My clients often tell me that they are eating a “healthy diet,” so they don’t understand why they can’t lose weight, have digestive issues, crave carbs and sweets, or still feel sluggish. And part of my intake is to take a deep dive into exactly what they are eating on their “healthy diet” which oftentimes reveals that they are consuming what I will call health food imposters.
What is a Health Food Imposter?
If you are not eating food in its original form – such as a piece of fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, or animal products – chances are you are eating something out of a package. And that package’s label can unfortunately try to convince you that an unhealthy food is actually healthy.
Labels that say “All-natural,” “Low-fat”, “Non-fat”, “Low calorie,” and “No added sugar,” are often signs that they we need to be convinced that these foods are healthy when actually they are not. Here are some top offenders
It would be one thing if this was traditional homemade yogurt that has pure ingredients and low sugar, but most store-bought yogurts are a big sugar bomb. And the ones with added fruit also can have even more added sugar. The number two ingredient behind milk of a popular brand I used to eat daily is SUGAR.
And for many, regular consumption of dairy products can also be an issue. We CAN get calcium from non-dairy sources such as leafy green vegetables that come along with other bone building nutrients like vitamin K, potassium, and magnesium.
One healthy thing about yogurt is the probiotics, but if it does not contain “live active” yogurt cultures and the milk has been pasteurized (i.e. heated to kill bacteria) then you’re basically just eating sweetened milk.
What to look for: No added sugar, live active cultures, organic milk.
I stood in the aisle at the grocery store for a while, picking up bar after bar, searching for one that had 10 grams or less of sugar. And yes there are a few of those, but looking at the nutrition facts for most of these I may as well have been looking at a candy bar with all of the sugar and processed ingredients. I mean even some of them are named things like “Peanut Butter Cookie” and “Cinnamon Roll” so what should you expect?
Even ones that sound healthy like a Greens bar can be full of sugar. I learned this the hard way after eating one on the way to a doctor’s appointment many years ago. I have never had elevated blood sugar in my life, but after that sugar load, my blood test came back with a red flag level of blood sugar. Of the top 5 ingredients in that bar, 4 were providing sugar. Yes, they were natural things like dates, organic tapioca syrup, chicory root fiber and brown rice crisps (with brown rice and brown rice syrup).
What to look for: minimally processed ingredients, 10 grams or less of sugar, non-GMO/organic ingredients. Beware of food allergens such as wheat, soy, dairy, and egg.
While artificial sweeteners were initially developed to minimize calorie intake from sugars and help with weight loss, recent studies have actually found the opposite to be true. In fact, people who drink diet sodas are more likely to gain weight in the long run. Some of the artificial sweeteners are thousands of times sweeter than actual sugar and may cause your brain to actually crave MORE sweet. And all of those fake ingredients in these diet products put a strain on your liver.
For more than 10 years, I used to drink at least a 6-pack a day of diet cola. But since changing I have not missed it and now I’m happy to drink hot or cold tea, water, or a sparkling water that has no artificial ingredients.
What to look for: Need a little fizz? Try seltzer water with no added sweetener and no artificial ingredients.
Again, if you are making this yourself, you can watch the sugar content, but store-bought granola’s top ingredients are often multiple layers of sugar. One popular brand’s ingredients for Almond Granola Clusters include: tapioca syrup, cane sugar, honey, molasses, and brown rice syrup. Do you really need five types of sugar in your granola???
Oats also tend to be a crop that is highly sprayed with glyphosate to induce the harvest, so look for organic oats.
What to look for: read the label for total sugar content and how many different types of sweet are in the ingredients; buy organic
Sounds amazingly healthy, but look out for fruit juices that are used to sweeten and end up loading your green juice with sugar. I remember this one time my husband was so excited to have bought me a non-GMO superfood green juice smoothie with “no added sugar.” His face fell and jaw dropped when I turned over the label to reveal the sugar content: 50 grams!!! That is nearly double the sugar content of a Snickers bar (27 grams)!
Another issue is to make sure the ingredients are organic. In Resilient Health, I relay the tale of a client who developed neurologic symptoms from the vegetable juice that he was drinking daily. Even though it was coming from a store that’s well-known as a healthy food store, the juices were not organic. When we checked his organophosphate pesticide levels, they were through the roof. Luckily those levels can come down quickly after removing the exposure. So after stopping the non-organic juices, his levels came down and luckily his symptoms went away also.
What to look for: beware of fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates, read the label for total sugar content, choose organic ingredients.