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10 Foods That Aren’t As Healthy As You Think

On the heels of the P90X2 Nutrition guide, I thought I’d put the spotlight on some common foods we tend to think are pretty decent at the outset but are kind of junk and/or “dumbed down” versions of good stuff. The key to knowing the make-up of what you’re eating– and if it’s going to deliver the healthy, fat burning and muscle growing results you want– is to become a label reader. Yes, a label reader.

First things I always look at fall in this order: Calories, type of fats and sugars. It’s then a quick skim over the ingredients for High Fructose anything and whether or not that list is a 3-point font discourse on unpronounceable ingredients. Usually, you can see pretty quickly whether or not the stuff is any good.

If you’re not seeing some of the results you want as quickly as you want, it might be time to look into the diet and knock these imposters and cheats off the list:

Juice and/or Store Smoothies: The prevailing frame of mind here is “juice comes from fruit… and fruit is natural and good!” That’s true… except fruit juice has been stripped from its native, fiber-rich skin and pulp–something that jacks up the glycemic response and subsequent, fat storing insulin spike. In short, fruit juice may deliver nutrients, but those nutrients are like a brown bag lunch riding on the back of a big ol’ sugar elephant. That goes for all these smoothies out there, too. Yes, they have nutrition… but if you thought 32g of sugar in your juice was bad… smoothies can pack up to 100g of sugar. I don’t think I even get past 50g in a WHOLE DAY. If you must have your fruit, get that nutrition through other means like, you know, just eating the whole fruit or even Shakeology. Juices are straight¬† sugar bombs… and don’t get me started on the fact serving bottles now come in TWO servings per bottle.¬† Who drinks half a 12 oz. bottle, anyway?

Yogurt: Here’s one of those “dumbed down” items. Yogurt has a whole host of benefits including pro-biotics (the stuff that makes your insides happy), protein and calcium and all that… but you add ANY kind of fruit flavoring to the stuff and it becomes junk because to make that fruit sweet, in comes the sugar. The “fruit at bottom” is straight, fat-storing sugar and even the “sugar free” or “light” versions load up the thickening agents and artificial sweeteners to make things taste good. Greek yogurt–with its thick, creamy texture thanks to extra filtering– is a great yogurt source but only fat free and plain. With its new-found popularity, yogurt makers are loading these products with sugar. As with anything, read the label to ensure you’re not being loaded up on fats and sugars.

Bagels: There’s no doubt bagels are tasty but they’re huge and dense and almost always come made with white flour and some kind of flavoring, coating or fatty shmear. Here’s where we need to get “discerning”. 90% of the bagels out there are more treats than a viable source of carbs for a nutrition plan. You CAN enjoy bagels but go for 100% whole grain in the smaller sizes. And if you choose to enjoy a BIG, 100% whole wheat bagel without tons of sugar or HFC (High Fructose Corn Syrup)– use only half. But for the other 90%… pass.

Salad: Salad!? Say wha? The “diet” staple go-to health food of all time? Yep– but this is another one of those “good” items made bad by what you throw into it. Leafy greens are absolutely fantastic and you can eat those all day long, every day. It’s when you go out to eat and the croutons, cheese, bacon and fat-tastic dressings start turning it from a health-laden delight into a processed soup that you have to be careful. Load your salad up with greens and veggies and even a serving size of nuts for crunch and variety and make sure your dressing is oil based– preferably Virgin Olive. You may even be surprised to find a little bit of lemon juice and a pinch of salt can really liven things up as well. Rule of thumb? If the “salad” part of the salad begins to look like a green afterthought, start reducing ingredients.

Natural/Fat Free: Labels are misleading and leave a lot of room for “loopholes”. Natural HAS to be good, right? And fat free, well… it’s FAT FREE. Problem is, sharks are natural and so are earthquakes but that doesn’t change the fact they can ruin your day in short order. Natural means about as much as what the ingredient list reads. On the same idea, Fat Free usually (not always) means MORE sodium, MORE sugar and MORE filler to retain the consistency fat usually brings to the table. My main beef with fat is it’s calorie dense– so it “robs” your daily calories of other things you could enjoy– and where it’s used as energy (and unused energy is stored as fat)– just keep it in check. Your body needs fat and as long as you keep it in the 20-25% of your daily intake range, you’re fine.

