Healthy one of the critical moments when it comes to taking care of our health that many of us overlook is when we go shopping. And the fact is that the decisions that we make and that are going to influence our diet we start to make them long before we get into the kitchen and, of course, long before we eat. The moment we go shopping is when we begin to make these decisions regarding our health.
And how do the decisions we make when it comes to filling our shopping cart come about? It would be good news if these decisions were the result of a reflection on what we need in our diet and what foods or products can offer it to us. Unfortunately, as a general rule, this is not the case; instead, we rely on what we are told by something external to us: advertising. But does it tell us the whole truth?
The risks of buying “healthy products
We are at a time when we all want to take care of our health, or at least our figure, and we know that a good diet is the first step we must take to be better. The industry, which is a good friend of the consumer, makes it much easier for us by telling us which are the right products to buy, marking them with pink packaging, eye-catching claims or seals of medical associations.
Wait, did you believe that? Nothing could be further from the truth. The food industry, like any other business, has one purpose: to sell. And to achieve its goal, it resorts to some strategies that are indeed legal, although they are often not as ethical as they should be.
And other times it is not the advertising itself that makes you confused about how healthy a particular product is, but it may be a traditional belief that if you eat breadcrumbs your breasts will grow (no, no, nein, niet) or that if you do not drink orange juice you will immediately lose vitamins (also no).
Are we confused about the foods we consider healthy? Is it the industry’s fault or our popular beliefs? These are 18 foods that may seem very healthy at first glance, but are not so healthy.
Foods that seem very healthy… but are not
One of the most recurrent products at snack time or as a midday snack, especially when we intend to follow a diet, are cereal bars. A product that is advertised both for people who want to lose weight (who need to reduce calories) and for athletes (who need a higher intake of calories during the day due to the effort) should be a bit shocking.
The reality: these bars are rich in carbohydrates through the cereals (good), healthy fats through the nuts (also good) and…. contain a lot of saturated fats (bad). Palm oil is often used to displace hydrogenated fats and other products such as butter, which are healthier, but also more expensive.
Healthy alternative: these delicious date and oatmeal energy bars that you can make yourself at home.
Commercial plant-based milks
An alternative for those who are lactose intolerant are vegetable milks which, coming from a vegetable source such as soy, almonds or hazelnuts, do not contain lactose. Moreover, in recent years, a crusade against the consumption of cow’s milk has been launched, which has benefited the sale of these plant-based milks, which are theoretically healthier.
The reality: they will be healthier as long as they are only the product squeezed from vegetable fruits, which is not the case in most cases (they usually contain a maximum of 20% of vegetable element). These wrongly called “milks” (the only thing they have of “milk” is that they are liquid and of whitish color) generally have as first ingredient in their composition the water, and as second the sugar. And they are sold at the price of gold. I make sugar water cheaper at home, thank you.
Healthy alternative: we can drink lactose-free milk or we can even make them at home.
Light dairy desserts
Entering the field of light desserts is getting into a pretty big mess: Is it better for a dessert to be low-fat, sugar-free or 0.0% fat? Why can’t it be all three at the same time? How does all this affect advertising claims and shopping baskets?
The fact is that for a product to have the claim of light, what it has to comply with is that there is a “big brother” that is not light (for example, there is light yogurt because there is normal yogurt; or we have light mayonnaise because there is normal mayonnaise) and that it contains 30% fewer calories than the original product.
That said, does light mean low in calories? No, it simply has fewer calories than the original product. Does light mean it is healthier? It doesn’t have to: it may contain more saturated fat or more sugar. Therefore, the light-healthy association we tend to make is not entirely correct.
Healthy alternative: compare the label of your light or low-fat dessert with that of the original product. You may be better off buying the regular product.
Is the mythical “yogurt” popularized by Homer a healthy product? They have tried to sell it as such by comparing it to a traditional ice cream: they have told us that, being a yogurt (something we all associate with a healthy food although it is not always so) it is more beneficial to our health than a frozen dessert. Are you sure?
The fact is that frozen yogurt is neither yogurt nor ice cream, but is made with different dairy products (yogurt may be among them) and is seasoned with a good handful of sugar: real yogurt is a sour product, and all frozen yogurts sold in the many franchises that have taken over our streets are extremely sweet. As if the sugar in the ice cream were not enough, the toppings offered to cover it are usually another feast of sugar and calories without nutrients: syrups of different flavors, jams, Lacasitos, m&m’s, Conguitos, Filipinos, Nocilla…. Yes, there are fruits too, but the temptation to eat anything else is quite big, isn’t it?
