Dr. Day is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and currently serves as the president of the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
Top 10 Health Foods to Avoid
Conspiring food manufacturers have blurred the lines between what is real and what is processed. Health foods must be real. To clear the confusion, here are the top 10 supposed health foods to avoid.
Yogurt is part of any healthy breakfast, right? While yogurt can be healthy, most yogurt options at your local grocery store is anything but healthy.
For example, one small Yoplait original strawberry yogurt has 26 grams of sugar. That is more than six teaspoons of sugar.
Even worse is that sugar is listed as number two on the ingredient. To put this in perspective, a Twinkie only has 18 grams of sugar.
If obesity and diabetes weren’t bad enough, studies show that added sugar is a major cause of heart disease. Fortunately, yogurt can be healthy if there is no added sugar and live bacterial cultures (probiotics) are present.
Look for “plain” yogurt and read the ingredient list carefully. You don’t want any added sugar. Likewise, you want live cultures.
Fortunately, there are options that meet this standard at your local Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. If you need to sweeten your yogurt, try adding real fruit.
Even in the 1980s, most health conscientious people packed granola. Yep, peace, love, and granola.
How granola got equated as a “health food” is a bit of a mystery to me. To find the healthiest granola, I made a recent trip to our local Whole Foods. There I found, Nature’s Path Organic Pumpkin Flax Granola. With a name like that, it must healthy.
However, a closer look at the label showed that just one small cup of this granola contained 13 grams of sugar. Once again, sugar was the second ingredient. A closer inspection showed that this “healthy granola” was also sweetened by oat syrup and molasses.
When it comes to oils, your best bet is extra virgin olive oil. Coconut oil would be my second choice. Even butter, from grass fed cows, is probably a better option than the industrial processed vegetable oils.
Does this mean you should never eat granola? Absolutely not. Just recognize granola for what it really is. A treat that should only occasionally be eaten.
Of course, if you can make your own granola then you can avoid all of the sugars and unhealthy oils. Alternatively, you can do what I do. I like to add a little of the “healthiest” granola I can find to a big bowl of frozen blueberries topped with chia seeds and walnuts.
3. Fruit Juice
Fruit juice is just liquid sugar. Most of the health benefits of fruit have been stripped away leaving only the sugar and a few remaining nutrients behind.
Liquid sugar causes weight gain. Indeed, a Harvard University study of 120,877 people found that fruit juice was linked to long-term weight gain.
If you like fruit juice there is a healthy alternative. Rather than “juicing” the fruit, blend it instead. Drink the whole fruit rather than just the sugar.
4. Gluten Free Foods
You can now buy gluten free Honeycomb, corn flakes, or Rice Krispies. A good rule of thumb is that if the label says “gluten free,” it probably isn’t real food.
A recent study in the British Journal of Nutrition evaluated 3,213 gluten free products in Australia. The conclusion of this study was that there was no health benefit of gluten free foods. Indeed, gluten free foods may even be worse than their gluten containing counterparts.
Gluten free products are often loaded with sugar, processed carbohydrates, and processed vegetable oils. For those with celiac disease, many “gluten free” products have also tested positive for gluten.
Gluten is just a protein found naturally in many grains. People with celiac disease or gluten allergies definitely want to avoid gluten. Fortunately, studies show that 86% of people who thought they had a gluten sensitivity didn’t after rigorous testing.
If you have celiac disease or a gluten allergy, buy gluten free ingredients not gluten free food-like products.
5. Salad Dressing and Toppings
Could a Big Mac actually be healthier for you than the McDonald’s salad? According to a recent CNBC report, the answer is yes. Indeed, a McDonald’s salad has more calories, salt, and fat than even a double Big Mac!
Salads can be one of the healthiest foods on this planet. I eat at least one heaping salad every day.
The key is to avoid any prepared salad dressing, the croutons, and all the cheese. Rather, top your salad with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a homemade salad dressing, nuts, or seeds.
Commercially prepared salad dressing generally is nothing more than inflammation causing processed vegetable oils, sugar, and salt.
