#175 How to Tell if Health Foods Are Really Healthy

How to Tell if Health Foods Are Really Healthy

A lot of what we consider “health foods” aren’t really that healthy. That’s because in recent years health foods have become big business — and wherever there’s money to be made, you’re going to find plenty of marketers willing to fudge, and even fib, to make a sale.

Is yogurt healthy?

Topping the list of foods that are widely believed to be healthy, but generally are not healthy: Yogurt.

I know. I know. Our family loves this stuff too. But the reality is that even as the yogurt section of most markets has expanded significantly in the past few years, the number of truly healthy yogurt choices is still quite low.

You probably already know why: sugar. One small Yoplait original strawberry yogurt cup has 26 grams of the stuff. (To put this into perspective, a Twinkie only has 18 grams.)

And don’t be fooled by labels that promise yogurts with fewer calories. Fewer calories do not make something healthy — fewer unhealthy ingredients do.

Yogurt is far from the only example of a food that we’ve been tricked into believing is healthy, just because of what it’s called. Other foods in this category include granola, fruit juice, smoothies, veggie burgers, protein bars, and drinks made from almond, soy and coconut milk. These foods are often packed with added sugar, industrially processed vegetable oils, salt, chemical preservatives and other highly processed ingredients, rendering them of little use to you if you truly want to eat healthy.

Tip: Don’t make assumptions — read ingredients.

OK, so I’ve just told you that yogurt’s not a health food, right? Here’s the caveat: It can be an amazingly healthy part of your regular food choices if you simply read the ingredients and avoid any product with added sugar.

Don’t be fooled: Food companies have worked very, very hard to disguise sugar with other names. These include honey, maple syrup, barley malt, beet sugar, buttered syrup, cane juice, caramel, corn syrup…

… deep breath …

… carob syrup, castor sugar, date sugar, demerara, dextran, dextrose, diastatic malt, diatase, ethyl maltol, fructose, fruit juice, galactose, glucose, grape sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, lactose…

… almost there …

maltodextrin, maltose, molasses, muscovado, organic evaporated cane juice, panocha, rice syrup, sorbitol, sorghum syrup, sucrose, treacle and turbinado sugar.

Oh, and there are actually quite a few more where that came from, but you get the idea. According to some reports, added sugar is hidden in three-quarters of the foods that can be purchased at the average grocery store.

Are some sugars healthier?

Now, there’s a debate to be had that some of these forms of sugar are better than others. That’s a fool’s argument, though, unless you’re talking about the sugars that are already in the foods we eat. (Milk, for instance, is chock full of the sugar known as lactose — and milk in moderation isn’t a problem for most people.) Anything added to a product to make it sweeter, though — no matter what it’s called — is a problem.

So, back to that yogurt: If you look long and hard, you’ll probably be able to find a cup of plain yogurt, and it should have just two ingredients: milk and active cultures. Want to sweeten it up? Add some fresh fruit.  Want to be a little more adventurous? Play around with mint, cinnamon and even sriracha.

The same rules apply for anything else. You can’t simply assume that something is healthy simply because it’s commonly thought of as a “health food.” Read the ingredients. Avoid anything with added sugar — no matter what it’s called. And if you’re not sure what the ingredients are, pull out your smart phone and find out — and don’t put it in your cart until you know what it is you’re going to be eating.

How do you tell if something is healthy or not?  Please leave your comments and questions below.

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  1. I eat plain full fat yogurt. It is not found in cup size containers, only
    much larger tubs. It keeps in the refrigerator for weeks. Put some in your own cup! Add your own fruit fresh or frozen and unsweetened.