10 Not-So-Healthy ‘Health Foods’ You Should Avoid
In our quest for better health and fitness many of us overlook basic nutrition principals that are guaranteed to provide the results we seek. Instead, we look for shortcuts to maintain our cravings for sugar, salt and refined carbohydrates.
Some foods provide optimal energy, but are almost devoid of any nutritional value. Others provide almost no energy and are eaten at the expense of those which promote an optimal caloric balance and sufficient raw materials for recovery and growth. Bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts who want the best of all worlds (low body fat levels, increased energy, and lean muscle gains) must achieve a sustainable and effective macronutrient balance, one that fits their individual requirements and body type.
From specific foods that are purported to increase our metabolic rate to those marketed as ‘healthy’ alternatives, we are bombarded with an increasing array of dietary choices. Unfortunately, many of the foods we select are based on misinformation and may even contribute to fat gain and muscle wastage.
#1 – Fruit
Fruit, in its many guises, has been green-lighted by many dietitians and nutritionists as a superior means to placate one’s sweet tooth. However, fruit, and especially fruit juices and dried fruit (highly concentrated sugars), are by no means ‘free foods’ (foods to be eaten at will). While 2-3 pieces of fruit per day may be a good way for most active people to obtain valuable micronutrients and boost muscle glycogen stores, its angelic reputation is for the most part undeserved.
For those who are less than active, most fruits should be avoided all together. Did you know that an average sized apple or banana contain anywhere from 17 g to 20 g of sugar?
Comprised primarily of fructose (a single-sugar monosaccharide), fruit can be high calorie and, eaten in excess, may contribute to high blood sugar levels, energy fluctuations and unwanted weight gain. As with most things, moderation is key when eating fruit. Do not assume it to be in the same macronutrient category as other carbohydrate-based foods (which may provide more sustaining energy levels and greater satiety value).
#2 – Diet Soda
The many adverse effects diet drinks may promote have been widely documented, but there is one which should have all health conscious folk swearing off them for life: obesity. Yes, that’s right, rather than enabling one to lose weight, diet drinks can seriously disrupt the body’s natural ability to regulate calorie intake based on how sweet certain foods taste. In fact, downing the diet colas can trick the body into thinking it is eating sugar; as a result, one may overeat based on the food cravings that ensue.
It has also been reported that diet sodas may cause kidney decline. An 11-year-long Harvard Medical School Study of more than 3000 women found that more than two diet sodas per day can adversely affect kidney function; the same effects did not hold true for sugar sweetened soft drinks. Kidney functioning is crucial for fat loss and offsetting water retention. For the fitness minded, diet drinks are best avoided as their potential risks outweigh any possible benefits. Stick with pure, or naturally flavored, water.
#3 – Frozen Yogurt
Often referred to among health savvy consumers as ‘junk food in disguise’, frozen yogurt is no health food. Though there are diet versions available, the so-called ‘fat free’ kinds, even these are so packed with sugar as to render them off limits for serious health-conscious people. Indulge in these occasionally on ‘cheat days’, but do not use them as a substitute for high fat dairy desserts, which should also be avoided for obvious reasons.
Many are under the impression that frozen yogurt will supply a decent serving of beneficial probiotics to enhance digestive and immune system health. While probiotics are contained in yogurt many of these, due to various manufacturing processes, shelf life, and stomach fluids, do not enter the digestive tract. With frozen yogurt, probiotics are even less likely to exert their benefits due to the extreme temperatures this treat is subjected to.
#4 – Sports Drinks
A common misconception, especially among the younger generation, is that sports drinks are better for you than carbonated soda drinks and other sugar laden beverages. While they may be incrementally “better” for you – or more fully, “not as bad” for you – these sports drinks are loaded with sugar and salt to improve their flavor.
If you talk to people who consumed the original sports drink, Gatorade, back when it was the drink of choice of the Florida Gators, you would be surprised to learn that it tasted terrible. It was developed to be consumed during intense activity as a re-hydration drink for depleted athletes, not as a recreational beverage to be had with lunch. It has since been purchased by PepsiCo, and needless to say, the formula has changed dramatically.
#5 – Honey
Many health conscious people substitute honey for regular sugar thinking that it is better for them. In actuality, honey and the more commonly used sugars are nutritionally very similar. Like regular sugar, honey is a disaccharide (two single sugar molecules, glucose and fructose, joined together). Supplying around 350 calories per 100 grams, both honey and regular sugar provide roughly the same energy content and, equally, can promote raised insulin levels and, if eaten in excess, obesity.