When eating out, I always ask for olive oil and balsamic vinegar to put on my salads. At home, we love homemade salad dressings. Recipes for many of these dressings are on our website. A healthy salad dressing generally only takes a few minutes to make.
Everyone concerned about health and nutrition should drink a smoothie, right?
Yes, if you control the ingredients and make it at home. A smoothie outside of your home should be viewed like an ice cream sundae.
Why is this the case? Most commercially made smoothies are loaded with sugar, chocolate syrup, or ice cream.
If you choose to drink a smoothie you need to control the ingredients. Make it at home and include plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. If you are looking for a good smoothie recipe, we have several on the recipe page of our website.
7. Veggie Chips
What could be better than getting your vegetables in something that tastes like a potato chip? The problem is that nutritionally, a veggie chip is really no different than a potato chip.
For those wishing to maintain a healthy weight, a large Harvard University study showed that potato chips were second only to french fries as the main cause of weight gain. Veggie chips are loaded with inflammation causing processed vegetable oils, salt, and many other food additives and chemicals.
There is a way to enjoy a healthy veggie chip. Just thinly slice your favorite vegetables, add a little olive oil, herbs, and spices, and then bake at low temperature until crunchy.
8. Protein Bars
A protein bar is a healthy way to eat breakfast on the go, get through your workout, or just as an afternoon snack, right? Not so fast.
Most protein bars are just highly processed candy bars. Indeed, many have a long ingredient list and more chemicals than you could ever learn to pronounce. Even worse, the sugar of many protein bars exceeds that of a candy bar.
While I would never call a protein bar “healthy,” there are “less bad” options. Our favorites are some of the Kind bars or Trader Joe’s brand of bars.
A protein bar should never have more than 5 grams of added sugar. The ingredient list should be short and pronounceable. The protein source should be from real foods, like nuts and seeds. Avoid bars with the word “isolate,” as an isolated protein is a highly processed chemistry lab protein.
9. Almond, Coconut, or Soy Milk
Almonds, coconuts, and soy beans are all health foods, right? Yes, if you don’t drench them with sugar, food additives, and other chemicals.
Indeed, a glass of a typical alternative milk has around 7 grams, or two teaspoons, of sugar. Likewise, you will often find the food additive, carrageenan, or “natural flavors,” on the ingredient list.
Carrageenan is a food additive to make the alternative milk creamy. The problem is that carrageenan has been associated with cancer in animals.
With natural flavors, you never know what you are getting. A good rule of thumb is that if you ever see the word “natural flavors,” the food manufacturer is trying to hide something. That something could be MSG or just about anything.
We often drink healthy alternative milks in our home. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s do carry some alternative milks without any added sugars, food additives, or other chemicals.
If you like soy milk, buy organic varieties using the “whole bean.” While there is some controversy around soy, medical studies from Asia, where they have traditionally used the whole bean, have consistently showed a lower risk of breast cancer and heart disease.
10. Farmed Fish
Studies show that fish prevents heart disease, dementia, and premature death. Despite these benefits, not all fish are created equal.
For example, some studies show that the contaminants in farmed fish may outweigh any potential health benefits. However, other studies show that any increased risk of a cancer death is more than offset by a reduction in the risk of dying from heart disease.
Fortunately, you can enjoy all the health benefits of fish while minimizing the risk from mercury, dioxin, and PCBs. For example, the Environmental Working Group found that farmed salmon has 16 times more dioxins and PCB contaminants than wild salmon.
To minimize your risk, buy wild, smaller, and ocean fish. To keep costs down, we generally buy frozen Alaskan wild fish from our local Costco. If you want to learn more about which fish are healthiest, a great reference is the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.
Which Supposed Health Foods to Avoid
The main take home message of this article is that food manufacturers have blurred the lines between real and processed. Healthy food is real food. Real foods look like something your ancestors from a hundred years ago would have recognized.
Have you been fooled by any of these supposed “health foods?” Please leave your questions and comments below.
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Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.