Nuts… (And Let’s Throw Peanut Butter in the Mix here while we’re at it): Nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans and even peanut butter) can be a great source of “good fats” and fiber. Thing is, as with anything calorically or fat dense, moderation is key. Yes, nuts are awesome but you don’t want to down 4 serving sizes in one shot. That said, nuts come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. Avoid “flavored” nuts as they’re loaded up (dusted) with added sugars and sodium to add the stuff that will keep you pounding them with reckless abandon. The same goes for Peanut Butter— most mass-produced stuff contains ADDED oils, sugar and other needless stuff. Read the label– you’re looking for peanut butter (or any nut butter for that matter) where the ingredient list is Peanuts, Salt. Adam’s Natural Peanut Butter is a great choice for this (not the pre-stirred).

Soy: Unfortunately, Soy is in a lot of processed foods but since it’s plant-based, has been praised as healthy (here we are back to that “natural” thing again). Truth is, it’s mostly crap. Soy is a cheap form of protein but has been linked to all kinds of unfavorable health issues (some discounted… but where there’s smoke, there may be fire)– particularly since most soy is genetically modified (GM) to withstand pesticides in modern farming practices. It’s also loaded with estrogen so if you’re a dude, that may not be something you’re all about putting into your body. In short, the stuff is mostly junk with very few exceptions coming from the unmodified, fermented varieties of soy: Tempeh, Miso and Soy Sauce. If you can’t do dairy, try almond or coconut milk and boot the soy milk.

Multi-Grain: Riding the band wagon of “natural” and “whole grain”, mutli-grain isn’t necessarily awesome. In fact, all it means is “multiple grains”– and since white flour is a grain, it counts. Again, look at the label– if it’s not saying “whole grain wheat” and uses stuff like “bleached white flour”, etc…. walk away. Multi-grain can be good if it’s WHOLE GRAIN. But there’s a lot of leeway in that definition.

Flavored water: It’s water… that’s flavored! Water is good… but “dumbed down” with sugar to add flavor… well, that’s kind of a no-brainer. Just drink water. Need some kick? Add a splash of citrus to it.

Protein Bars: In most cases, these easy-to-pack snacks/Meal Replacements are basically candy bars. They have their uses (in some cases fueling while working/hiking, etc.) but the quality is shotgun approach at best. So here we are back to the “read the label”. Many protein bars use chocolate coating and substitute a majority of their protein with soy, which, as I mentioned earlier, is kind of crap. They can be loaded with sugar and all sorts of chemicals and junk fillers to keep them from melting, keep them from rotting on the shelves and from falling apart. I’ve only found one protein bar I’m really comfortable eating and that’s the Quest Bar, which I’ve reviewed here.

The moral of the story? Read your labels and don’t just assume because there’s some nutritional association with a food that the bottle, bag, bar or jar you’re picking up is loaded with it. The best rule of thumb is to keep most of your foods from whole sources and skip the box and bags. In cases you do go the box and bag route, read your labels so you don’t hijack your nutrition (and ultimately transformational) progress with stuff that pats you on the butt and tells you everything is OK while is shuttles in sugar and junk through the back door.

Need more tips? Support? I’m Dan Vinton and I’m a Diamond Beachbody Coach. You can also find me on Facebook, Google + and Pinterest.

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4 Comments : Leave a Reply

  1. Laurie Endicott Thomas says:

    Yogurt may contain protein and calcium, but it’s practically impossible to find any human beings who suffer from a deficiency of either one when they are eating enough unrefined plant foods to get enough calories. On the other hand, milk products are a major cause of osteoporosis and diabetes.

    • Coach Dan V. says:

      Thanks, Laurie. Dairy certainly has a number of studies to give the idea of cutting back/limiting intake some some pause. And I’d agree– consuming a well-rounded plant-based diet can get the protein and calcium the body needs, especially in the way plant proteins are more bioavailable. Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. I agree with a lot of it. Most of soy and wheat in America is genetically modified. And low fat and fat free is not good for you either. Your body needs fat!

  3. Low-fat is good for you. Although your body does need some fat, fat deficiency is unknown apart from people who have been fed nothing but fat-free solutions intravenously. Even in that situation, the requirement for the essential fatty acids could be met by rubbing a bit of vegetable oil on the skin. Anyone who eats real food gets enough of the only two fatty acids that are essential in human nutrition: linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid. Both are polyunsaturated. The first is an omega-6 and the second is an omega-3. You do not need to eat any saturated or monounsaturated fat whatsoever. If you doubt what I’m saying, please real an introductory textbook on nutrition before responding.

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