Healthy alternative: have you tried making frozen yogurt at home? If you have an ice cream maker or yogurt maker, it will be much easier; but if you don’t, just put the yogurt in the freezer and stir it every so often so that it reaches a creamy, non-frozen texture.
Rice or corn pancakes
Also known as “corchopan pancakes” are a classic among dieters: what better option is there for a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack than a pancake that tastes like nothing? Off the top of my head, a piece of fruit is a much more natural, healthier and, by the way, cheaper option. As always, it is not only important what you eat, but what you stop eating: by choosing to eat the pancakes you are also choosing to stop eating that piece of fruit that surely provides a better supply of nutrients.
If we look at the ingredients of these pancakes we see how about 80% of them are cereals (rice or corn mostly), salt and flavorings. In other words, fast-absorbing carbohydrates (which do not keep you satiated in the long term) and sodium. It is not a very intelligent option if what we want is to take care of our line or our health.
It is not superfluous to warn that it is relatively easy to overdo it with the consumption of these pancakes: they are light and eat very well, so it is not difficult to exceed the recommended serving of 30 grams.
Healthy alternative: a piece of fruit works best as a snack. If you want to use them as a base for a tapa, you can use whole-grain toast.
Balsamic vinegar of Modena
A few years ago we witnessed the boom of balsamic vinegar of Modena in our country: years ago there was wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar and so on. But suddenly the different types of balsamic vinegar were popping up like mushrooms and filling several supermarket shelves, especially in its cream variety: raspberry, apple, mango… (Yes, mango).
The fact is that these creams or balsamic vinegars of industrial production and sold at little more than two euros a bottle in the supermarket, have little to do with the original product. The balsamic vinegar of Modena, the good one, the one with designation of origin, is left to ferment for at least 12 years in barrels; this, as we can read in the blog Me gusta estar bien, would mean that the industry does not make a profit from its production.
So what is industrial Modena vinegar? If we look at the ingredients of the bottles we can see that yes, they obviously carry vinegar, but also a good amount of colorants and sugar (sugar? Yes, and in various forms: sugar per se as well as glucose syrup and lactose).
Healthy alternative: the traditional wine vinegar is fine for seasoning. You can also use lemon in addition to olive oil.
Cereal bread or wholemeal bread
Many times when we want to eat better or when we want to lose weight the first thing we do is to get rid of bread. Well, the truth is that a moderate consumption of bread can be part of a balanced and healthy diet, even though it is not a basic product for our diet: after all, they are cereals, carbohydrates that our body needs to function. But are all breads the same?
White bread is the least healthy of all types of bread, since it is made from refined flours. What does this mean? That all we have left of the original cereal (usually wheat) is starch, and along the way we have lost vitamins and fiber. What about whole wheat bread? It would be a less bad option since in this case we will be consuming the whole grain of the cereals: to find the “good” bread we must look for the one that has as first ingredient “whole wheat (or other cereal) flour”.
And multigrain bread? Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, the only thing that this name tells us is that more cereals than wheat have participated in its elaboration, but what we are interested in knowing is the percentage of these cereals. If 70% of these cereals is still wheat (which is quite common) and then contains 2% of rye or barley, we will be paying a much higher price for a bread that is essentially the same as white bread.
Healthy alternative: first of all we must be clear that bread is not an indispensable product. If we eat it, better the one that has integral flours.
What could be healthier than a salad? A base of vegetables, a light dressing and voilá! we already have a healthy dish to eat. The problem comes when we start adding to the salad products and foods that are not so healthy but tastier, something quite usual. We tend to think that, “well, since I’m going to eat a salad, which is very light, I can add some fried chicken, some bacon, some croutons and dress it with this cream that comes in the bag so that it tastes like something”. That’s not a salad anymore: that’s a free buffet.
Bagged or canned salads (yes, there are canned salads) usually come with a lot of ingredients that have nothing to do with a healthy salad. Not to mention the flour and sugar laden dressings. Are they any better? Well, for most people, yes, we are not going to fool ourselves; but healthy, what they say healthy, a little less.
Special mention for those mega-salads of pasta in which there are half a kilo of spirals and two leaves of lettuce badly counted. If it looks like pasta, smells like pasta and tastes like pasta, it is pasta. Not salad.
Healthy alternative: prepare the salad at home with a base of green vegetables (lettuce, spinach, lamb’s lettuce), fruits and vegetables (tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, avocado, carrot, also tubers such as potato) and include a source of protein (grilled chicken, tuna, salmon…) and dress with EVOO.
