My mother always said not to beat a dead horse but, regarding supposedly healthy foods that aren’t, I don’t believe that saying is true. This is one of the biggest problems I see for people as they remove “junk” food and think they are eating healthy alternatives. But, let’s be realistic – there really isn’t junk food – there is junk and there is food. Worse, many of these supposed health foods, aren’t.
Again, there may be healthier versions of these foods available, but for the most part, these foods should not be staples in your diet. So here’s the next three that I see as recurring problems and some truly healthy alternatives.
Health Food That’s Not Healthy – Soy Protein
How in the world this become a health food? Soy is now in 70% of all processed foods. When soy became the oil of choice (which was nothing more than a great marketing campaign) there was a defatted mass of protein left after the oil was extracted from the soybeans. In 1970, soy protein was ruled safe for use as an ingredient in cardboard with some concern that the toxins might leach from the cardboard containers into the foods causing health issues. In 1975, the soybean companies realized they could market soy protein to get rid of their industrial waste product, if affluent people thought it to be healthy. United Soybean, the industry council, spends $80 million every year in marketing to convince us that soy is a natural, healthy product. In 2006, even the American Heart Association denounced soy as a health food. But, the FDA continues to consider soy a “heart healthy” food (wonder how much that cost United Soybean).
Healthy Alternative: Isolating anything and expecting it to have the same nutritional value as the whole food is a bit silly – it will never be as healthy. But, I understand that some people need a protein boost (such as in their smoothies), so the alternative is raw whey, organic pastured raw egg, or HealthForce Nutritionals Warrior Powder (raw & vegan).
Health Food That’s Not Healthy – Tofu
While I’m picking on the soybean industry, let’s debunk the myth that tofu is a healthy alternative to animal products. Let’s go back to how the theory of tofu as a health food started. The phytoestrogens changed women’s menstrual cycles so it was hypothesized (never proven though) that eating soy could lower a women’s estrogen levels over her lifetime because her cycles were longer and then decreased completely (although I’m not sure how this is healthy). This theory was then linked to a hypothesis that lower estrogen levels would reduce the risk of breast cancer. The soy industry has done a great job marketing this potential health benefit, but there is no proof – it was all speculation, now proven horribly wrong. It’s the second question every oncologist asks me; do you recommend soy products? When I say no, I get their blessing to work with their patient and together we’ve created a lot of healthier people.
I know, the question always comes up about Asian countries, great health, and how they eat tofu. More history folks, soy is a legume that was used in rotation to add/fix nitrogen in soil. When used as a food, soy was fermented and eaten as a condiment, usually in fish broth. That’s because soy contains trypsin inhibitors that are deactivated by fermenting. It has phytates which remove minerals from the body which fish broth replaces. It is a goitrogen which can suppress and permanently damage the thyroid. And, of course, the previously mentioned phytoestrogens. None of this fills the bill of a health food.
And I won’t even start on Monsanto owning most soybean crops, which are now genetically modified to resist the use of the pesticide Roundup.
Healthy Alternative: If you really like the taste of tofu and/or soybeans, then eat them the healthy way Asian cultures have for centuries and you might get the same health benefits. Try tempeh, miso, natto, and/or tamari that have been minimally processed using low temperatures which started with organic, non-GMO soybeans. Fermenting will definitely cure some of the problems with soy, but not all of them, so minimize your intake.
Health Food That’s Not Healthy – Trail Mix & Nuts
No, you didn’t read that wrong. I’m not sure where trail mix got the reputation for being healthy. Trail mix is one of the most caloricly dense foods in a store, consisting of a high amount of sugar. This is great if you’re on a big hike - small food with a big energy hit. But, otherwise it’s way too easy to eat a day’s worth of calories in one snack of trail mix and that’s certainly not healthy.
Nuts can be a great health food, but they have to be properly prepared. They have phytic acid protecting them so that in the wild they have the greatest opportunity to sprout into a new tree. Unfortunately we don’t have the ability to remove the phytic acid in our digestive system, and even trying uses up important minerals and vitamins that end up attaching to the nut and leaving our bodies. Obviously now they become the opposite of a health food. Also, note that peanuts are not actually nuts but are a legume. There are many harmful elements in peanuts so I’d recommend avoiding them entirely.
Healthy Alternative: Soak or sprout your nuts to remove the phytic acid. The easiest way is to place the nuts in a bowl, fill with water, you can add sea salt if you’d like, let sit for about 12 hours. Some people like them just like this, others like to dry them back out by placing them on a cookie sheet in the oven at your lowest possible temperature. In my house it takes about another 12 hours to get them to the crunchy state the family likes. Let your taste be your guide though. They are super tasty, and healthy.
Make your own nut butter from the soaked seeds rather than drying them for super health. Make your own trail mix with the nuts, homemade dried fruit (see earlier post), soaked seeds, coconut flakes, etc. Again, it’s very calorie heavy so limit yourself to the size of a post-it note unless you’re headed out for that long hike.
If you are trying to get healthy or lose weight look at your diet to see how many of these unhealthy health saboteurs you are eating. Try eliminating they completely from your diet for 30 days. Journal your foods, digestive issues, thoughts, and emotions during this time. I know you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how much healthier you feel.