“Healthy” Foods That Are Not So Healthy

9th July 2021
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“Healthy” Foods That Are Not So Healthy

In a world full of food manufacturers, with clever marketing and a lack of science behind their claims, it can often become confusing to know exactly which foods are healthy when you’re navigating the supermarket. With huge signs at the end of each aisle, telling you exactly why the latest products will turn your health around, it’s easy to fall into their well set traps and spend a fortune on “healthy” foods that are not so healthy. 

Let us give you a run through of those “healthy” foods that may actually cause more harm than good, so you know what to avoid next time you’re navigating the supermarket. 

Vegetable crisps/chips 

Yes, there may be real vegetables on their ingredients list however, those thin slices of veggies – that are far too small to provide any real nutritional value – are fried in sunflower oil to get the crunch you’re so familiar with. Not to mention, their sodium content, mixed with their carbohydrates and fat content, makes them so addictive that you’ll struggle to stop yourself going back for more. 

Vegetable crisps, in reality, are no healthier than a standard packet of potato crisps. If you are looking to satisfy your craving for crunch, there are ways to do so without jeopardising a healthy lifestyle. Here are a few ideas: 

  • Raw vegetables such as carrots, celery, peppers/capsicum dipped into homemade guacamole or hummus. 
  • Nuts and seeds sprinkled over Greek yogurt with berries for a healthy breakfast.
  • Sauerkraut and kimchifermented foods bring huge benefits to your gut health and these specific ones are deliciously crunchy and crisp. Add to a salad or alongside your eggs in the morning.
  • Parmesan crisps – take a teaspoon of grated parmesan cheese and drop onto parchment paper in circles. Pop them into a preheated oven for 3-5 minutes, at 200℃, until golden, take them out and let them cool. They go perfectly alongside bolognese or atop a Caesar Salad – just be sure to count the calories on fasting days.
  • Prosciutto crisps – preheat the oven to 180℃, line prosciutto on a baking tray and bake for 10-15 minutes until crunchy. Make sure to let them cool and then enjoy alongside salad. 

Low fat products 

Over the past few years, there has been an abundance of new evidence that recognises the health benefits of full fat products and from our understanding, the marketing strategy of low fat products is becoming exposed. 

A few reasons we should be avoiding “low fat”:

  • Low fat products are stripped of their nutrients and often laden with additives and sugar. This is to compensate for the flavour that gets removed in the process of making them fat free.
  • Products high in sugar and low in fat will spike your glucose levels and leave you craving more as there is nothing to prolong the energy release. 
  • Eating healthy fats, rich in mono and poly-unsaturates will not only satisfy your taste buds but curb your appetite too as they slow the rate in which the stomach empties, delaying its cue to signal for more food.

A study, carried out by researchers at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute, tracked the diets of 20,000 women over a period of 20 years. The study found links between the consumption of full fat dairy products (milk and cheese) and weight loss. Over a ten year period, the women who regularly consumed full fat milk saw a lower BMI.

This was backed by another study that followed 1,600 healthy middle-aged men over an 11 year period. The ones that ate butter and drank full-fat milk were half as likely to become obese to those eating low-fat spreads and skimmed milk. It is likely that the reason behind this is that full fat products keep you energised and full throughout the day, meaning the desire for sugary top ups is curbed. 

Margarine 

While once placed on a pedestal for being a “healthy version” of butter, with the potential to improve heart health, scientific evidence is now saying the opposite. In fact, there was never much scientific research behind these claims to begin with. Yes, margarine has less saturated fat than butter however, saturated fat is not necessarily a bad thing.  

In the past, it was believed to raise cholesterol and increase risk of heart disease. However, scientists from Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard have found that this view had been overstated and new studies have found no direct link between saturated fats and heart health. 

Margarine itself is processed and made from vegetable oil. As vegetable oil is liquid at room temperature, a process called hydrogenation takes place, which resultantly creates trans fat. Trans fats should be avoided where possible as there is a plethora of scientific evidence linking increased intake of trans fat with inflammation, heart disease, stroke and poor cholesterol. 

Alternatively, butter is made from churning cream, a natural whole food. As a concentrated dairy product, we’re not advising you to lather butter onto every meal; however, a small amount every now and then will cause far less harm than processed margarine and spreads.

