Processed foods are the main reason that we, as a society, are heavier and sicker than ever. Unfortunately, food manufacturers have spent years and billions of dollars to convince us that there’s no better way to be happy, healthy and (gosh darn it!) full than to take advantage of the many foods they offer.
The foods (and claims) have evolved over time so I thought I would go over 7 of the current foods that pretend to be healthy…but aren’t.
The Big Empty (Calorie, That Is!)
Rice cakes and Pretzels
How did these guys become knighted heroes in the world of healthy eating? They’re nothing but highly processed foods that are full of empty calories. They must have a great PR guy!
The first commercial breakfast cereal, marketing in 1863 was called Granula. It was made from graham flour baked into a lump so hard it had to be soaked overnight to even be edible. Graham flour was, interestingly enough, named after Reverend Sylvester Graham, who soon joined forces with John Harvey Kellogg. After a falling out, Kellogg went on to start his own company to distribute his newest cereal, Cornflakes, which was considered to be more palatable than Granula.
In the years that followed, in the quest to make cereal desirable to the general public, even the healthiest brands have become highly processed products containing refined sugar while devoid of protein and nutritional value. In an effort to make them seem healthier, they are often “fortified”, which simply means synthetic substances have been added to replace the nutrition that was destroyed during the manufacturing process.
From the chemicals in the bags to the “buttery” flavor and “artificial and natural flavorings”, this stuff just has to go. Studies show that dangerous emissions (their word, not mine) released both during and after popping can lead to serious health issues including lung disease.
So what’s a girl to do when she really, really wants a crunchy snack? No, I’m not going to tell you to get a stalk of celery. I hate it when people say that because they know that’s not what I’m asking…
How about some good, old-fashioned, pop-it-yourself popcorn? It’s low in fat and calories but it also has a good dollop of nutritional value as well.
The Low Fat Low Sugar Wars
You see the claims blazing from every shelf in every aisle of the store. Low fat! Fat free! Low sugar! Sugar free! We all know that too much fat and sugar in our diets lead to a plethora of health problems so it’s best to stay completely away from it, right?
First of all, let’s clear up all the claims on those processed foods such as bottled salad dressing, baked goods, yogurts and the like. It’s a fact that when manufacturers reduce the fat in products that normally would contain it, they add more sugar or sodium.
Low sugar items usually contain artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose, which are associated with health risks.
So, although we don’t need lots of added fats and sugars in our diets, we do need some and a balanced diet of varied whole foods will take care of that nicely!
Magical Healing Foods
There’s no scientifically based or regulated definition for super food but the word has long been used to identify a food that’s rich in compounds considered beneficial to a person’s health.
The term was coined by the United Fruit Company around World War I to promote sales of bananas. This was right around the same time that the scientific world was beginning to isolate different vitamins and nutrients in regard to how their use (or lack of use) specifically affected the human body. When The American Medical Association published an article claiming that bananas cured Celiac Disease in children, United Foods ran with it. We now know this scientific finding to be faulty and that a banana is, sadly, just a banana.
You would have thought to be the end of the banana-as-a-superhero movement but, no. There was money to be made so the SuperFoods Express remained firmly on the tracks despite the fact that scientific studies show little benefit to focusing on them as a superior form of nutrition.
These studies look at the benefits of certain nutrients when used in very large quantities…certainly more than we could consume in a single sitting. They also look, in most cases, on just that nutrient or food, without considering that humans do not exist on a single source of nutrition. And the scary part? Some “super foods”, such as açaí berries and pomegranates, can actually damage your organs when ingested in large amounts.
Antioxidants are substances that inhibit free radicals from doing damage to our bodies. They rose to media fame in the 1990’s when scientists began to discover that people with a low antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetable intake were more likely to experience damage from these free radicals.
As trials began to run on these findings, the food industry began to tout and market antioxidant-rich foods such as green tea and blueberries. Supplements also became popular.
Despite the fact that studies are inconclusive on the benefits of upping your antioxidant intake (and, in some cases, indicated it could increase health issues), these products continue to see – if you’ll excuse the pun – healthy sales.
One thing the studies did prove? That people who ate more fruits and vegetables of any kind were healthier overall than those who ate less,
The Bottom Line
Focusing your attention on certain foods that are perceived to have some magical advantage over other foods may draw you away from the balanced, yet varied, diet that is so important to your health.
Let’s just ignore the hype, shall we? Get out there and grab some whole foods…anything you want. Take any kind of fruit or veggie, any kind of lean meat, any kind of whole grain and turn it into something delicious! Feel free to take a stroll through the Let’s Get Cooking section of this website for some great recipes including homemade salad dressing recipes such as thousand island, blue cheese and Caesar!
Don’t forget to let me know how it turns out in the comments below!
All my best,