07 Apr Are they doing more harm than good? 10 “healthy” products you should avoid
Supermarkets and health food shops can be confusing places. We are constantly bombarded with advertising and messages, trying to persuade us to buy products which we are told are good for us. Companies use terms like “low fat,” “low carb,” “low GI,” “diet,” “gluten free,” and “natural,” to convince us we’re making a healthy choice.
Except some of these products are really not that good for us at all.
So which so-called “healthy” products are just marketing hype, or worse still, damaging to our health? Here’s a list of the top 10 foods to watch out for, and tips on how to choose better alternatives.
1. Canned and Plastic-Wrapped Foods
Many plastics contain hormone disrupting compounds that have been known to leach into food and liquids. Bisphenol-A (BPA), the most notorious of these compounds, is being phased out by many companies due to bad press and scientific research on its adverse health effects. However, BPA still present in many products, and there are now growing concerns about BPA replacements like BPS (used in many “BPA Free” products). Plastic containers designed for microwave heating may release even more of these toxic nasties.
Tip: Do not heat any foods in plastic! Choose food items that come frozen or in foil-lined containers, use glass or ceramic for heating and re-heating, and hand-wash plastic containers to avoid dishwasher heating.
2. Tinned Products
Many brands of tinned foods are still using BPA-lined cans, and even ones marked “BPA Free” may still contain hormone disrupting chemicals. Tinned coconut milk is a common one to watch out for. Tinned tomatoes are another one – this is especially a concern if the tomatoes are poured into the can while they’re still warm. Tinned beans, lentils and chickpeas are another one that might seem healthy, but what are you really ingesting when you eat them?
Tip: Make your own coconut milk by blending the flesh and water of a whole coconut, or 1 part desiccated coconut to 3 parts water (strain through a nut milk bag). Buy tomato passata in a bottle and use wherever a recipe calls for tinned tomatoes. Cook batches of lentils and chickpeas from scratch and store in portions in the freezer. Avoid tins wherever possible.
3. Packaged Almond Milk
Read your almond milk label thoroughly before purchasing. Does it contain sugar? Thickeners? Preservatives? Nasty (and unnecessary) additives? Keep an eye out for the stabiliser Carrageenan (407) which is used to stop the almond milk from separating. It may cause gastrointestinal inflammation in some people, and is much more likely to do so in those who already suffer from irritable bowel syndrome and similar conditions.
Tip: Make your own almond milk with almonds, filtered water, and a pinch of Himalayan salt. Or look for freshly made brands that are just almonds and water – no additives.
4. Healthy Snack Bars
In addition to the high levels of refined grains and sugar found in many muesli bars and snack bars aimed at both children and adults, keep an eye out for an ingredient described as ‘Yoghurt Compound’ – it contains mainly saturated fat and sugars. Also, watch out for hidden sugars, often labelled as glucose, sucrose, maltose, evaporated cane juice, malt extract, rice syrup or corn syrup.
Tip: Make your own snack bars at home, or substitute a high quality trail mix in place of bars.
5. Supermarket Vitamins
Cheap vitamins that can be bought over the counter either at a supermarket, discount chemist, or online, often contain very little active ingredient, and are instead full of poorly absorbed forms of vitamins and minerals, artificial sweeteners, and toxic binders. Synthetic supplements can be made from raw compounds such as coal tar, petroleum, and acetylene gas.
Tip: Always source your supplements from a qualified practitioner and ask for recommendations for a good quality multi or any other vitamins.
6. Dried Cranberries
Many brands of dried fruits, especially cranberries, have added sugar to offset the tartness. This is often listed under less obvious names like evaporated cane juice. Some brands also use different vegetable, seed, or nut oils during the processing, so it’s always best to read the ingredients before purchasing.
Tip: Choose brands those that have the lowest amount of added sugar. Try bulk food stores where they label the ingredients on their dried fruit products.
7. Dairy Free Cheese Replacements
For those who can’t tolerate dairy, it may be tempting to substitute with soy cheese products. Unfortunately, in addition to soy these may still contain casein which is an ingredient found in milk protein. Casein causes sinus congestion, constipation and even asthma in some people, and is the most common trigger of dairy intolerance.
Tip: Steer clear of soy cheeses, and opt for nut-based cheeses instead.
8. Lactose Free Milk
When it comes to dairy allergies and intolerances, lactose is only one of the components known to trigger a reaction. Casein (found in milk protein) is also known to cause a wide range of symptoms. If you are intolerant to dairy, lactose-free products may not solve the problem.
Tip: Invest in some food allergy and intolerance testing to pinpoint your specific issue with dairy. Avoid cows milk products and look at treatments to heal the gut. In the meantime, substitute with almond milk, coconut yoghurt and nut cheeses.
9. Diet yoghurts
Yoghurts that include the words ‘diet’, ‘low sugar’ or ‘sugar-free’ will often contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (E951) and Phenylalanine, which have been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, stimulate appetite, promote weight gain, and increase risk of Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease.
Tip: Buy full fat coconut or natural yoghurt and add stevia, fresh fruit, sliced dates, cinnamon or a little raw honey, and try to get used to the full-fat satiating taste without added sweeteners.
10. Vegetarian Meat Replacements
“Vegetarian” doesn’t always mean healthy, and heavily processed vegetarian sausages and burgers contain Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP) or Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) which are common soy-based food fillers, often made from GMO soy. Traces of hexane, a petroleum-based chemical and potential neurotoxin, have also been found in these products as it is used to separate the soy fat from the protein which gives the texture of meat.
Tip: Make your own vegetarian burgers with legumes, vegetables, herbs and quinoa.
Do Your Own Research!
The key to avoiding nasties in your foods is education. Read all labels before you buy, and get to know your additive numbers. Look for independent information – not just the stuff fed to you by the people making the product. Keep learning and making sure your knowledge is up to date – there’s new information coming out all the time.
Better still – cut down on your packaged food altogether, and you won’t have to read the labels anymore! Need some simple wholefood recipes to get you started? Grab my FREE mini eBook here.