Health foods: have we ever been so obsessed? Has there ever been such a deluge of information about health and nutrition? Government guidelines, books, diets, online forums, websites: all dedicated to what we should be putting into our bodies and what we shouldn’t.
We’ve seen ingredients vilified: first fat, then salt and now sugar. We’ve opted for low fat spreads, believing their health claims. We’ve swapped cakes for yoghurts and munched on granola bars instead of biscuits. But is it all a big con?
Have we been duped? The victims of a white wash marketing campaign that convinces us that we’re making the right eating choices by swapping one food from another.
What about the foods we feel ‘safe’ with? Foods that are unquestionably ‘healthy’? Wrapped in a healthy halo so tight, it would never enter our minds to question their health claims.
What about the foods we eat every day? Shopping basket daily buys that absolve us of the guilt of an occasional naughty treat?
Have we been conned? We’ve rounded up some of the most common seemingly ‘healthy’ foods that hide some shocking secrets.
Let’s start with cereal. A staple for many UK households. A breakfast favourite. We all know a bowl of Coco Pops is laced with sugar but what about bran flakes, granola, shredded wheat? They’re ‘fortified with vitamins and iron’ but what does that actually mean?
Because of the manufacturing process, cereal grains lose most of their nutritional value so need to be pumped with man-made nutrients to support any health claims. Essentially, it means these cereals are a processed grain with synthetic vitamins and minerals added in.
To make these cereals tasty, a lot of processed sugar is added too. So not quite as healthy as cereal brands would have us believe…
‘I’ll swap to multi-grain bread’ you might think. But should you? It’s better than white and brown – isn’t it? Isn’t it a healthy choice? Less processed and more natural?
Well yes and no. Many breads labelled ‘multi-grain’ are actually made from refined grains so you don’t get anywhere near the full nutritional benefit.
If you read the label and ‘wheat flour’ is listed as one of the first ingredients, you might as well buy white.
Skimmed & Semi Skimmed Milk
Bit of a shocker? Whilst you might think you’re making a healthier choice by drinking semi or skimmed milk, whole milk is packed with protein, calcium, zinc, iodine and vitamins A and B.
Stripped of the fat and reconfigured as semi skimmed and skimmed milk; it has dramatically less nutrients as well as less fat-soluble A, D, E and K vitamins. Plus, whole milk has more saturated and monounsaturated fats, which keeps you feeling full whilst supporting your metabolism.
Even worse, powdered milk is added to skimmed milk to improve its consistency to make it less watery. This means oxidised cholesterol is added, which can build up plaque in your arteries. On the other hand, the untreated cholesterol in whole milk acts as an antioxidant. If you want our advice: drink it whole.
Smoothies & Fruit Juices
Want to get your 5 a day in one big go? Have a refreshing smoothie… or perhaps not. Supermarket-bought smoothies and fruit juices do contain fruit but heaps of sugar too.
Despite their ‘healthy’ image, chemicals are stealthily added to preserve the longevity and improve the taste of these fruity drinks. The result: a one way ticket to a high insulin spike and a crashing come down.
If you love smoothies: make them yourself. Just add frozen or fresh fruit and whizz in a blender. A lot cheaper – and healthier – than their supermarket equivalent.
Come again? How can these fruit and vegetable lovers be eating unhealthily? Simple: eating processed ‘vegan foods’.
Today there’s everything from vegan bacon to vegan chocolate. Although marketers would have us believe that they’re super healthy, it’s just the same as junk food: if it’s processed, rather than a natural food – its synthetic chemicals and additives all bundled into one.
Protein & Energy Bars
They’ll give you energy before your workout. Yes they will, along with several teaspoons of sugar or high fructose corn syrup and synthetic protein. Yum. Supermarkets often place these bars amongst weight loss products or near to the tills so they can take your fancy whilst you wait in the queue.
Lured in by their ‘protein’ claims, the health buzzword de jour, whilst you may think you’re making a healthier choice by not choosing a chocolate bar, these protein or energy bars can be just as bad – or worse – especially if you’re not eating one right before a workout.
Want a quick snack – go for a bagful of natural, unflavoured nuts.
Sports drink or sugar water? They claim to help you ‘refuel’ or ‘replenish lost fluids and electrolytes after a workout’… and replace them with heaps of sugar your body just doesn’t need.
You may experience a quick explosion of energy but is that really worth the crash? The inevitable slump that follows? Pre-workout: you’re better off with a banana, post workout – a glass of milk with a sprinkling of sea salt thrown in.
Splashed across supermarket shelves and TV screens alike: baked crisps are one of the latest food trends. Whilst not necessarily considered healthy – marketers would definitely have us believe they’re ‘healthier’ than your average fried crisp.
Brands are keen to stress that their new baking formula reduces the fat AND the calories. It’s a win win… or is it?
Crisps are never going to be a healthy snack – baked or fried. Getting rid of half the fat means other ingredients need to be added to keep those crisps tasty. Whilst these ingredients may be GMO or gluten-free it doesn’t make them any healthier. Robbing Peter to pay Paul does not a healthy food-make.
So how do you make the right food choices?
As a rule of thumb: if you can’t understand or pronounce the ingredients – put it back on the shelf. If sugar (or one of its equivalents: high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, sucrose and molasses - to name but a few) are one of the first three items on the ingredients list – give it a miss.
Be shopper savvy: read the ingredient list religiously. Don’t believe the packaging: whilst a bottle of juice might claim it’ll give you 1 of your 5 a day - look beyond the marketing message and see what else it’s made of. You’ll soon spot the differences between heavily processed and more natural foods.
Cook at home: whilst you may think cooking from scratch will be time consuming, with a bit of planning, and the right appliances, homemade food can be quick and easy – and delicious. Plus, it means you have more control over what you eat.