The issue of celiac disease or gluten intolerance is a very serious topic: until a few years ago, it was very difficult for sufferers to access gluten-free foods and they always had to be on the alert for the presence of wheat in their dishes.
Lately the trend has changed and now we are moving towards a diet that contains less and less gluten, but is a gluten-free food in itself a healthier food? Not necessarily: a gluten-free food does not contain this glycoprotein present in some cereals such as wheat, barley, spelt, spelt, rye, kamut, bulgur or oats. But that does not mean that it is low in calories, that it is whole grain or that it does not contain sugars. To know all this we must always look at the nutritional label and the list of ingredients.
From here we salute Juan Roig, head of Mercadona, who has set the trend by placing the label “gluten-free” on all products that do not contain it. In any case, we should not go crazy: there is no need to label milk as gluten-free (did it contain wheat before you labeled it as such?), or yogurts, or cheese… Neither so much nor so bald.
Let’s go for the eternal question: does a juice count the same as a piece of fruit? No, not at all. Apart from the fact that by eating the whole piece of fruit you will be consuming all its fiber, the feeling of satiety that eating, for example, an orange gives us has nothing to do with drinking a juice of that fruit. An example: you can drink a one-liter carton of pineapple juice in 10 minutes, but can you eat the equivalent in pineapples (how much would it be? Two or three whole pieces?) Well, that’s it.
Besides, industrial juices contain a high content of sugars (now only from the fruit; before they could also be added, but nowadays it has to be called “nectar”) that, when consumed without the fiber found in the whole piece of fruit, are not as beneficial as we would like for our body.
Healthy alternative: whenever you can, eat the whole fruit. If not, home-squeezed juice is the next best option.
Sliced turkey or chicken breast
The product that is a must in almost every refrigerator in the country: the sliced chicken or turkey breast that saves you more than one snack, dinner and, if you hurry, some breakfast. If the “normal” turkey breast already seems a very healthy food, imagine those advertised as “low-fat”, “salt-free” or “low-calorie” (all with their pink packaging dedicated to women on a diet, of course). The best thing you can eat at any time of the day, isn’t it?
Well, in reality, sliced turkey and chicken breast is still a processed product (very processed) in which many things are lost along the way. So much that in the end we are left with, hopefully, only 70% chicken or turkey. And the remaining 30%, what is it stuffed with? Basically with thickeners like flours (that’s why some are marked “gluten-free”), salt, soy protein, milk powder (WTF?)and, of course, sugar. Bon appetit.
Healthy alternative: buy butchered breast, chop it up and then you can store it frozen or grill it, for example, and refreeze it for when you need it.
How effective advertising can be sometimes. And is that since the endearing grandmother of “jroña que jroña” (Χρόνια και χρόνια in Greek, which means “years and years”) Greek yogurt has seemed to us the panacea when it comes to dairy desserts. Let’s see: it’s a yogurt (we assume it’s super healthy) with a traditional recipe of years and years (and, therefore, healthy) and that we also associate with ancient Greece, cradle of a lot of goodness of our current society.
Actually, Greek yogurt (both traditionally made and processed) is a highly caloric product, much more than a normal yogurt, and also contains much more fat, which is what gives it that creamy consistency. Of course, yogurt has a sour taste that we will mitigate by adding a good drizzle of honey (it is still sugar, I refer you to this post by Juan Revenga in El Comidista), jams or even chocolate cereal. Ahem, ahem.
Healthy alternative: there is no problem in consuming it as long as we are aware that its caloric contribution of fats is higher than we suppose. We can also try making it at home with this recipe.
While we’re on cereals, let’s also review that wonderful world of diet cereals. I don’t know what you guys have for breakfast when you want to lose weight because these cereals are always intended for women, or have you seen any silhouette or male butt in a box of whole grain cereals?
When we talk about diet cereals we must take into account two things: the first is that these cereals are still quite caloric and we do not usually serve the recommended portion of 30 grams, which is a trifle, but we fill the bowl or cup well so that it looks like the one in the advertisement. The second thing to bear in mind is that, despite being “diet cereals”, they still contain a lot of sugar.
The good news is that they usually have a good amount of fiber, since they are made with whole grains, but of course, a lot of fiber means little flavor, so you have to put sugar in them to make them palatable.
Healthy alternative: you can opt for natural oat flakes and add cinnamon or pieces of fruit at home.
