Almost every living organism on the planet eats to survive. For humans, it's gone beyond a necessity into something that is enjoyed and discussed. It's even used in strategic ways to provide weight loss, muscle gain, or control over certain medical conditions like epilepsy or diabetes. Health foods have been touted as a way to get a perfect body or shed unwanted weight, or boost happiness.
Health food is, unfortunately, sometimes a complete fabrication primarily used to simply sell more product to health-conscious people who might not know better. Here are some health foods to avoid, why to avoid them, and what to replace them with in order to truly be healthy.
Juice is considered healthy because it's derived from fruits, which are natural and a part of a balanced diet. What some don't realize is that fruit juice is essentially sugary water. While some juices do contain beneficial compounds like vitamin C and antioxidants, they also contain high levels of sucrose, glucose, or fructose. In fact, pineapple and orange juice contain very high levels of sucrose, with cantaloupe topping the list.
Fruit should still be a part of a balanced diet for those that can eat it, but drinking fruit juice is rarely beneficial. Most benefits of fruit can be garnered from eating the actual fruit, and the fruit itself provides mass for healthy bowel movements, fiber, and will limit overindulgence.
Instead of fruit juice, try seltzer water, tea, or coffee. Many herbal teas have no sugar but pack a lot of flavor, which can help cut down on the juice cravings.
Similar to juice, the consequences outweigh the purported benefits. Dried fruit is often sweetened with additional sugar to make up for the taste loss that comes with removing the juice. Additionally, dried fruit loses some of its best nutrients by being died, while still containing high levels of sugar.
Dried fruit can still be a healthy alternative to other snacking, though. Check packages to make sure sugar isn't an ingredient, as natural sugars present in the fruit won't be listed separately. Dried fruit should also be enjoyed in moderation. It is not a meal replacement, or even part of a meal, dried fruit should be treated as a dessert, or snack. Instead of dried apples or banana chips, try dried berries. Blueberries and raspberries contain a low amount of sugar but have high flavor and antioxidants.
Cheese is a wonderfully healthy food for those who can eat lactose. It contains all the benefits of milk in a condensed package, has great flavor, and can be very filling. Processed cheese, however, is often made with filler ingredients like sand and sawdust. The easiest method to check to see if the cheese is healthy is to check the ingredients. Real cheese rarely has more than four ingredients, often only containing milk, cultures, and rennet (with annatto often added for color).
Fillers are often used to give processed cheese a real cheese-like consistency and taste without needing to use more cost-intensive resources, but these filler ingredients have no nutritional value. When shopping, check the ingredients and choose real cheese.
For those with lactose issues, the older a cheddar is, the less amount of lactose is present in the cheese. Swiss cheese has so little lactose that even the most particular stomachs can sometimes enjoy them without consequence. Also, note that cheese is not a low calorie food, and as such should be eaten in moderation.
Low Fat Yogurt
Yogurt is often believed to be very healthy because of the probiotic compounds it contains. That would be true, except many grocery store brands trick consumers. Some varieties of low-fat yogurt reduce the fat present to entice customers, but compensate for the lack of flavor by adding in additional sugar. Fat tastes good, and when removed, can make a food bland. Companies counter this by sweetening the food, but listing it as low-fat, which is technically true but deceptive.
Many store-brand yogurts are also pasteurized at high temperatures, which completely destroys any probiotics that might be thriving in the yogurt. To avoid these diet traps, choose yogurt with live cultures and no added sugars.
More than a quarter of U.S. citizens try to avoid gluten, due to sensitivities, diet, or preference. Gluten-free chips, snacks, cereals, and bread have all become a massive market. Most consumer are replacing gluten with food that has been stuffed with sugar and alternate starches like tapioca or corn.
Gluten-free options can be incredibly important for those with gluten sensitivities or medical conditions like Chron's disease, but can also be an unhealthy alternative. Some naturally gluten free snacks are dried seaweed, jerky, zucchini, hummus, and cottage cheese.
The food market has made a fortune in claiming food is healthy when the facts don't line up. And while most of the claims aren't technically false, they are intentionally misleading. When searching for healthy food, always check the ingredients, and when possible, opt for natural, non-processed foods if available.