We've been bombarded by information and promotions on TV, Internet and the press by so called "experts" and celebrities to follow this diet or eat only that food, which they consider "healthy". But just because a food has “healthy” printed on its label or in its advertising, doesn’t mean that the food is actually healthy. You have to scrutinize the facts behind these recommendations and check nutrition labels of every food purchase for high calories, artificial ingredients, preservatives, and other red flags to determine whether or not it can be part of a balanced diet.
Let's look at some of the most common misleading information.
Many foods are promoted as “light,” fat-free, low-fat, or reduced-fat. In most of these foods, fat is being replaced by sugar or high fructose corn syrup to improve taste, resulting in similar or even higher calories. Remember that fats are a necessary component of a healthy diet, so you don’t need to be scared of them. Also most of these products cause an increase in insulin release, which contributes to more hunger and eventually weight gain and diabetes.
Although the term “diet soda” may bring to mind diet and health, there is no evidence that these calorie-free alternatives result in weight loss or prevent other chronic health conditions, such as diabetes. In opposite, there is more and more data that "diet soda" can cause weight gain, diabetes, bone loss and abdominal issues. It’s best to avoid drinking diet soda and favor better alternatives such as water, unsweetened tea, coconut water or coffee.
Sports drinks are filled with electrolytes and sugar, and are promoted as "replenishing" after exercise. While these drinks do have extra electrolytes, their high sugar content is comparable to that found in soft drinks. Sports drinks raise your blood sugar quickly, followed by a significant drop in 2 hours, contributing to fatigue and a decrease in endurance, in addition to contributing to the development diabetes and heart disease. Instead of reaching for a Gatorade or Powerade after a workout, go for plain old water with an addition of electrolyte powder or pickled water instead.
Lots of people are getting on the gluten-free bandwagon, and it’s tempting to think that these foods provide health benefits to more than just those with celiac disease. Unfortunately, gluten-free foods are not healthier and are more expensive than gluten alternatives. Finally, refined starches used as a substitute for wheat, in gluten-free foods, lack nutrients and may result in blood sugar spikes. Bottom line: Gluten-free is good only for people who can’t tolerate the gluten in wheat products.
Yes, dried fruits and nuts in granola are good for you in small amounts. But it’s unclear how much fat and sugar is really in the granola that you buy at the store, given the addition of sweeteners and oils. Consequently, granola can be packed with calories. Instead of eating pre-made granola, eat nuts and seeds as your snack or add them to the yogurt or salad.
Vegan or vegetarian foods
Many people are tempted to think that the buzzwords “vegan” or "vegetarian" automatically imply health. A lot of vegetarians tend to replace meat and fish with simple carbohydrates, like rice and pasta. Vegan foods, which are made only of plant products, can be very high in sugar, calories, fats, salt and preservatives. Examples of vegan foods that can quickly turn unhealthy include imitation meats, vegan pastas, veggie chips and seitan.
Agave nectar and Fructose
Agave is a plant found in hot, arid regions of Mexico, South America and the United States. It’s often processed into a fructose syrup devoid of nutrients. Because this sweetener isn’t glucose, it’s often marketed as natural, healthy, and diabetes-friendly. But like glucose, high levels of fructose cause excessive release of insulin and are converted to fat by the body, contributing to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
In limited amounts, dried fruits can be good for you, and contain up to 3.5 times the fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants of fresh fruit. But remember that dried fruits are also high in calories and sugar. Avoid buying dried fruit with added sugar (you can find out whether sugar is added by reading the ingredient list on the label) or preservatives, like sulfates.
Processed fruit juices and juice cocktails
Although the word “fruit” often resonates with the idea of health, processed fruit juice is mostly just sugar-water with a splash of antioxidants and vitamins. Furthermore, fruit juice lacks fiber. Even fruit juices that are labeled “not from concentrate” or “100% pure” contain added sugar and flavors. In the end, a 12-oz serving of apple juice can have even more calories than a 12-oz serving of Coca-Cola. Read labels and don't buy juice with added sugar as an ingredient. Fresh squeezed with no other ingredients is always best.
Smoothies sound delicious and healthy. Although they may be delicious, store-bought smoothies can be high in artificial sweeteners, fruit juice, fat and sweetened dairy products. Instead, opt for making your own smoothies at home where you can control the quality and quantity of ingredients used.
Do not get blindsided by labels. Go for natural, balanced nutrition, which includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, fish, meat and poultry. Do not forget our delicious water. And of course add fermented food for longevity.
For more information on healthy nutrition and lifestyle, please schedule an appointment with Dr. Koganski at 215-750-7000 or https://www.NewtownInternalMedicine.com