More than 20,000 new foods and beverages were introduced into your local grocery store in 2006. Some of the most popular of those items claimed to be natural, organic, fresh, low- or no-fat, to contain no preservatives or to have more vitamins — in short, to be supernutritious. But some healthy-sounding foods are impostors, implying they offer more than they really do.
Most of us are aware that just because a bread's label says it is seven-grain or whole wheat, that doesn’t mean it’s so. But there are many more deceptive tricks to avoid. Learn how to distinguish the real healthy foods from some of the thousands of foods that fool:
Flax, walnuts, and soy
Most people know that the omega-3 fats are the “good for you” fats. There actually are three omega-3s. Flax, walnuts and soy contain an omega-3 fat called ALA that is great for lowering heart disease risk. But that’s about all. You get a much bigger bang for your buck with the other two omega-3s found in fatty fish, especially the omega-3 fat DHA. This fat lowers heart disease risk, and it potentially lowers the risk for depression, asthma, postpartum depression, dementia, and possibly even Alzheimer’s disease. It also is essential for brain and vision development in babies and small children. You need at least two servings a week of salmon, mackerel, herring or sardines.
If you don’t like fish, can’t afford it, or are concerned about mercury and pesticides, then look for foods fortified with a contaminant-free, plant-based form of DHA, such as Gold Circle Farm Eggs, Silk Soymilk Plus DHA, Oh Mama! Nutrition Bars, Rachel’s Yogurt or Cabot Vermont Reduced Fat Cheddar Cheese with DHA. Aim for a total of at least 200 milligrams of DHA a day.
Green tea has antioxidant compounds with fancy names like polyphenols that lower cancer and heart disease risk. Those polyphenols don’t make it into bottled teas in appreciable amounts, if at all. What does make it into the bottle is sugar. Many of these teas have the calorie equivalent of a side order of hash browns. And, because they are liquid calories, they don’t fill us up, so it is easy to overconsume calories, which means weight gain. Save your money and brew your own green tea at home.
Yogurt can be a great health food — it's rich in calcium, which helps prevent bone loss and osteoporosis. It also contains healthy bacteria, called probiotics, that keep your digestive tract in tiptop shape, lowering risks for everything from diarrhea to colon cancer. But the flavored or fruited yogurts have the sugar equivalent of a candy bar, and the designer yogurts with made-up bacteria names are just expensive hype.
Save your money and buy plain, nonfat yogurts that contain the tried-and-true bacteria, such as L. acidophilus. Then flavor it at home with some jam or fresh fruit.
How anyone can take a perfectly great food like an apple, rich in fiber and antioxidants and fat-free, and turn it into the grease and calorie equivalent of potato chips is beyond me! Worse yet, these chips often are sold in the produce department, which gives them a health halo they don’t deserve. Instead, cut apples into wedges for a crisp, juicy snack.
Just about every box in the cereal aisle has the words “made with whole grains” splashed cross the front panel. But adding a dusting of whole grain to Cocoa Puffs does not convert it into a health food. First and foremost, don’t believe anything you read on the front of the box. Always turn the container over and look for three clues:
- In the ingredients list, look for whole grains — like whole wheat, brown rice, oats or rye — in the top items.
- In the nutrition panel, look for cereals with no more than seven grams of sugar.
- Buy cereals that contain at least five grams of fiber.
Cereals that meet this criteria include shredded wheat, some of the Kashi cereals, Grape-Nuts, Ezekiel 4:9 and some of the Barbara’s Bakery cereals.