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Posts Tagged ‘false claims’

Everyone knows that “junk food” is bad for us. Many of us know that “processed food” is bad for us. But what really is the difference? Why do many health-conscious consumers shun potato chips but enjoy granola bars in abundance? Why do many health-conscious consumers refuse to buy soda for their child but purchase fortified “juice” beverages regularly?

Cereal

Processed food is food that has been heavily manufactured in order to be shelf-stable. Processed food rarely resembles anything from nature. Processed food fills the inner aisles of the grocery store; things like cereal, crackers, breads, bottled beverages, granola bars, and other snack foods. There is no question that these foods are not part of a healthy diet. When a food undergoes so much manufacturing, it becomes nutritionally devoid. An enormous amount of preservatives and other artificial ingredients are added to these foods to keep them “fresh.” In addition, a great deal of sugar and salt is often added to make these “foods” taste better. The healthiest foods are the ones closest to their natural state. Our bodies are not designed to consume these man-made concoctions that America has come to accept as food. When we eat shrink-wrapped, boxed, bagged creations, we will not reach optimal health and weight. Calories are irrelevant here; the food you eat is a lot more complex than calories. [For more on this, read my post Confessions of an Ex-Calorie Counter.]

There is rarely any dispute over junk food. The general consensus is that foods like twinkies, potato chips, and soda are not good for us. This is true, however, there are many foods just like these that the average family would consider a healthy addition to their pantry. Unfortunately, a great deal of marketing fools most consumers into believing items like granola bars or fortified cereals are a beacon of health, while in reality, they are much like twinkies in disguise. [See my posts The Truth About Granola Bars and The Truth About Vitamin Water for more specific info on this.]

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While these healthy substitutes may be certified organic and may not contain harmful ingredients like high fructose corn syrup or trans fat, they are certainly not the foundation of a healthy diet. Nearly all these foods are very high in sugar and are heavily processed. “Whole wheat” bread is one of the worst offenders; consumers think that a “whole grain” label is a sign of a truly nutritious choice. These breads are full of preservatives and often still contain refined white flour. [For more on this, read my post All About Bread.] While I recommend them over their more unnatural counterparts, I really don’t recommend them at all. A long ingredient list is always worth avoiding.

But perhaps the worst offender is functional or fortified foods. These are standard, processed foods that have certain vitamins or nutrients added to increase their marketability. There is always a new nutrient in the spotlight with incredible health claims and promises. Things like vitamin C, fiber, antioxidants, omega 3s, and probiotics are just some of the current health buzzwords. Food companies know that consumers are becoming increasingly interested in health, so they fortify their processed, cheap, junk food with these substances. These are healthy substances when found occurring naturally in whole foods. However, supplementing a nutrient-devoid, sugar-laden, chemically-ridden cracker with a certain nutrient won’t make it healthy.

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probiotics

Be a smart consumer. When considering your food purchases, don’t be enticed by health claims and packaging. Stick to foods that resemble something that may be found in nature and the nutrition will take care of itself.

Eat your vegetables,
Emily

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I’m sure most of us couldn’t imagine a life without bread: sandwiches, toast, bread baskets, bread bowls, and so forth. It is an integral part of our food culture and seems to be a major player in every meal. However, with the rise of low carb diets, the concept of “good carbs” and “bad carbs,” plus the new offerings of “whole wheat” everything, it’s easy to get confused about which breads are healthy and which are not.

All the bread I’ll be talking about here and pretty much all commercial bread is wheat bread, meaning it is made from wheat. Some people confused “whole wheat” with “wheat,” but all regular bread is made from wheat. The difference is the refining and manipulation of the wheat grain.

Wheat Background
The wheat grain is made up of three parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. The bran and the germ are the outer, fibrous layers of the grain that contain nearly all the nutrients and fiber.

Bread Making in America
However, in order to make white bread, these outer layers are removed, stripping the wheat of most of its nutrients. What’s left is the measly endosperm, containing no real vitamins or minerals. In order to replace some of what is lost, factories and bread manufacturers “enrich” their breads with arbitrary amounts of chemically synthesized vitamins. The fiber is not replaced. What is left is a product devoid of the natural nutrition of the wheat grain in order to make it more soft and fluffy. However, it doesn’t stop there. Commercial bread manufacturers then add a plethora of chemicals and additives in order to make the bread shelf stable and cosmetically pleasing. This refinement process, besides removing vital nutrients, makes bread very high on the glycemic index. This means it causes rapid blood sugar crashes and basically converts into your body as sugar. Refined bread is also higher in calories because the endosperm, the most caloric part of the grain, is most prominent.

