Saturday, April 23, 2011

5 Fake Health Foods

When people decide to "go on a diet", there are a number of so-called healthy foods that they typically turn to.  Some may be healthy, others simply are not.  But inevitably there are a few myths out there that just won't die, thanks in large part to clever advertising and labeling.  Heck, all food manufacturers have to do to convince people their product is healthy is to slap an "All Natural" or "Low in Fat" label on it.  Here is a short list of 5 of these "healthy" or "weight-loss" foods that dieters typically turn to and why they're not all they're cracked up to be. 

1.  Veggie Burgers
Ohhh veggie burgers... if I had a nickel for every time I've seen a health-conscious, well-intentioned dieter opt for a veggie burger instead of a real one... well I'd probably have about $10.  But that's a lot of nickels.  Veggie burgers are absolutely not a healthy alternative to beef burgers.  If you look up the ingredients of a typical veggie burger, like the Morningstar Farms Grillers Original burger, you'll learn that these things consist of largely soy and other isolated vegetable proteins.  This is a problem.  Soy is not a health food, especially when it's undergone as much processing as the soy in these burgers has.  There are too many risks of soy to fully explore here, but just to name a few...  1. Soy phytoestrogens disrupt endocrine function and have the potential to cause infertility and to promote breast cancer in adult women.  2. Soy phytoestrogens are potent antithyroid agents that cause hypothyroidism and may cause thyroid cancer.  3. In infants, consumption of soy formula has been linked to autoimmune thyroid disease.  4. Free glutamic acid or MSG, a potent neurotoxin, is formed during soy food processing and additional amounts are added to many soy foods.  Check out the Weston A. Price Foundation for more of this information.  Soy is not good for you, and veggie burgers are made up almost entirely of ingredients made in a food science lab.  Not a good choice.  Just eat a real burger.

2.  Egg Beaters (or other fake egg products)

You know, I really wish everyone would get over this irrational fear of eggs.  Eggs are a fantastic food on their own; they're affordable, satiating, and full of important nutrients, like choline.  Research also shows that those who eat eggs for breakfast end up eating less throughout the rest of the day, so they can be very valuable for weight loss.  Don't concern yourself with the saturated fat and the cholesterol in real eggs, that stuff isn't going to kill you.  Here's a paper to prove it.  But a processed egg substitute in which many of the constituents have likely been damaged or oxidized so badly that your body doesn't even know what to do with them... well I can't vouch for that.  Eat at your own risk.

3.  Deli Meat
Have you ever tried to slice a real turkey breast into a thin, lunch-meat style slice?  How about a beef roast?  Well you wouldn't have much luck.  Real meat doesn't slice into neat little sandwich-friendly slices like deli meat does.  It should be obvious, then, that there's more to deli meat than just the meat.  In order to yield such neat slices, chemicals and preservatives, like sodium nitrate and MSG, are added to the meat.  In addition, deli meats are often extremely high in sodium.  Even more alarming, a recent meta-analysis shows a link between deli meat and other processed meat consumption and incidence of chronic disease, regardless of the saturated fat content of the meat.  It looks like it's not so much the fat content that's important, but the degree of processing and the use of chemicals and preservatives.  The take home message:  deli meat is not a health food, regardless of how lean it is.

4.  Rice Cakes
Rice cakes.  Go to the diet foods section of your grocery store, and I bet you'll see all kinds of rice cakes.  This must be a hangover from the low-fat craze of the mid 90's where everyone started eating mass amounts of low-fat Snackwell's cookies, thinking that because they were low in fat they wouldn't make them fat.  Unfortunately they were wrong.  Weight loss is all about controlling insulin.  Insulin, the hormone that is released when you eat carbohydrate-containing foods, acts as sort of a gatekeeper for fat in the fat cells.  Certain foods will stimulate more insulin release than others; the more insulin released, the more fatty acids that will be forced into the fat cells, making you fatter.  But it doesn't end there.  High insulin levels also prevent that fat from being released from the fat cells, therefore preventing fat loss.  As it turns out, rice cakes have a glycemic index of around 87, meaning they stimulate more insulin than table sugar (that's bad).  If you're trying to lose weight, these silly, bland little fat machines are not your friend.

5.  Cheerios

I have to hand it to General Mills.  I mean, they have done a fantastic job convincing nearly everyone that Cheerios are a healthy breakfast.  Look at all the claims... Heart-Healthy, Reduce Your Cholesterol, High in Soluble Fiber, Low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol.  Not to mention the subtleness of the heart-shaped bowl... very clever.  Everybody loves Cheerios, and nobody feels bad about it.  Sorry to burst your bubble, but Cheerios are NOT good for you.  Going back to insulin and the glycemic index, Cheerios have a glycemic index of about 74, depending on which source you're looking at.  That, too, is higher than table sugar.  As far as insulin is concerned, you'd be better off eating a few slices of white bread for breakfast (don't do that either).  None of those claims really mean anything anyway.  Heart-Healthy?  Prove it.  Reduce Your Cholesterol?  Is that even a good thing?  High in Soluble Fiber?  Cheerios only have one gram of soluble fiber, you can find much more elsewhere.  Low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol?  Obviously, it's made from grains.  And why does it matter if it's low in saturated fat and cholesterol anyway?  Cheerios aren't healthy, folks.  They'll probably do more to slow your weight loss efforts than to facilitate them.

So there they are, 5 fake health foods.  The common denominator between all of these examples?  None of them are real foods.  If I could give one recommendation to improve everyone's health, it would be to Just Eat Real Food (JERF).  I mean real foods that are unprocessed and that come from nature.  Meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, etc.  I don't know about you, but I've never seen a cheerio in the wild.


  1. Call me curious (and hopeful) - does offender 3 include the Italian cuts such as bresaola, prosciutto, mortadella and speck? I know the sodium is insane, but wondering if you'd consider these as included in this - diet food obvs not, but unhealthy - category.

  2. To be fair, I don't think deli meats are really all that unhealthy. They're probably more neutral in my book, maybe leaning towards unhealthy slightly. The reason I put it on here is because people tend to assume that because it's lean meat that it's healthy, when that just isn't the case. I don't know much about the specifics of the Italian meats, like what chemicals are used and all that, but I do know that they are delicious haha, so I don't think there's anything wrong with having them maybe once or twice a week. Even if you're trying to lose weight, I don't see a problem with them, as long as you're keeping your carbs in check. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Love your post, and I concur 100% on all...especially the egg part. Everyone is so afraid of eggs nowadays, and they really have an undeserved bad rap. Sure, the yolks are high in cholesterol. BUT, they are also loaded with nutrients that you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else in such high quantites. AND...eggs have a compound in them that actually "LOWERS CHOLESTEROL!" Yes, I said it...LOWERS CHOLESTEROL. Thanks for the insight!

  4. Soy is okay if it's non-GMO and fermented...but how much you want to bet veggie burgers are neither?

  5. Thank you for another great article. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such a perfect way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such information.
    more information here