My top 5 ‘health foods’ to avoid

By Angela Steel.

Did you watch ‘The men who made us fat’ recently on BBC 2?

I’ve never seen a documentary lay out quite so clearly the reasons why our food has changed so much in recent years, and the power the food industry has (just from sheer political lobbying as well as huge advertising budgets that condition people to buy into their version of the truth about food.)

Low fat biscuits

Episode 1 tells the story of the ‘low fat’ boom and how, after the nation started getting fatter on processed and carb laden food, the industry saw this as a dream opportunity to market a new type of food: ‘low fat’ everything started appearing on the supermarket shelves.

It showed how people queued for certain ‘low fat’ biscuits, and went crazy for all kinds of other low fat foods (even more laden with sugar, to make up for the lack of taste from removing the fat).

This myth has proved so strong that it still lives on today, in the minds of many, etched there by millions and millions of pounds of advertising.

 

My top 5 so-called ‘health foods’ to avoid

I recently read a quote by a scientist, saying: “As a rule of thumb, it’s better to steer clear of any food with a health claim on its packaging”… I tend to agree! And it got me thinking: what would be my top 5 so called ‘health foods’ to avoid?

 

1. It has to be margarine, doesn’t it?! Generations of people have been led to believe that butter is the root of all evil because it contains saturated fat, and that they should replace it with the ‘lower fat’ margarine (especially if they have high cholesterol). Actually margarine is far worse than butter due to its manufacturing process: unstable oils (vegetable or sunflower) being denatured (through heat or hydrogenation) in order to change their consistency, making them ‘spreadable’…. and creating trans-fats in the process (which the body cannot recognise or process… far worse for our arteries).

 

2. Breakfast cereals: Yes I’m talking about all of them, except for porridge and the ‘good quality’ mueslis and granolas that are out there. Mostly I’m talking about the highly processed types (so present in kids’ diets!). Marketed as ‘fibre rich’ and ‘heart healthy’… yet in reality, I’ve lost count of the number of my clients who have improved their digestion and said goodbye to mid-morning cravings after exchanging these for alternative options!

 

3. Cereal bars: closely related to the above, of course, but these are in a whole class of their own! Their names often conjure up some very virtuous imagery: ‘nature’, ‘natural’, ‘fruit’, ‘grain’, ‘honey’ and other glimpses from a magical, wholesome world somewhere in the deep countryside.. don’t be fooled! The first one of these I checked online was made up of 11g of sugar (out of 21g total) – that’s more than half…

 

4. Well as we’re onto the subject of bars, let’s talk about drinks shall we? No, not alcoholic drinks (I haven’t seen any of those marketed as healthy – yet, anyway) – it’s fruit juice I’ve got in mind. This is a strong contender for the number 1 slot come to think of it. How many people are still under the impression that a tall glass of orange juice with breakfast is the epitomy of healthfulness? Many… and it’s not their fault. The advertising doesn’t highlight the 20g of sugar you get from just 1 cup (and that’s from freshly squeezed OJ!)

 

5. Now I think this is the prize winner: vitamin water! One bottle contains 33g of sugar (unopposed by any fibre to slow down its absorption – you can image the effect on blood sugars!). That’s more sugar than a can of coke contains. A few synthetic vitamins thrown in are hardly going to compensate for that fact, are they!

No wonder most people feel utterly bewildered about what makes a diet ‘healthy’.

This makes it so important for each of us to have a critical mind when it comes to our food choices. We should question everything before putting it into our mouth, even more so if its label is shouting loudly at us: ‘Look at me – I’m healthy!!!!!

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