Soda

diet sodaWhen doing research for this article, I asked myself, “If diet soda has no calories, what the heck is it made of?”

The answer surprised me, and I think it’ll surprise you too.

Here are three of the most common ingredients you’ll find in diet soda:

  • Caramel color: the distinctive brown hue in your can of diet soda comes from caramel coloring, which contains a chemical (4-methylimidazole) that has been shown to cause cancer in animal studies. This led California to place it on its list of banned carcinogens—but soft drink companies still use it in states outside of CA.  Check out this video from Consumer Reports about the dangers of caramel color.
  • Aspartame: the infamous artificial sweetener has also been shown to cause cancer in some animal studies. Other studies say it’s safe, which the FDA agrees with. I prefer to avoid it whenever possible.
  • Phosphoric acid: this chemical has similar effects on your teeth as battery acid. Check out this video made by the Natural News Forensic Food Lab for disturbing visual proof.

So it’s clear diet soda has some shady ingredients but it probably won’t cause cancer unless you drink mass amounts.

But don’t grab that two liter of Diet Pepsi just yet. Because here are a few other studies that looked at the effects of diet soda you might want to take note of.

  1. Researchers at the University of Texas followed 474 diet soda drinkers for nearly 10 years. They found that diet soda drinkers’ waists grew 70 percent larger than the waists of non-diet soda drinkers. And, those who drank two or more diet sodas a day had a 500 percent greater increase in waist size.
  2. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that people who drink sweetened beverages, especially diet drinks, are more likely to be depressed.
  3. Diet soda has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. A “link” doesn’t imply causation but it’s still something to think about.
  4. Consuming fructose and sugar substitutes such as sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners found in diet soda can change the bacteria in your gut so it affects your metabolism and your body’s hunger signals, according to another NIH study.

What to Drink Instead

If you need a caffeine boost, stick with coffee or tea. Or just plain water if you want to stay hydrated. Diet soda has no redeeming qualities, and probably will do more harm than good over the long-term.

Frozen Yogurt

unhealthy frozen yogurtMost people think frozen yogurt is healthier than ice cream because it’s lower in fat.

If you’ve read previous articles on my site, you know that “low fat” and “healthy” aren’t always synonymous.

Let’s dig into fro-yo a bit further …

One of the ingredients found in many frozen yogurts, propylene glycol, is a preservative and thickening agent that’s a common ingredient in antifreeze.

But that’s nothing compared to this: what if I told you the “natural flavors” found in most frozen yogurts you’re eating are made from beaver anuses?

Yes, you read that correctly.

Strawberry and vanilla “natural flavor,” according to the world’s largest flavor manufacturing company, can come from a beaver’s backside.

Gross.

If you can remove that unpleasant thought from your brain, let’s break down a few popular yogurt brands.

A half cup of Ben and Jerry’s Low Fat Chocolate Fudge Brownie Frozen Yogurt has 22 grams of sugar—8 more grams than a half cup of their coffee ice cream! And the low fat concoction has highly processed ingredients like refined flour, soybean oil, and corn syrup.

How about the Strawberry Yogurt at TCBY? Their website says, “It’s surprising how such a small berry can pack such a huge punch!” It’s also surprising that a company that advertises itself as a “healthy alternative to ice cream” packs 18 grams of sugar into a ½ cup serving. And contains propylene glycol (antifreeze) and red dye 40, which researchers say may be carcinogenic (cancer causing).

What to Eat Instead

Ignore the fat and navigate straight to the ingredients list. Ice cream is supposed to be a treat, so in its natural form it will have cream, milk, sugar and not much else. Plain vanilla or chocolate are usually good bets. I try and look for all natural ice cream with 20 grams of sugar or less per half cup serving.

If I’m going to splurge, I’d much rather have real ice cream than an anti-freeze and beaver ass parfait.

Maybe that’s just me though.

Health Bars

protein bars to avoidEnergy bars. Protein bars. Meal replacement bars. Whatever name you like to call them, the fact is most of them are downright awful for you.

There are several reasons for this.

Most contain:

  1. Massive ingredient lists filled with highly-processed chemicals and preservatives.
  2. Too much sugar.
  3. Too much salt.
  4. Trans fat.

Here’s an example: Kellogg’s Special K Protein Meal Bar (Chocolate Peanut Butter). The outside of the box says “Satisfies Hunger Longer.”

Is your satisfied hunger worth this laundry list of processed junk?

Coating (sugar, partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil, cocoa processed with alkali, whey, nonfat milk, soy lecithin, sorbitan monostearate, salt, artificial flavor, polysorbate 60), soy protein isolate, peanut butter (peanuts, hydrogenated rapeseed and cottonseed oil, salt), corn syrup, inulin, fructose, sugar, rice starch, polydextrose, rice cereal (rice, wheat gluten, sugar, defatted wheat germ, salt, high fructose corn syrup, whey, malt flavoring, reduced iron, niacinamide, pyridoxine hydrochloride [vitamin b6], riboflavin [vitamin b2], thiamin hydrochloride [vitamin b1], folic acid, vitamin b12), dextrose, contains two percent or less of calcium carbonate, soybean and palm oil with tbhq for freshness, glycerin, sorbitol, salt, natural and artificial flavor, ascorbic acid (vitamin c), soy lecithin, mono- and diglycerides, xanthan gum, polysorbate 80, d-alpha tocopherol (vitamin e), niacinamide, zinc oxide, reduced iron, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin b6), vitamin a palmitate, riboflavin (vitamin b2), thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin b1), almond flour, partially defatted peanut flour, wheat starch, vitamin b12, folic acid, bht for freshness, vitamin d.

If you read between the lines here, you’ll see that the “coating” on this bar is largely made up of trans fat (partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil). I started counting all the different types of sugar in this small bar and lost count at 5. Nutritionally-speaking, you’re looking at 15 grams of sugar and 10 percent of a day’s sodium for most folks.

So let’s say you opt for a Clif Bar instead. Much better option, right? 70 percent organic ingredients. Nice packaging that screams “I’m healthy”. Pictures of outdoor enthusiasts. What’s not to love?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news again, but the number one ingredient in most Original Clif Bars is sugar. And just because Clif uses “organic brown rice syrup” doesn’t make it any better for you than non-organic, plain old table sugar.

So let’s talk about some better options.

What to Eat Instead

Look for bars with minimal, all natural ingredients (5 or less is a good rule). Stay away from ones with sugar as one of the first two ingredients, and avoid bars with over 10 grams of sugar total.

Kind Bars and Larabars are both good bets.

Wrap Up

Every day one of the most important decisions you make is the food you choose to put in your body.

Whether or not you take action and apply this knowledge is up to you. At the very least, here’s my advice: ignore the front of food packages. The only way to find out what’s in packaged food is to read food labels and look at the ingredients and nutrition facts panels.

Or here’s an even better idea: eat real food—more fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, meats, and whole grains.

When you do, you’ll discover this is the real “secret” to getting healthy … and staying that way.

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