Though honey is popular due to its unique taste and does contain some vitamins and trace minerals, it is not a healthy substitute for the more socially tarnished sugars. Finally, the widely purported antioxidant benefits of honey do not stack up to scientific scrutiny – when subjected to the assessment technique Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, or ORAC, honey scores extremely low (behind apples, brewed tea, strawberries and other foods).
#6 – Low Fat Peanut Butter
Most peanut butters are not, despite their healthy fat and protein content, a healthy nutritional choice. The so called reduced fat kind is particularly detrimental to overall health and well-being. Containing almost as many calories as full fat versions, reduced fat peanut butter often includes added sugar, partially hydrogenated oils (which raise bad LDL cholesterol levels), and sodium.
If you have to consume peanut butter (a calorically dense option for those bulking) stick with the all natural kind – this means the only ingredient listed on the label is peanuts. Or better yet, stick to a hand full of raw nuts!
#7 – Muesli & Granola Cereals
A favorite among newly initiated to ‘the healthy lifestyle’, these breakfast options should be avoided at all costs. The reason why muesli and granola are so popular is due to the massive amounts of oil and sugar that are added to increase their palatability.
Often laden with dried fruit (READ: concentrated sugar) and in many cases soaked in fruit juice to soften, and then toasted (a process during which further sugar and fat are added), most of these so-called healthy breakfast foods are best avoided. Instead, look for alternatives that contain zero added sugar, small amounts of dried fruit, are un-toasted, contain less than 3 g of saturated fat per 100 g, and include less than 20 g of carbohydrates per serving.
#8 – Sushi
Loaded with sodium and high glycemic carbohydrates, and easy to over indulge in, sushi, though superior to high fat fast foods such as burgers and fries, may need to be reconsidered as a healthy choice. For bodybuilders and fitness minded folk, sushi also supplies so little protein (pieces of chicken and fish so small that one would need to consume around 15 pieces of sushi to obtain significant protein) that it would be best to stick with pure protein sources such as skinless chicken and other lean meats.
If you cannot forgo this tasty treat, go for sashimi (thinly sliced raw seafood, often layered over a small serving of rice).
#9 – Spinach Pasta
Because of its name, many people mistakenly believe that spinach pasta will provide more health benefits than plain white pasta or even the whole wheat variety. Though the coloring and name may suggest a bounty of health benefits (after all, spinach, featuring a rich compliment of all the major micronutrients, is known to pack a nutritional wallop), the amount of spinach contained in spinach pasta is so small as to render it almost equal in nutritional value to its white counterpart.
Because it appears healthy, many feel justified in eating an entire large bowl of spinach pasta, yet would never dream of eating the same quantity of white noodles. Like all high glycemic foods, pasta, if eaten in excess, is likely to contribute to fat gain. Though often hyped as a healthy alternative to sugary foods, pasta (including the spinach variety) is to be eaten in strict moderation.
#10 – Rice Cakes
With a glycemic index rating a high as 91 (glucose is rated 100) and virtually devoid of nutritional value this diet food star of the 80’s will send blood sugar levels sky high. Containing only 50 calories per serving, rice cakes are, for the active fitness adherent, considered by many to be a waste of time. Touted as a diet food because of their low caloric value, rice cakes (including whole wheat) are one of the least filling foods you can consume (one would need to eat an entire bag to feel fully satisfied).
As well, rice cakes are, compared to more balanced diet foods such as vegetables and some fruits, tasteless. Formerly synonymous with healthy living and sensible eating, rice cakes are gaining a reputation as being a no go fitness food.
If the foods outlined above are, as noted, not perfect accompaniments to the fitness lifestyle (many are a waste of digestive space and others are only to be eaten in small quantities), what then is the perfect solution for getting in shape through varied nutrition?
A productive diet need not be bland – include basic wholesome foods such as brown rice with a little natural apple sauce, whole egg omelets with chopped vegetables, chicken and fish with added spices (not for their ‘thermogenic’ properties, but for taste), and baked potatoes smothered in avocado. The possibilities are endless. For a fat free physique: keep it simple and effective, and avoid (or reduce) many of the so called healthy alternatives that may only serve to curtail your progress.