As more is revealed about our health and our present food systems, the more I feel tricked by deceptive marketing. Many foods labeled “healthy” are really processed foods loaded with hidden sugars and fats. What we all need is some simple, truthful information about the foods we eat.
Below are some typical foods whose labeling can be confusing and some easy ways to ensure your food choices are healthy ones. Keep in mind, our daily goal is about 60 grams of protein and 30 grams of fiber.
Though typically paired with words such as “organic,” “harvest” or “natural,” almost all granolas are fattening. One small serving can have 420 calories, 10 grams of fat and 26 grams of sugar.
Try instead: Oatmeal or mixed nuts and oats. You can make your own granola with honey, nuts and coconut or stick to a morning routine of oatmeal with almonds, berries and almond milk. Make overnight oats in the crock pot; it’s easy to prepare and great for you. Adding nuts or nut butters to your oatmeal will add protein and help keep you full throughout the day.
Couscous is not a grain. It is made from non-enriched angel hair pasta and is less nutritious than white pasta. Though it is quick and easy to make, couscous turns into sugar in the body and may cause a blood sugar spike and crash.
Try instead: Quinoa has a comparable taste, but is truly a superfood. Just one cup contains 24 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber. Quinoa cooks in about 15 minutes and can last up to four days refrigerated. Make it in advance and use it instead of rice, cold in a salad or warm it up in the morning for breakfast.
Most tuna salads are not very healthy. Smothered in mayonnaise and made from albacore tuna, four ounces of this classic sandwich filler is filled with 10 grams of fat and can be sky-high in mercury.
Try instead: Light (not white) tuna is usually lower in mercury. Combine with herbs, lemon juice and plain yogurt to create a tasty, healthier salad. Try the environmentally-friendly, pole-caught tuna or use canned wild salmon for just as much protein and more Omega 3.
Artificial sweeteners used in sugar-free foods can be dangerous for the body. The body takes the ingredients found in aspartame and makes formaldehyde. Many people experience migraines, mood swings and increased sugar cravings from artificial sweeteners. Some studies link artificial sweeteners to cancer and other diseases.
Try instead: Use honey and maple syrup – you don’t need to use much. Local honey is particularly good, especially if you struggle with seasonal allergies. Stevia without added sugar alcohol is another alternative.
Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter
Reduced fat is not the same as low fat. Have you ever heard the saying, “Robbing Peter to pay Paul?” Most reduce some of the fat, but add more sugar. Most commercial peanut butters contain the same type sugar used in cake frosting.
Try instead: Choose almond butter or cashew butter. Almond butter contains anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fatty acids and often has less sugar than peanut butter. Cashew butter can be more expensive, but is high in magnesium, making it a perfect snack to aid metabolism and bone health as it helps us relax.
With more than 30 grams(eight teaspoons) of added sugar and 80 calories of fat per serving in many yogurt desserts, you may as well be eating a chocolate bar. Adding in high-sugar granola and fruit will spike your blood sugar, making you cranky and hungry in no time.
Try instead: Try non-fat Greek yogurt with some fresh berries or sugarless berry syrup – take wild frozen blueberries, add a splash of water and cook down into a sweet and healthy syrup. You can also try goat yogurt, which has less sugar and contains enzymes that break down lactose.
Turkey Bacon and Turkey Sausage
Bacon and sausage are loaded with fat and sodium. Turkey bacon isn’t necessarily any healthier. Most bacon is preserved with nitrates, which have been shown to cause cancer. Some sausages are made with the lowest quality and leftover pork.
Try instead: Though still not a health food, nitrate-free bacon can be added to recipes in small amounts as a great flavor enhancer. Most grocery stores now carry nitrate-free bacon and high-quality chicken sausages. Organic chicken sausages can be used for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Flavored Water with Vitamins or Electrolyte Waters
Most of these drinks are loaded with sugars, artificial colors and flavors. Some vitamin waters have 32 grams of sugar – as much as three-and-a-half donuts.
Try instead: Plain water – nothing beats it. Divide your body weight by two; drink this number of ounces daily. If you live in a dry climate or are working out, aim for 75 percent of your body weight in ounces daily. Add fresh lemon or fruit for flavor, or try low-sugar coconut water to help with hydration. Electrolytes are just sodium that helps keep your body hydrated. Make sure to eat a good quality salt (1,200 mg a day) and drink fluids every day.
Pay attention to what you eat. Read food labels and eat whole foods, meaning foods that have the fewest steps between their natural source and your plate. Simple, isn’t it?
Victoria Abel, MA, MNT, is the founder and owner of Center for Addiction Nutrition in Prescott, Arizona. She has worked as a family, primary and trauma therapist in the addiction counseling field for 20 years. She is also a nutrition and eating disorders therapist working with people healing from addiction, mood disorders, cancer and other chronic illnesses. She teaches at Prescott College and lectures nationally on addiction nutrition.