July 31, 2013 at 1:41 PM ET
It's no secret that nutritionists and dietitians recommend eating a balanced diet filled with fruits, vegetables and whole grains. And while many eat-right gurus shy away from foods high in sugar, calories and fat, there are a number of items sitting on the supermarket shelves today that are downright frightening. (A drink that doubles as hair dye? A scent that has been proven to cause respiratory toxicity?)
Don’t muck up your gorgeous colorful, healthy, salad by dressing it with a bottled fat-free salad dressing, advises Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, author of The New You and Improved Diet (http://www.nutritiouslife.com). “Although these dressings typically have less calories, they are filled with a long list of not-so-pretty ingredients.” A few of these unattractive items include sugar, high fructose corn syrup and artificial colors (such as yellow 5, yellow 6 and caramel colors, which is an ingredient found in soda). “The way I see it, salad dressing should have fat!” she adds. “The fat helps keep you satisfied—among many positive traits—and helps you absorb all of those great nutrients found in the salad itself. Think about it: Would you buy veggies that are ‘vitamin and mineral free?’ So don't eat salad dressing that is ’fat free.’”
This other popular “good for you” food has also made the no-no list. “One of the most pervasive food myths is the idea that consuming dietary fat makes you fat,” explains Shira Lenchewski, RD, founder of the Work+Play Method™ (http://www.shirard.com). “But truthfully, consuming any macronutrient (meaning carbohydrate, protein or fat) in excess will result in weight gain. The fact is, fat adds flavor, and when it’s removed, sweeteners and artificial flavors are typically added in its place. And trust me: that is not a good thing!”
It’s not just about how much fat is in your yogurt, but which ingredients are in it, as well. “Yogurt is meant to contain simply two ingredients—milk and cultures, a white and creamy healthy treat,” says Glassman. “Bright pink and bright blue may be pretty shades to wear, but they do not belong in yogurt since these colors are created with unnatural dyes and added sugars.” If you’re looking to liven up your breakfast or snack with color and flavor, Glassman advises going the old fashioned route and tossing in fresh berries.
Speaking about sweeteners…also known as sucralose, this additive is marketed as a “natural” product because is made from sugar. However, this statement is misleading—because sucralose does not exist anywhere in nature. “In reality, it’s made from sucrose—table sugar—in a lab via a slew of harsh chemicals,” states Lenchewski. “During the process, oxygen and hydrogen are exchanged for chlorine—yes, as in pool water!” As a result, this switch actually makes Splenda 600 times sweeter than table sugar. “And because sucralose is so much sweeter than natural sugar, it can over-stimulate the sugar receptors, making you crave intensely sweet foods throughout the day. No, thank you!”
If you think you’re eating smart by buying these “healthy” eggs in a carton, think again! “An egg substitute contains over 20 ingredients, including egg whites, coloring, vegetable gums, maltodextrin, spices, and vitamins and minerals native to egg yolks,” explains Lenchewksi. While the product is marketed as “all the goodness of real eggs, only better,” in truth, whole eggs are really the gold standard when it comes to quality protein. “Sure, whole eggs have cholesterol, but we’ve learned that dietary cholesterol is different from blood cholesterol, i.e. LDL,” she says. “Egg yolks not only contain essential fatty acids and vitamin D, but they are also one of the richest dietary sources of choline, a multipurpose B vitamin involved in brain function, mood, memory and anti-inflammation. And let’s be honest, is there anything better than a gooey egg yolk on a Sunday morning?”
Sure, this classic make-it-yourself beverage contains sugar and empty calories, and while it may be a no-brainer that sipping green tea is far more beneficial, Jackie Newgent, Newgent, RDN, CDN, author of 1,000 Low-Calorie Recipes (http://jackienewgent.com/ ), would yell “No way!” after the Kool-Aid Man would exclaim “Oh, yeah!” for a couple of other reasons. “This drink is so wrong in so many ways,” she states. “First of all, you won’t find neon blue or any other artificial Kool-Aid colors in nature anywhere, which is horrifying. But if that isn’t reason enough, let me just say this: I won’t drink anything that potentially works best as the preferred hair dye for teens!”
The label on the bag may read 94% fat-free or 100 calories, but Newgent would rather go hungry while watching a movie than touch this snack. “The typical version is a whole grain ingredient gone awry by way of trans fat, fake flavor, and more,” she says. In fact, a 2012 study published in The American Journal of Pathology states that the ingredient which gives microwaved buttered flavored popcorn its buttery flavor and scent (2,3-pentanedione, also known as PD), can cause respiratory toxicity! “Plus, that smell…come on, your nose knows it’s just not right!”
“Rice cakes remind me of the ‘low-fat diet’ days when nobody looked at sugar grams or carbohydrate quality,” states Lenchewski. While this snack contains limited calories, she believes its lack of taste will lead down a destructive path. “Traditional diet foods don’t work because they always leave you wanting more,” she explains. “And although most rice cakes aren’t more than 60 calories and 15 grams of carbohydrates, they literally taste like air, so you can wind up eating way more than you bargained for. I’m all for truly enjoying everything I eat, while I’m eating it, and then moving on. Let’s leave rice cakes in the past, with dial-up Internet and Bennifer.”
Keep in mind that convenience isn’t always a good. “Just because you can fit something in a can, doesn’t mean it belongs there,” says Newgent. Ranking number one on the ick factor is knowing that a few versions of this non-refrigerated item does not even contain cheese—it is made with additives, chemicals and coloring agents that mimic the taste (and smell) of the dairy favorite. “This pseudo cheese product—along with its science experiment-sounding preservatives—is so far from the real thing, even the cows are appalled!”
Glassman finds this faux cheese product equally as sickening. “Do we really even need to say why?” she asks. “If a food is not the color nature intended, you can pretty much bet that it is pretty awful for your body. “Yes, of course some foods like beets make great natural colors, but fluorescent orange? Now that would be one pretty plant that I would love to see! I’ll be waiting…”
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.