Flavoured Porridge

Make it yourself from rolled oats and water, or whole milk, and you’ve got yourself a winning breakfast. However, if you’re finding yourself with the “just add water” sachets, you may as well be having three spoonfuls of sugar instead as some brands have an astonishing 16g of sugar per serving.

Breakfast cereals 

It can often be overwhelming with the amount of options when it comes to the cereal aisle in the supermarket. As a result, most opt for the boxes that look the healthiest however, even cereal boxes with a 4 star health rating in Australia, or mostly green boxes if you’re in the UK, can contain upto 23% sugar. Be cautious as even the ones with high fibre ingredients, like bran and oats, are still laden with sugar.

Granola falls into the same category; quite often considered to be a healthy option, shop bought granola is incredibly high in sugars, carbohydrates and calories. Not only this, the recommended serving size is considerably smaller than you may think with most brands recommending 40g, which is the equivalent of around 3 tablespoons. 

If you enjoy granola or cereal for breakfast, always check the ingredients and avoid any with dried fruits and chocolate chips. Or, better yet, make your own and top with Greek yogurt and fresh berries. 

Here’s our Basic Muesli recipe, along with our Chocolate Protein Porridge, that have both been huge hits with members of The Fast 800 Online Programme:

Vegan and gluten free processed foods

Just because the label says gluten free or vegan doesn’t mean they’re instantly healthy. On Dr Michael Mosley’s recent Channel 4 show, 21 Day Body Turnaround with Michael Mosley, he met a “junk food vegan” who was putting her life at risk by consuming unhealthy vegan foods, high in trans fat, sugar and simple carbohydrates. 

By swapping out processed, ready to eat meals for fresh, healthy whole foods with protein through sources like tempeh and chickpeas, Michael’s vegan volunteer was able to improve her Vo2 max score – a measurement of a person’s individual aerobic capacity – by 10 per cent, in just 21 days. 

Commercial salad dressing 

You may think that the salads you’re eating each day are helping you achieve better health, however, they may be the reason you’re struggling to make progress. Not only do commercial dressings have a significant amount of calories per serving (and not many of us actually stick to the recommended serving of one tablespoon), they’re also packed with additives, to extend their shelf life, thickeners, hidden sugars and other nasties that simply don’t belong in your cupboard! 

Instead of highly processed dressings, try a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon or a glug of good quality balsamic vinegar (just definitely not the glaze!).

How to avoid “healthy” foods that are not so healthy

The best possible way to avoid these big brand claims and long standing rumours around “health” foods is to cook fresh, whole foods each day that align to a Mediterranean-style diet. Or, if you are looking for convenience foods, find ones that are made up of only great ingredients, like The Fast 800 shakes. If you do go for prepackaged foods, always read the ingredients carefully and if you wouldn’t find the ingredients in your cupboard, or you’re not entirely sure what they are, it’s best to leave the item firmly on the shelf!

 

References arrow down

Holmberg S, Thelin A. High dairy fat intake related to less central obesity: a male cohort study with 12 years’ follow-up. Scand J Prim Health Care. 2013;31(2):89-94. doi:10.3109/02813432.2012.757070 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3656401/ 

Chowdhury R, Warnakula S, Kunutsor S, Crowe F, Ward HA, Johnson L, Franco OH, Butterworth AS, Forouhi NG, Thompson SG, Khaw KT, Mozaffarian D, Danesh J, Di Angelantonio E. Association of dietary, circulating, and supplement fatty acids with coronary risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2014 Mar 18;160(6):398-406. doi: 10.7326/M13-1788. Erratum in: Ann Intern Med. 2014 May 6;160(9):658. PMID: 24723079.

Sun Q, Ma J, Campos H, Hankinson SE, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Rexrode KM, Willett WC, Hu FB. A prospective study of trans fatty acids in erythrocytes and risk of coronary heart disease. Circulation. 2007 Apr 10;115(14):1858-65. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.106.679985. Epub 2007 Mar 26. PMID: 17389261.

Mozaffarian D, Clarke R. Quantitative effects on cardiovascular risk factors and coronary heart disease risk of replacing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils with other fats and oils. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009 May;63 Suppl 2:S22-33. doi: 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602976. PMID: 19424216.
Lopez-Garcia E, Schulze MB, Meigs JB, Manson JE, Rifai N, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Hu FB. Consumption of trans fatty acids is related to plasma biomarkers of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction. J Nutr. 2005 Mar;135(3):562-6. doi: 10.1093/jn/135.3.562. PMID: 15735094.

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