“Reduced fat” peanut butter? “Enriched” flour? Sure, those sound healthy, but the poor nutrient quality of so many “health” foods has been masterfully obscured by clever advertising.
Let’s look at 8 of the top foods that you might think are healthy, but aren’t.
Dairy products such as milk and cheese have been touted as “great sources of calcium” and an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. But because of the types of dairy cows we use, how they are raised, and how dairy is now processed –it is not a health food.
Dairy is highly inflammatory, meaning it provokes an immune response in your body. Inflammation can lead to serious conditions such as heart disease and autoimmune disease. The body’s immune response to dairy can manifest in symptoms including digestive issues, such as gas and bloating, skin disorders, and even behavioral problems like Autism Spectrum Disorder. Additionally, conventional dairy cows are injected with bovine growth hormone to increase milk production, which leads to infections that need to be treated with antibiotics. All of the hormones and medications that are given to the cows make their way into the milk, cheese, butter, and yogurt, and eventually into your body.
For more information about the dangers of dairy and non-dairy sources of calcium check out my article here.
2. Whole Grain Bread
Refined flour is almost as bad as sugar! It has no nutritive value at all. The word “enriched” on a package tells you that a food has been stripped of its nutrient content during processing, so much so that the manufacturer had to add something back in.
Whole grain bread may seem like the healthier option. In reality, any grains can be harmful. Because they contain digestion inhibitors, they can cause gut imbalances, such as SIBO and yeast overgrowth, and damage to the gut lining. For more information on the problems with grains, read this article.
Cereal, even “healthy” cereal, is junk food! It’s a combination of several problematic foods that add up to one unhealthy breakfast. Cereal is grain-based, full of sugar, and usually eaten with milk. Kids’ cereals especially have been shown to contain as much sugar as cookies.
If you want a breakfast that will actually fuel you throughout the day instead of just giving you a sugar high, try a green juice or smoothie. I like to see how many nutrient-packed green vegetables I can sneak into my meals each day, and a green smoothie is the perfect vehicle.
4. Bottled, Boxed, or Canned Juice
I’m a big fan of homemade juice, but processed, store-bought juice is practically sugar water. When juice is extracted from a fruit, all that wonderful fiber that regulates how fast that sugar is absorbed into your bloodstream is left behind. The result is sugar that, despite its origin, looks no different to your body than table sugar. Juice contains all the calories of the fruit in a much easier to eat package, allowing you to consume much more than you need quickly. Without the fiber to activate your body’s satiety signals, juice isn’t going to fill you up. Add to that the fact that store bought juices are usually primarily apple juice and don’t contain any green vegetables.
Skip the store-bought juice. Either make your own, or better yet eat whole fruits and veggies!
5. Fat-Free or Reduced Fat Foods
“Fat-Free” and “Reduced Fat” food labels perpetuate the myths that one, if something contains fat it is therefore bad for you, and two, if a food is fat-free it’s healthy. Unfortunately it’s not that simple.
Fat is a very important part of your diet, and your body needs it to survive. It’s vital that you get healthy fat from sources like whole plant foods, such as coconut, avocado, and nuts and seeds. Taking the fat out of something like a nut butter means it’s going to be replaced with something else, such as sugar. Removing a component of any food just means you’re processing it more. Quite often, fat-free foods are more calorie- and sugar-dense than the original food.
Include healthy fats in your diet. Excluding fat from your diet will only lead to imbalance and disease later on.
6. Gluten-Free Foods
I certainly do not advocate that anyone eat gluten, however there is a myth that as long as a food is gluten-free, it’s healthy. If you’ve given up gluten but are still experiencing symptoms, it could be that you are relying too heavily on processed gluten-free foods that still contain lots of harmful ingredients, like soy, eggs, dairy, and other grains like corn. In fact, gluten-free foods are often more processed than their gluten-containing counterparts! Additionally, many foods that are technically gluten-free cross-react with gluten, meaning they provoke a similar immune response in your body.
Remember, just because something is gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Stick to whole, unprocessed foods as your best defense!
7. Soy and Tofu
Soy is in practically everything. You can find it in milk substitutes, dressings and sauces, chocolate, body products, cakes, crackers, and of course, infant formula. It’s also used as animal feed, so it’s present in your meat products if you aren’t buying grass-fed or pasture-raised. Soy products like tofu are considered the quintessential “health foods,” but are they really?
Just as people who are sensitive to gluten sometimes rely too heavily on gluten-free products, many vegetarians rely too heavily on soy products as meat alternatives. This is one of the biggest mistakes I see from day to day. Whether or not you are a vegetarian, soy is not something you should consider a health food. Many people are sensitive to soy, and by producing an immune response it damages the gut lining and promotes disease. Soy also contains chemical compounds called isoflavones that mimic estrogen. Too much estrogen has been linked to reproductive problems and breast cancer. Additionally, 90% of the soy used in processed food in the United States is GMO.
Soy is ubiquitous in the Standard American Diet, especially in the form of soy lecithin, an emulsifier that is added to many processed foods. Soy lecithin is an extremely processed food additive and is best avoided. That’s easier to do on a whole foods diet. The less processed a food is, the less you need to worry about its ingredients.
You probably grew up thinking corn is healthy. However, like gluten, corn is not easily digested and causes lots of damage to the gut lining. Additionally, 90% of corn is GMO, and due to cross-pollination by wind, the remaining 10% isn’t guaranteed to be non-GMO. Because corn is highly inflammatory for so many people and provides little nutritive value, it’s best avoided.
Like soy, corn is in seemingly everything in the form of additives such as high fructose corn syrup, and in conventional, grain-fed meat. Quality matters–always buy grass-fed or pasture-raised meat products, and ditch anything made with corn syrup.
Your best bet when trying to eat healthy is to consume unrefined whole foods. Advertising confuses the issue of nutrition when it comes to processed food, making unsubstantiated health claims to sell a product. Identify and avoid foods to which you are sensitive and prepare your own meals to ensure that you are eating the most nutritious and protective diet. For some great recipes, visit my blog or sign up for my newsletter!
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