When it comes to shopping for true health foods, nothing beats being informed and reading the labels. Today's Ready-for-Anything Report does exactly that. Check out our findings on these nine popular food items:
Oatmeal: Of course oatmeal is healthy. It's a whole grain. It's packed with protein and fiber. It's rich in a variety of nutrients like magnesium and selenium. It has a relatively low glycemic load, which means it won't spike your blood sugar and it will help you feel full longer. It also doesn't trigger a lot of inflammation in your body.
However, that's only if you eat natural, plain, whole grain oats... the kind you cook on the stove and add your own raisins and brown sugar to.
Unfortunately, a lot of people have been fooled into thinking that 'oatmeal' of any kind is healthy. If you buy flavored, instant oatmeal thinking it's a healthy choice for your heart and your whole body, then you're in for some disappointing news. Most of the calories in flavored oatmeal come from sugar, and the processing that makes it "instant" reduces the fiber content. You're left with the exact type of food you probably meant to avoid. Manufacturers try to pass off those little packets of flavored, instant oatmeal as great for your health, but they're really not.
Yogurt: This is another favorite health food. You've probably seen the commercials promising you that if you just eat more yogurt, you'll live longer or lose weight. But, much of the yogurt on the market is packed with high fructose corn syrup, making it high in calories and rough on your body.
Yogurt can be a great choice, just opt for the plain kind and mix in a little fresh fruit and honey. You'll get less processed sugar and fewer preservatives while still enjoying a healthy dose of protein, calcium, and positive bacteria.
Fat-Free Foods and Low-Fat Foods: Stroll down any aisle of your grocery store and you're bound to see a ton of packages with "Fat Free" and "Low Fat" emblazoned on them. These foods pretend that nutrition is measured by fat content alone, which just isn't true.
People fall for it, though. Often, they end up consuming a bunch of extra calories, unnecessary chemicals, industrially altered fats, and very little in the way of nutrients their bodies can actually use.
Avoid "Fat-Free" and "Low-Fat" foods, unless the label says "naturally low in fat" or "a naturally fat-free food." Commercially prepared "fat-free" salad dressings, for example, often come loaded with added sugar and artificial flavorings and colors. For a natural, healthy, pure salad dressing choice, request olive oil and vinegar.
Butter Substitutes: These days, grocery stores offer more butter substitutes than brands of actual butter. Butter substitutes, margarine, and "butter spreads" just aren't real foods; that is, they do not exist in nature. They became popular as part of a marketing push in the early part of the twentieth century.
Butter is a real food. It is high in fat, but they are natural fats that your body knows how to digest and utilize in moderation. Butter substitutes often contain artificial ingredients that are not particularly good for you.
Egg Substitutes: Eggs – real eggs that come from chickens – are a nearly perfect food. They're rich in protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals. They have an excellent balance of amino acids. They contain natural cholesterol, which your body can use to make hormones and other useful compounds.
Egg beaters, on the other hand – those "eggs" you can buy in a carton – are made in a factory, not in a chicken. Someone decided that since real eggs contain cholesterol, they must be bad for you. They separated out the yolks, tossed the whites in a carton with some preservatives and seasonings, and billed it as a health food. Just ridiculous!
If you want egg whites, buy real eggs and separate them at home, but don't be afraid to eat the whole egg. It's good for you. Really.
Sugar-Free Foods: Too much sugar in your diet is indeed bad for your body. But the way to solve that problem is to eat fewer sweets, not to load up on chemically sweetened foods. Again, food manufacturers label these foods as though the fact they are sugar-free means they are healthy to eat. Don't be fooled. Sugar substitutes can actually cause you to overeat, and in some people they trigger neurological problems or allergic reactions.
Fake Olive Oil: Of all the fake health foods, this one makes me the maddest. That's because, in this case, you aren't just being misled... you're being outright lied to. Extra virgin olive oil has fantastic health benefits. Good quality olive oil may help to lower your cholesterol, may prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidizing (which can, in turn, prevent it from damaging arteries), and lowers blood pressure.
But, a study done at UC Davis found that more than two thirds of Extra Virgin Olive Oil imported to the United States is either made from low quality olives that would never qualify for the "Extra Virgin" label or made from other ingredients altogether, like soybean oil!
When it comes to olive, even being a savvy label reader won't help you get the real deal. So, here are the brands that passed UC Davis' test: Corto Olive, California Olive Ranch, Kirkland Organic, Lucero, and McEvoy Ranch Organic.
Microwave Popcorn: I don't know how many times I've heard microwave popcorn recommended as a healthy snack. Unfortunately, it's just not true. Even if you find a brand that doesn't use partially hydrogenated oils, the lining of the package contains chemicals that may cause infertility and have caused a number of cancers in animal testing. Those chemicals leech into your popcorn for you to eat. Even in small quantities, I don't want to eat them.
If you want popcorn, whip out a skillet or an air popper, and pop it the old-fashioned way. When you do, you won't believe how much that microwave stuff tastes like cardboard in comparison.
Diet Sodas and Fruit Juice: Lots of people think that drinking a diet soda instead of a regular soda is a healthy choice. Unfortunately, those chemical sweeteners used in diet sodas can cause all sorts of problems. Some people have very severe reactions to chemical sweeteners.
Another health fad is to drink 100 percent fruit juice. While that's preferable to downing a glass of juice sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, pure fruit juice still packs in a lot of sugar, and that can mess up your blood glucose levels. An occasional glass is fine, but don't consider it a health food.
Become a Smarter Shopper:
It's Easy, Gratifying, and Will Save You Big Money
When it comes to making healthier food decisions, you really can't rely on fancy packaging to lead you to the right choice. But you can make smarter decisions by taking a moment to read the ingredient list and nutritional label.
Watch out for high-fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated fat, and fully hydrogenated fat. If a food contains any of these, find a different option. Also watch for lots of hard-to-pronounce chemicals. This indicates a high level of processing, plus additives and preservatives that might harm your health. And, avoid foods that are sweetened with aspartame, neotame, Splenda or sucralose.
When you choose foods that have been minimally processed – things like whole grain breads and cereals, fresh and frozen produce, beans, rice, seeds, nuts, butter, eggs, and lean cuts of meat – and build your diet around those foods, you'll feel better, be healthier, and have more energy. So, become a more self-reliant shopper... start reading the labels and avoid "health" food scams.