Refined Bread… It’s Everywhere
It is obvious to most of us that a piece of white Wonder Bread is refined and therefore not whole wheat and lacking in nutritional value. However, in America, virtually everything is “white” bread unless otherwise specified: french baguette, ciabatta, focaccia, tortillas, hot dog and hamburger buns, and crackers. Even breads labeled “whole wheat” usually contain white (refined) flour as well and are merely supplemented with some whole wheat flour. It is imperative to read the label and see “100% whole wheat flour” and no mention of “enriched,” “bleached” or “unbleached,” flour is there. To make it simple: if it doesn’t say “whole,” it has been refined. Even home-made breads or bread fresh from the bakery is made with white flour unless otherwise noted.

“Whole Wheat” and “Whole Grain” as a Marketing Scheme
Whole wheat and whole grain have become terms that automatically mean “healthy” to most consumers. However, as stated before, many breads labeled “whole wheat” are mixed with a hefty amount of white flour as well. “Whole grain” is a somewhat meaningless term in the world of conventional bread; they may have added some “whole” grains (like rye) to the bread, but those grains could still be surrounded by white, refined flour. Again, check the ingredients, and when something claims to be “whole wheat,” truly investigate that is made only with whole wheat flour. Sometimes breads are even dyed to appear darker in color and look healthier.

How To Find A Good Bread
After ensuring you find a bread that is made exclusively from whole wheat flour, there are other things to look for. Breads often include the harmful additives high fructose corn syrup or trans fats known as partially hydrogenated oils which should be avoided at all costs. I suggest avoiding added sweeteners like honey or molasses as well as they are not necessary for making a great-tasting bread. And, a general rule of thumb: don’t buy something with a lengthy list of ingredients you can’t pronounce. Things labeled “to retain freshness” is their kind way of saying chemical preservatives. None of these things make for a healthy choice. It is the easiest to find whole wheat breads devoid of these additives at health food stores or natural markets. Chain grocery stores do not make at easy, but at health food stores you’ll have a number of choices. Bread is not a food that was originally designed to stay fresh for a week at room temperature. Real bread made from the whole grain is so nutrient dense that it spoils easily and usually does better in the refrigerator. When you want a piece, simply toast it for a minute or two.

A Superior Alternative: Sprouted Grain Bread
Sprouted grain bread is often made without flour. A number of whole grains such as wheat, barley, and spelt are sprouted by being submerged in water. The sprouted grains are then used to make a nutritionally superior bread to regular floured wheat bread without any additives. When these grains sprout, they produce a number of vitamins and minerals and are metabolized in your body more as vegetables than as bread or flour. My personal favorite is Ezekiel 4:9 bread, available at health food stores (and some really great chain grocery stores, too). It is almost always in the refrigerated section.

Ezekiel bread, which comes in a variety of flavors, combines wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt. The combination of grains makes for the proper balance of amino acids to provide a complete protein. One slice has only 80 calories but 4 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber, which is more substantial than even the best whole wheat breads. Oh, and it tastes GREAT. It may be made from sprouted grains, but it doesn’t taste like a veggie loaf. It’s a rich, nutty, and bread-tasting. My favorite flavor is Sesame.

Hopefully that clears up some of the bread confusion!

Eat well,
Emily

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This may be a touchy subject because I know how many avid Vitamin Water drinkers are out there, especially in our increasingly health-conscious (but misinformed) society. However, it’s time to face the facts!

Vitamin Water gives the illusion of a healthy, hydrating, and rejuvenating miracle elixir. The bottles are beautiful, colorful, and the text on them is snappy and clever. They have empowering flavor names like “endurance,” “energy,” “essential,” and “focus.” There is no question that there is some genius marketing at hand.

However, nothing makes me cringe more than the sight of someone downing a bottle of “charge” or “balance” as though they are truly replenshing their body. The cold, hard truth is… Vitamin Water is fortified sugar water. Check the label yourself.

I went online to find the official nutrition info for Vitamin Water for this post. The Glaceau (company that owns Vitamin Water, Smart Water, and Fruit Water) website was beautiful and sleek, but of course did not offer any nutritional information. So, I found the information elsewhere after a good search. Let’s take a look at “defense.”