Sachet soups or dehydrated soups
In these cases, the advertising claim is also often accompanied by the popular “traditional recipe” or “homemade”. At this point I am still waiting for someone to explain to me how an industrial soup can be “homemade”, but that is not the point.
These soups are very useful in the winter months, as they are very quick to prepare and are a pleasure to eat warm. In addition, they tend to have a high satiating power and few calories, so they are often recommended in diets.
What is the problem? The most important problem is that they contain a lot of salt, which makes them incompatible with regular consumption in a normal diet, and they should not be consumed by people with hypertension, cardiovascular conditions or fluid retention. Some of them also contain lard and a large amount of additives.
Healthy alternative: we can eat them as occasional consumption and as an accompaniment, never replacing a complete meal. Or we can choose to cook them ourselves: here are some recipes for chicken broth and vegetable dashi broth.
We are in a time when sport is on the rise, and feeling good and being healthy has become a priority for many. We go to the gym, go for a run, train outdoors, ride a bike… and of course, after the effort we need to recover properly. That’s where isotonic drinks come into play.
These drinks provide a good supply of water and mineral salts, which is what we need to replenish after exercise since we have lost a good amount of both in the form of sweat (no, sweat is not the fat we burn). So far so good. But these drinks usually also have a large amount of sugar: about 20 grams per bottle. After exercise you can replenish with protein and carbohydrates quality, in no case with such a shot of sugar.
Healthy alternative: you can make a homemade recovery drink with just water, baking soda, salt and lemon. Here is the full recipe.
Bags of nuts and dried fruit
Who hasn’t heard that nuts and dried fruits are a wonderful snack to have between meals? Of course they are: they provide us with plenty of satiety, a good number of beneficial fats and plant-based proteins. But wait: before you put a handful in your mouth, we have to say a little more about these nuts.
Whenever we talk about beneficial nuts, we are always talking about their natural version or, at most, their roasted baked version. In no case we are referring to the fried dried fruit, as it comes in most of the mix bags that we can find in supermarkets. I imagine that nobody believes that those delicious fried peanuts coated with honey and salt or those dried apricots coated with sugar fall within the qualification of “healthy” (we leave it said, just in case).
Another issue is that nuts and dried fruits are highly caloric and should be consumed in moderation. One serving would correspond to approximately 30 grams. That is not very much. And we already know that when we open a bag of nuts we are likely to “pop and there’s no stopping”.
Healthy alternative: the natural or roasted version of nuts and always in moderation.
This is a similar case to the frozen yogurt we talked about earlier: a product with good intentions, but which turns out to be not as healthy as we had planned. We are talking about the large chain stores that prepare smoothies on the spot from fruit. The idea is great because they use skimmed dairy products and fresh fruit, but….
There is always a but, and in this case it is that syrups or sugar are usually used to give a more pleasant taste to the final product. Thus, a product that in principle could seem very healthy ends up becoming just another sugary dessert.
Be careful also with the sizes of these and similar drinks: many times we are offered real tanks of milkshakes, coffees, juices and the like that make the calories and the amount of sugar skyrocket.
Healthy alternative: if you want to learn how to prepare your own fruit and vegetable shakes or smoothies, here is a very complete guide.
Low-fat creams and dressings
Back to the salad: a salad can be very healthy until you start adding things that shouldn’t be in a salad (like bacon or sausages) and that wonderful dressing that is the only thing that gives it flavor. We are so used to consuming sugar and salt in industrial quantities that we are not able to appreciate the taste of a natural food and we are forced to season it like crazy.
“Yeah, but my sauce is low in fat”. Well, read the label: when a product is low in fat, those fats that make it palatable have been replaced with something else, usually sugar. “And my mayonnaise is light”. Back to the previous point: it contains 30% fewer calories than the original product, which does not guarantee that it is low in calories.
Healthy alternative: The best for seasoning? The classic oil (EVOO, if possible), vinegar (not Modena!) and a pinch of salt. Lemon also works very well for flavor.
And then, what do we eat?
You’ve probably noticed that there’s not a single food on this list: they’re all highly processed products. Want to eat healthy? Two tips: shop at the market and buy food, not products.
One more thing: if you buy products, don’t forget to read the nutrition label because it is your life insurance as consumers so that the industry doesn’t take you for fools. Don’t just believe what you see on the front of the product, where there are advertising claims and the more than dubious seals of approval of certain companies: go to the back, look for the nutrition label and the list of ingredients and see for yourself what you are buying.
Is it a hassle? Yes, at least the first few times, but your health will thank you.
Reference : magnet , iStock