Frequently I hear that someone is eating healthy but they aren’t losing weight or feeling better. When we dive a little deeper into their food habits I find that they have replaced previously eaten junk food with what they think are healthy alternatives. Unfortunately many of these supposed health foods, aren’t.
Sure, there’s probably healthier versions of these culprits out there, but for the most part, these foods should be considered as treats, not staples in your diet. So here’s the first three that I see as recurring problems and some truly healthy alternatives.
Health Food That’s Not Healthy - Beef Jerky.
I’ll admit, beef jerky can be a great health food, but you’re going to have to make it yourself. Just take a look at the ingredients lists, it’s loaded with sugar, sodium, colorings, corn syrup, soy, wheat, nitrites, and MSG! I looked at JackLinks Teriyaki Beef Stick and it has 20 ingredients and has been treated with potassium sorbate to ensure freshness. Plus one serving has 1/3 of your daily recommended intake of sodium. All these beefs have been factory farmed, given antibiotics and possibly growth hormones – none of which we want to eat. This is only a perceived health food.
Healthy Alternative: Make your own. It’s super easy, very affordable and tastes much, much better. I really suggest you give it a try. Purchase a grass fed cut of beef, almost anything will work great, try loin, sirloin, rib eye, top round, eye of round, bottom round, etc. Skip flank steak or brisket as they are usually too tough. Slice yourself or ask the butcher to slice into 1/4 inch slices across the grain. It’s easier to slice if it’s partially frozen. If you want you can marinate the meat for extra flavor. You are limited in flavor options only by your imagination. In a single layer, season with ground black pepper, sea salt, and any other spices you like. Allow to dry using low temperature (120-170 degrees F) on a cookie sheet in the oven, on the grill, or in a dehydrator. It will last a week in a paper bag on the counter, several weeks in a sealed container in the refrigerator, and up to a year in the freezer (vacuum sealing may give you even longer).
Health Food That’s Not Healthy – Granola.
Although people think of granola as an ancient food, it really came around with industrialization of agricultural crops. It became a “health” food in the 1960′s and then came back with a vengeance during the low-fat health wave of the 1980′s and 1990′s. Sold as a “healthier” alternative to boxed breakfast cereals because if was “whole grain”, companies tried to make it tastier by adding flavorings, a myriad of sweeteners, and dried fruits. Then, of course, granola bars were created as a quick, portable, health snack. But, read most labels and granola should be a dessert. Most contain the worst carbohydrates using simple sugars and starches, some don’t even use whole grains, then there’s added sugar from honey, brown sugar, dried fruit, evaporated cane juice, etc.
Healthy Alternative: If you really want to eat granola, try gRAWnola which is made in small batches and offers a lot more nutrition, with fewer carbohydrates, more protein, real vitamins and minerals. It is a completely raw product using sprouted traditional grains. You can order from them at www.grawnola.com. No, I’m not getting a kickback for recommending them – it is a truly healthy option if you want granola.
Health Food That Isn’t Healthy – “Health” Drinks.
The health drink/flavored water market is now a multi-billion dollar industry. There’s so many out there touting “health” benefits from energy to relaxation to offers of more concentration, faster recovery, and even hangover relief. Yet, they all basically have the same formula (sugar + flavored water + perceived health benefit).
Let’s take Gatorade since it’s one of the biggest. Claims include recovery and hydration, using electrolytes and sugar. There is some benefit to recovery, but no more than water with a touch of sea salt and a piece of fresh fruit. And truly, are you working out at an athletic level that requires this type of instant replenishment? Most of us aren’t and Gatorade and other “health” drinks become empty calories sabotaging us.
Alternative: Coconut water is a natural alternative that is much healthier, but be careful that it doesn’t replace regular water. It’s a good electrolyte replacement if you’re working out hard for an hour or more – otherwise water is sufficient. Another alternative is herbal teas or infusions. Again, just remember to not make these your exclusive beverages – there’s no alternative to hydrating water, just add a slice of lemon, cucumber, orange, or berries to give a sweet, tasty flavor.
Update 7/25/12: Check out this story for more information on why Gatorade may not be a health choice. http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/07/the-gatorade-hype.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+andrewsullivan%2FrApM+%28The+Daily+Dish%29&utm_content=Google+Reader
Health Foods That Aren’t Healthy – To Be Continued
I don’t want to get too preachy here, so I’ll continue on with more great unhealthy health food saboteurs next week. In the meantime, start a food journal and write down the foods you eat. Beginning reading labels to determine the health benefits of the foods you ingest.