Nutrition Facts:
Serving Size 8 fl oz; Servings per Container 2.5
Calories 50
Total Fat 0g
Sodium 0mg
Total Carbohydrate 13g
Total Sugar 13g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 60%; vitamin B3 10%; vitamin B6 10%; vitamin B12 10%; vitamin B5 10%, Zinc 10%

Ingredients:
vapor distilled/deionized water, crystalline fructose, citric acid, vegetable juice (color), natural flavor, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), natural flavor, vitamin E acetate, magnesium lactate (elecrolyte), calcium lactate (electrolyte), zinc picolinate, monopotassium phosphate (electrolyte), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine hydrochloride (B6), cyanocobalamine (B12)

First, let me point out that this product contains NO juice. None. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s factor in that one bottle of Vitamin Water is 2.5 servings, therefore, nutrional information should be adjusted accordingly (unless you’re really only going to drink less than half of the bottle at at time). That makes one bottle of Vitamin Water contain 125 calories and 33 grams of sugar. (Remind me again why they try to call this a form of “water”?) That’s more calories and sugar than a 12 ounce serving of Coke (12 oz of coke equates 110 calories and 30 grams of sugar). Now, Coke contains high fructose corn syrup and is not fortified, but nutritionally, you’re still getting sugar and calories from both drinks.

And don’t be enticed by “crystalline fructose,” the second ingredient on the Vitamin Water ingredient list. It’s their own fancy name for their form of sugar, and it’s the most prominent ingredient after water!

The whole “vitamin” aspect of Vitamin Water is irrelevant. So, they fortify their sugar water with chemically synthesized vitamins. You can now purchase “Diet Coke Plus,” which is fortified Diet Coke. Because vitamins are added to a beverage, does that make it healthy? Vitamins can’t undo the sugars and additives in a beverage, and you are much better off gaining these nutrients from your diet (or a multi vitamin if necessary). Ofcourse adding vitamins to a drink doesn’t do any actual harm, but it confuses consumers into thinking that the beverage is a healthy choice. Remember, these companies don’t really care about your health and well-being… they’re trying to win you over! Our society now has become somewhat obsessed with healthier choices, and the smart companies know how to appeal to that crowd. They boast that their drink is full of essential vitamins and will somehow make you perform your daily tasks more efficiently. Trust me on this: downing a bottle of sugar water is going to do nothing but give you a sugar crash later.

Now, Vitamin Water is not pure poison. It is certainly not a health food or something that I would personally drink, but if the choice is between Vitamin Water or soda, I suppose Vitamin Water is a wiser choice. But you know what the smartest choice is? Water. Real water. It is crucial to keep your body properly hydrated at all times, and pure water is the only way to do this. Drinks that are full with sugar only continue to dehydrate the body, regardless of their water content.

Want something sweet to drink? Try squeezing lemon or lime in pure or sparkling water. Add a few drops of stevia (see my post on this amazing natural, non-caloric sweetener) and you’ve got a drink that hydrates, tastes great, and isn’t full of sugar or added nonsense.

Remember, if you find this information helpful, subscribe!

Hydrate responsibly,
Emily

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The Truth About Granola Bars

This post is inspired by something I found in my cabinet today: a Nature’s Valley Strawberry Yogurt granola bar. I don’t eat granola bars (for the reasons you’ll read later in this post) but I picked the thing up just to read the label for kicks. Most people think granola bars are the prime example of a healthy snack. However, the packaged, over-processed, foil-wrapped concoctions that we are munching on are far from healthy.

In this seemingly innocent snack labeled a “chewy granola bar with a naturally flavored yogurt coating,” not to mention an “excellent source of calcium” and “good source of whole grain,” was a number of nutritional nightmares. After reading the ingredient list, I found sugar listed nine times in the form of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, high maltose corn syrup, and fructose. Most of us know that high fructose corn syrup is the most poisonous of sweeteners and should be avoided at all costs (much like trans fats, or hydrogenated oils). High fructose corn syrup is listed as an ingredient numerous times in addition to the other sweeteners. This tiny bar packs in 13 grams of sugar and a number of preservatives and chemicals. It only has one measly gram of fiber.

What about healthier granola bars? The ones that are truly “natural” or “organic”? Well, I picked up some nutritional info on a Clif bar, a popular choice for the more health-conscious granola-eater.


Now, Clif bars can boast that they don’t contain any high fructose corn syrup and that a form of sugar only appears four times in the ingredient list (as brown rice syrup, malt extract, evaporated cane juice, and organic evaporated cane juice). However, when you look at the nutrition facts, you’ll see that one bar still contains a whopping 21 grams of sugar. It does have 5 grams of fiber, however, it’s 230 calories which is pretty hefty for a granola bar.

I’ve yet to find a granola bar that isn’t full of sugar or over-processed and full of chemicals and preservatives. The moral of the story? Be smart about your packaged food. Read the label. Avoid high fructose corn syrup, and when a number of sugar synonyms are a recurring theme in the ingredient list, put it back.

If you need a healthy, quick snack, plain nuts or seeds provide protein. A fresh piece of fruit is a much wiser choice than dried fruit. Dried fruit loses beneficial water content and is much higher in sugar than a piece of fresh fruit.

Read the label,
Emily

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