Not all food is fit for human consumption.
Yes, you can buy Oreos and Doritos at the grocery store, but that doesn’t mean you should eat that crap.
They fit into a category that food writer Michael Pollan has dubbed “food-like substances”: it looks like food, it’s packaged like food, yet it’s not at all what your body is looking for.
In order to sustain life, we eat for two main reasons: for energy (in the form of calories) and for nutrients (in the form of vitamins and minerals).
While food-like substances offer an abundance of calories, they’re empty calories, offering little to zero nutritional value. They may be vegan, gluten-free, or low-cal, but eating these processed marvels of modern science is the quickest way to weight gain and become malnourished. Yep – malnourished.
In general, you want to steer clear of anything that has been processed to the point that the end product barely resembles the input or contains a list of ingredients that you would never stock individually in your own pantry.
You may be surprised, though, at just how many of these food-like substances have infiltrated our grocery stores, many even masquerading as health foods. Here are six to steer clear of:
1. Breakfast Cereal
They may be made with “whole grains” but they are so processed and covered in sugar, they serve up more harm than good.
Aside from the sugar, there are a ton of other questionable ingredients including food dyes (many of which have been found to be carcinogenic and are associated with behavioral problems), corn products (which you can assume are GMO), and preservatives (to effectively grant immortality to a once perishable product).
Hate to break it to ya, but even your “healthy” brands with, words like “all natural” and even “organic” are more marketing genius to cover up sketchy ingredient lists rather than an indicator of nutritional value. (See Naked Juice’s recent “all-natural” labeling lawsuit).
Instead, start your morning with a real whole grain cereal, like steel cut oats. You can even turn cooked quinoa or brown rice into a breakfast dish by topping it with seeds, nuts and warming spices. Or, if you prefer cold cereal, try Food for Life’s Ezekial 4:9, which is simply sprouted whole grains with no added sugar or preservatives. You can also ditch the grains all together and do a fruit plate or smoothie.
2. Fruit Juice
Fruit is healthy. So, shouldn’t fruit juice be healthy? Not quite. Fruit is indeed healthy, but that’s because its natural sugars are packaged with fiber, which helps your body metabolize it in such a way that you don’t get the crazy blood sugar spike like you do with refined sugars.
When you squeeze a fruit for its juice, you’re getting some vitamins with a straight shot of liquid sugar – no fiber to be found. So what was once healthy now ends up putting you on the blood sugar roller coaster.
Green and non-sweet vegetable and fruit juices are fine. If you love the taste of OJ or apple juice, only drink it if it’s fresh pressed (i.e. not from a grocery store package) and reserve it as an occasional treat, not something you drink every day. Instead, choose juices with ingredients like lettuce, cucumber and celery. Use lemon and ginger to make green juices more palatable, and if you must, just a small splash of fruit juice to make the medicine go down.
3. Soda and Diet Soda
Talking about liquid sugar… whether they’re using high fructose corn syrup, white sugar, or artificial sweeteners, there are absolutely no redeeming qualities in soda – diet or regular. You need to cut this habit, now.
They are acidic, leach minerals out of your bones and artificial sweeteners have been linked to everything from headaches to cancer. It should come as no surprise that regular colas, with their regular sweeteners, can quickly pack on the pounds, but even diet soda has been linked to increased risk of obesity.
Of course, water is your number one choice for replacement. Squeeze in some lemon or throw in some mint or cucumber to give it more flavor. You can also try fresh (not packaged) coconut water or tea. If you must wean yourself off your dirty little habit, switch temporarily to club soda or seltzer, so you at least get the bubbles without the sweeteners. Carbonated beverages of any sort, though, are not ideal, and should just be used in your transition to H2O drinking.
4. Tortilla Chips
This may be the toughest one. Yes they are delicious. But they are made from GMO corn. GMOs are a big no-no. While the scientists that create these franken-foods will of course tell you they’re harmless, the people that are eating them will often beg to differ. Take Elle magazine writer, Caitlin Shetterly, who finally cured her mysterious ailments after three and a half years, when a new doctor told her to cut GMO corn from her diet.
But what will I dip in guacamole?! Have no fear. Crudite, a.k.a raw vegetables, are just as good in the green stuff. Just slice up some broccoli or carrots and dip until your heart is content. If you must, always choose organic tortilla chips, but GMO corn is so prevalent today, it has likely cross-contaminated the organic crops, as well.
When trying to remember what all of the fake meats are made of, this one was easy. Pronounced like Satan, I’d equate this food with the devil. Seitan is made entirely of wheat gluten, a highly allergenic protein that is normally found in small amounts in wheat-based products. With the increased prevalence of gluten allergies and intolerances, there are many better meat substitutes than this.
I’m all for the most natural replacements, with things like Portobello mushrooms, or black bean and quinoa burgers. If you prefer a more “meat” like product, try tempeh, or, in moderation, tofu.
6. Diet Food
If a food has to try to sell itself to you, it’s probably not the best choice. You always want to choose things that are as close to their natural state as possible. That means anything that doesn’t come from the produce aisle or bulk section is questionable, especially it if has any sort of “health” claim on it.
Phrases like “low-fat” and “no-fat” are usually secret codes for “high in sugar.” Fat is what makes food taste good, so when a food has been tampered with to get the fat to go down, it most likely will come at the expense of making the sugar go up.
You can assume “sugar-free” desserts and colas have been sweetened with artificial ingredients, which you always want to avoid as they’ve been linked to a range of health problems. The only real “diet” foods are fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
Bottom line? Skip these sneaky packaged foods and their false promises, and instead choose whole foods as often as possible.
Maria Guadagno, Certified Health Coach
Maria is the founder of The Bombshell Blueprint, a 6-month, one-on-one coaching program designed specifically for women to help them achieve ultimate wellness and beauty. Clients receive a personally tailored diet and manageable steps to help them lose weight, get glowing skin, and improve their overall health, for good! Maria is trained in raw and natural food preparation from the Natural Gourmet Institute, and in holistic nutrition from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. So, she loves to explain why you are what you eat. Find her on: Facebook: The Bombshell Blueprint, Twitter: @MariaGuadagno, Blog:www.thebombshelldiet.com