Friday, September 27, 2013

"..But Isn't This Healthy?????"

I've seen a trend in my clients' diets lately, so I figured it was about time I broached the subject of "health foods" that really kinda aren't.  These are the most popular things I see come up in my clients' diets, and a little explanation of what's up with them.

GREEK YOGURT:  The Greek yogurt market is huge these days.  Basically, Greek yogurt is yogurt that's been strained more than regular yogurt so that it is thicker.  It tends to have considerably more protein than regular yogurt, making it more satiating, and it tends to have far less calcium and sodium than regular yogurt.  Calories are more or less the same between the two.  It's also usually a looot more expensive than regular yogurt, since the companies are cashing in on its popularity.  Those are the main differences between the two kinds of yogurt, so if you're looking to Greek yogurt as a magical weight loss health food, you may be a bit disillusioned. 

My dislike of dairy products as part of the human diet is no secret, but I also get that people are going to eat them.  So here's the skinny:
  • Know that Greek yogurt is not a weight loss tool.  It has the same number of calories as regular yogurt, and so in that department, it really will not make much difference.
  • Ideally, try to find a Greek yogurt that is organic/hormone free.  This is really important for pretty much anything you eat, but for animal products in particular.  They tend to be full of antibiotics, hormones, and all kinds of other junk you really do not want in your body.  Stonyfield Farms and Wallaby are two companies I can think of off the top of my head that make organic Greek yogurt, but both put large amounts of sugar in their Greek yogurts.  This is a conundrum, indeed.
  • Read your labels.  Recently, I checked out a label for a client eating "Dannon Light '& Fit Greek Yogurt."  First of all, as soon as you see something that says "fat free," assume they're replacing the taste of fat with the taste of sugar.  So here's one flavor (blueberry).  And yep, it's got 7g of sugar added to it (looks like they used fructose as the source).  That's a lot of added sugar for such a low calorie food.   In addition, it's got a bunch of chemicals for more sweetness (sucralose, acesulfame potassium).  There is one very controversial study linking sucralose to leukemia ( Soffritti M, Belpoggi F, Esposti DD, Lambertini L. Aspartame induces lymphomas and leukaemias in rats. European Journal of Oncology 2005; 10(2):107–116 ), but for the most part, there is no scientific evidence that artificial sweeteners, as much as I'd love to hate them, cause disease.  That having been said, there are enough people claiming side effects from artificial sweetener consumption that I'd be cautious of their use.  
  • The coloring used in this particular yogurt is a red coloring called carmine, which is, in fact, ground beetles.  This in and of itself is not going to hurt you, but my guess is you'd want to know if you were consuming them.  So there you have it. 
  • Bottom line:   if you're going to eat Greek yogurt, ideally get it organic, and go for the ones with no added sugars and minimal ingredients.  Chances are, you're going to have to pick one or the other.  Better yet, make your own, and know EXACTLY what is going into your yogurt.  You can also make your own coconut yogurt, and forgo the dairy stuff altogether (which is definitely a better idea, IMHO). 
GRANOLA:  Known as the hippiest of foods, people associate this stuff with good health.  And, really, at its base, it should be good stuff-- whole oats, nuts, seeds, maybe a little fruit.  The problem comes in that mass-produced granola tends to be full of added sugars, not-so-good oils,  and other junk that doesn't belong in your body.  For instance: a very popular bar, Quaker Chewy, has 7 grams of sugar in a 100 calorie bar, coming from brown sugar, sugar, corn syrup, invert sugar, sugar, corn syrup solids (ick), and molasses.  It has a preservative (BHT), which in large quantities can have some not-so-nice health effects. And, of course, it has that dubious ingredient, "natural and artificial flavor," which really could mean anything.  Who wants mystery flavorings in their food?   Health Valley granola bars, while somewhat better than the average due to its general policy against GMO ingredients and tendency towards organics, still has 10g of added sugars in the form of brown rice syrup, evaporated cane juice, barley malt, and grape juice. 
  • Bottom line:  Read your labels and avoid ingredients you don't recognize.  Buy a (preferably organic) no sugar added brand, such as Mona's, Sensato, etc.  Or (and you knew I was going to say this), make your own
BROWN RICE, WHOLE WHEAT BREAD, WHOLE WHEAT PASTA, ETC.  It's not that I have a problem with any of these things.  I don't.  If grains agree with your system, there's absolutely no reason not to eat them, particularly the minimally processed, 100% whole grain varieties, and ideally sprouted or einkorn (this part is very important, and, as with all things, read the ingredients and make sure you're eating what you think you're eating).  The problem comes when you make this the center of your diet.  Cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, popcorn for snack, pasta for dinner... not a great nutritional bang for your buck.  I generally recommend limiting your grain intake to one meal per day, so choose wisely.  If you have cereal for breakfast, that's your grain for the day.  Something to think about. 
  • Bottom line: Make your day MOSTLY VEGETABLES, particularly the green ones.  Everything else should be secondary.  You can wrap sandwiches in collard greens or romaine lettuce instead of bread (it's actually really good!).  You can switch out your breakfast cereal for something like a really healthy protein shake, or maybe some of that coconut yogurt mentioned above with some fruit.  Maybe have a banana or apple and a tablespoon or two of raw nut butter or a handful of nuts.  And so on.  Be creative.  You might find you enjoy your meals more this way, and that they fill you up more!
PROTEIN BARS:  The unfortunate truth is that most of these bars are sugar and/or chemical bombs.  Clif Builder Bars, for instance, while they have a relatively benign ingredient list, chemicalwise, pack a 20g sugar punch in one 270 calorie bar.  Zone Perfect bars (they have that name associated with that diet that all those celebs swear by, right?) have 16 grams of sugar with sugar ingredients all over the list (one of which is corn syrup-- ick). 
  • Bottom line:  Guess what I'm going to say.  Yeah, read your ingredients.  Know what you're eating.  Or, of course, make your own
GLUTEN FREE, MADE WITH WHOLE GRAINS, LOW FAT, LITE, ALL NATURAL, ORGANIC, ETC.  All these buzzwords are all well and good, but several of them mean pretty much nothing and are not regulated (all natural, lite, low fat), and not one of them tells you what, exactly, is in the food.  I cannot say it enough-- READ YOUR LABELS.  Know what is going in your body.  Keep sugars, white flours, and processed foods to an absolute minimum, and make sure you recognize the ingredients in the food.  If you don't recognize them, look them up.  Chances are, you won't want to eat it once you find out what it is. 

Bottom line:  Stick as close as you can to what Mother Nature created.  Eat mostly vegetables.  Try to keep grains to one meal a day, and make them very high-quality grains.  Don't fall for buzzwords.

Thoughts?  Questions?  Comments?  Anything to add?  Post away!  :) 


  1. Great post and it's so unfortunate that the food industry has to try and "trick" us into things for the almighty "benjamins" just never ends.

    I wonder if you could answer some of the other "claims" that are out Cherry juice being really good for arthritis. I have arthritis scattered throughout both feet and before I spend $30/bottle on it, I'd like to know your thoughts!
    Either leave answer here or if long, just email me!

    1. Cherries are actually very anti-inflammatory, as is turmeric. That having been said, why buy $30 juice when you can just eat cherries?

    2. During the winter it's a horse a piece as to buying juice or cherries~they're around $6/lb.
      I'm gonna give this turmeric a try, lots of people talking about this too!
      Thanks for answering!

  2. Greek yogurt! I love it, but why's it so trendy nowadays?

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