It’s been said that the greatest wealth is health, so I feel blessed to have been able to literally combine the two and make the pursuit of health a big part of my entrepreneur, editorial and consulting career paths. No matter where you are in life, healthy living can unlock a higher version of your Self. Numerous studies have shown that people who mindfully practice good health are more productive, become better leaders, experience greater creativity, are less stressed — the list goes on!
I think we are in this great golden age of everyone being aware of the impact that our health habits have on our lives. After all, if we’re not caring for our body regularly, where else are we going to live? Unfortunately, that also means the market has been flooded with products and trends that masquerade as being healthy while really being anything but that!
This Halloween, I want to draw attention to four very popular “health” foods that are so spooky they’ll haunt your gut and your bathroom weight scale for months! It’s time to leave these “treats” in the garbage bin.
1. Juices and smoothies
I love me my kombucha. I’m an advocate of cold-pressed juice as a delicious way to stay refreshed. I cautiously support some of the health benefits of juicing, though there are many skeptics (like this and this and this) that make reputable science-based claims against juicing.
But my real gripe with our current infatuation with juices? Most of the delicious bevvies we see at juice trucks or in stores are loaded with sugar. For example, the exceedingly popular BluePrint brand builds its foundational basic cleanse around its “P.A.M.” juice. Guess how much sugar P.A.M. has? A whopping 49 grams of sugar in a single bottle. And you’re supposed to drink this juice, with three other sugary juices, six times a day to supposedly detox and cleanse!
Out of curiosity, I checked to see how much sugar was in Coca-Cola. A can of the bubbly has “only” 39 grams of sugar. If we were judging just by sugar alone, chugging Coke is healthier than a juice cleanse! (Yes, flawed argument, but you get the point.)
Not all juices are like this, but many of the most popular and most delicious varieties out there truly deliver a ghoulishly sweet sucker punch to your waistline. If you’re not careful, you won’t be able to fit into your Halloween costume!
Here are a few points to consider as you navigate the juice aisle at Whole Foods:
- Check the ingredients label. Green juices, like kale or spinach, should make up the majority of the ingredients. Fruit juice should always be minimal or nonexistent.
- Consider the price. Juices are extremely pricey and completely devoid of fiber. Real food is always best! Eat an apple, with all its delicious vitamins, minerals and fiber, instead of just sucking on juice like a fruit vampire.
2. Protein bars
I eat protein like it’s for breakfast. No, actually. I drink protein and fiber supplements with my organic almond milk every morning before rushing off to work. Protein supplementation can offer several benefits, especially if you’re an active individual. But protein bars? Exercise extreme caution.
Here’s the ingredients label for a very popular protein bar on the market:
This is actually a great example of most protein bars on the market. Much of what you see in the nutrition facts is decent (not good, but not terrible) until you get to the carbohydrate section. This tiny protein bar manages to pack in 32 grams of carbohydrates, including 16 grams of sugar! In comparison, a standard 52.7 gram bar of Snickers has 33 grams of carbs. How is this protein bar, marketed by a major health company, “healthy”?
As with anything, nutrition facts are just one part of the story. When you dive into the ingredients, you notice a few more alarming things, such as the presence of whey protein concentrate (inferior form of protein) followed by six different forms of sugary sweeteners. Compared to the ingredients in a Snickers bar, Snickers seem positively glamorous!
If you still want to enjoy a protein bar — or a granola bar, as these are often even worse — consider these factors:
- Protein isolates only. Everything else is inferior.
- Try protein powder instead. It’s much cheaper per serving, and if you’re worried about convenience, you can easily pack it into a to-go bag or container. If it’s whey protein isolate, it’ll mix easily without a shaker bottle or blender necessary.
- Watch out for those sweeteners. Quest Bars and other healthier protein bars have just 2 or 3 grams of sugar per bar. There are good alternatives out there, you just need to search for them!
- If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, don’t eat it. The less ingredients on the label, the better!
- Be aware of the environmental impact that common food ingredients have. Palm oil is a key ingredient in many, many protein bars, and it’s one of the world’s leading causes of deforestation, animal extinction and human rights issues. (Read more about the perils of palm oil here and here, and boycott products that contain this oil)
- Get your protein from whole foods as much as possible. Protein bars should be a supplement when time is tight, not your main meal.
3. Agave syrup
When the world woke up to how bad high fructose corn syrup, sugar and other common sweeteners were, people began searching for naturally healthier options. Agave syrup seemed to be the Holy Grail of alternatives, but researchers are now recognizing that agave is a Nightmare on Elm Street (where “Elm Street” is your bloodstream). Even Dr. Oz, who is hardly an angel when it comes to making weird health recommendations, has recanted his endorsement of agave syrup.
While agave syrup is low on glucose, which is good, it’s extremely high in fructose. In fact, it has more fructose than high-fructose corn syrup! Fructose wrecks havoc on hormone levels, such as leptin, which influences your appetite. Extremely high levels of fructose have also been linked to liver damage and heart disease.
There’s no easy way to eat a “healthy” level of sweets. In this case, moderation may still be too much, especially when so much of our food is sweetened. The cumulative damage can be great! For the best results, talk to your doctor and try staying away from unnecessary sweeteners, even if it’s offered to you by a well-meaning trick-or-treater.
4. Added vitamins
I take a multivitamin daily, even though there’s an overwhelming amount of research that shows multivitamins do little good or no good at all. However, marketers often use artificially enhanced vitamin and mineral levels to make their food seem healthy.
When you see labels proclaiming “High in vitamin D!” or “A great source of vitamin C!,” you know what I mean.
The problem? Many products on the market have their nutrient levels boosted with synthetic vitamins. Other products claim to have natural forms of vitamins, though these added supplements may have actually been made in a lab from the precursors to these vitamins, making them anything but “natural.” In summary, so many of the health foods on the market have inferior or even unusable forms of vitamins added to them, which you can see when scanning ingredient labels.
Another huge issue is the fact that because many of our foods now have added vitamins, some people are running a risk of overdosing. For certain vitamins like water-soluble vitamin C, that presents a low health risk and you merely piss away the excess vitamins (and the money you spent on them). But other vitamins and minerals, like iron and vitamin A, may actually build up to toxic levels in our bodies.
- Know the tolerable upper limits of vitamins and minerals for your gender and age, and watch out for these vitamins in your food.
- Focus on getting your minerals and vitamins from whole foods and use commercially prepared foods with boosted vitamin levels as a last resort.
I had the privilege of recently outlining 10 more frighteningly un-healthy health foods in Alive health magazine. Check it out in the magazine or on their website!
We are responsible for our own health, wellness and happiness. When we research and understand the ingredients and overlapping health factors in our foods, we empower ourselves to truly take control of our destiny. All of us must do our part in researching, understanding and acknowledging the role that food plays in our lifestyle, and cutting through the marketing crap that so many health companies throw at us. Be skeptical about everything you put in your body! You only have one body to use on this planet.