Navigating the world of healthy eating can be tough. Not only is there a ton of conflicting information out there as well as sneaky labeling, but many “health foods” are really just junk food in disguise, laden with tons of added sugar, dangerous fats, chemicals, pesticides, and other inflammation-causing and hormone disrupting nasties. And it’s not just limited to the packaged stuff. Health-harming foods can be found at the seafood counter and on cold case shelves, too. Read on to learn more about common “healthy” foods that are anything but.
ATLANTIC SALMON & OTHER FARMED FISH
Although fish—particularly salmon—can be a boon to your health as it is a lean source of protein and rich in omega-3s, where it is sourced turns out to be a major factor in how nutritious it actually is. Farmed salmon, AKA “Atlantic” salmon, as well as other farmed fish such as tilapia, are consistently higher in persistent organic pollutants (POPs) which are linked to type 2 diabetes, obesity, and stroke in women. Farmed fish are also higher in cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyl, a type of POP found in their feed as well as questionable amounts of antibiotics that, over time, could lead to antibiotic resistance. And while the popularity of salmon has negatively impacted wild populations through over-fishing, farmed salmon also contribute to environmental imbalance and ecosystem upset. Waste from their pens pollutes the water, breeds parasites such as sea lice, and escaped Atlantic salmon into the wild can cause issues as well. Feeding them also extends the overfishing problem to their natural food sources. Fish is a healthy addition to your diet, but only if it’s sustainably sourced and wild-caught.
Similar to the farmed vs. wild issue with fish, the health benefits between wild and farmed shrimp are also drastic—but with a caveat. Oceana, an ocean conservation organization, found that a whopping 25 percent of “wild” or “Gulf” shrimp were actually farm-raised. Furthermore, 90 percent of the shrimp sold in the United States is actually imported, and less than two percent of that is inspected by regulatory agencies, meaning that not only are they packed in incredibly unsanitary facilities, they contain banned chemicals, known carcinogens, pesticides, and other pollutants. Some of the most heinous “ingredients” include:
· Sodium bisulfite, as well as 4-hexylresorcinol, are both used to prevent melanosis or “black spot” from discoloring shrimp shells after they’ve been harvested. Melanosis is harmless, it just makes shrimp look less visually appealing. Sodium bisulfite can aggravate asthma and 4-hexylresorcinol is known to have estrogen-like effects on the body that could increase breast cancer risk and lower sperm count.
· Nitrofuranzone and chloramphenicol, two types of antibiotics found in farm-raised shrimp from Thailand and India, are found to be at levels 29 times and 150 times the legal limit, respectively. Nitrofuranzone is a known carcinogen and chloramphenicol has been banned from food production in the U.S. because of links to aplastic anemia and leukemia.
· Organophosphates, which contain the pesticide carbaryl, have been linked to headaches, memory loss, are toxic to the nervous system, and may be especially harmful to pregnant women and fetuses.
· Rotenone, a naturally occurring compound used to kill off fish in a pond before it’s stocked with young shrimp, is linked to respiratory paralysis and Parkinson’s disease in mice.
· Malachite green, an antifungal agent used on shrimp eggs, has been linked to cancerous tumors in mice.
While ethically, sustainably-sourced, wild-caught domestic shrimp can be found, most shrimp at the seafood counter comes from unethical labor and environmentally unsound facilities—and is also widely misrepresented as to where it’s sourced from and is best to be avoided completely.
When it comes to sweetened beverages, many would probably agree that fruit juice is far superior to something like soda, but as it turns out, fruit juice could be just as bad for your health. Both juice and soda are calorie dense and full of sugar—around 20 to 26 grams per eight ounces! And while fruit is rich in filling fiber, which also assists with processing its natural sugar content, juice lacks all of that necessary fiber which leads to quick spikes and drops in blood sugar levels. Furthermore, the concentrations of fructose in both soda and juice are nearly equivalent per liter. And, fructose without fiber means it heads straight to the liver to be processed. Over time this can lead to weight gain and conditions like fatty liver disease. The bottom line? If you’re craving fruit, it’s best to enjoy it in its whole form to not only metabolize its natural sugar content correctly, but to get the biggest nutrient benefit.
AGAVE NECTAR, ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS & SUGAR ALCOHOLS
There’s a great variety of sugar substitutes out there, but not all of them are created equal. The worst offenders include agave nectar, artificial sweeteners, and sugar alcohols.
· Agave nectar, found in everything from “healthy” sweet tea to “skinny” cocktails, may actually be worse for you than white table sugar. This is because as it exists on U.S. shelves, it has little relation to its traditional namesake. It is treated with heat and enzymes, similar to how high fructose corn syrup is made, which destroys nutrients and results in a highly-refined syrup. It’s low on the glycemic index due to its dangerously high fructose content. As mentioned above in regards to fruit juice, fructose can only be processed by the liver in large amounts and can lead to fatty liver disease as well as type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and high cholesterol.
· Sugar alcohols, like xylitol, erythritol, and sorbitol, have a low glycemic index and have minimal effects on blood sugar. However, it can wreak havoc on those with digestive issues, such as IBS or FODMAP sensitivity as they can’t be digested and instead head to the large intestine where they lead to gas build-up, bloating, and diarrhea. Some sugar alcohols have also been linked to headaches, rashes, and SIBO symptoms.
· Artificial sweeteners, once touted for diabetics because of their low glycemic index, may actually cause gut disturbances that lead to diabetes. Furthermore, they’ve been linked to cancer, headaches, brain tumors, and much more.
For healthier sugar alternatives, try low-glycemic stevia or monk fruit, or raw honey or pure maple syrup.
SOY & SEITAN
While soy products, like tofu and soy milk, are often lauded as better alternatives to red meat and dairy milk, they may disrupt hormones and non-organic soy protein may be high in pesticides. Soy contains plant estrogen, known as phytoestrogen, which can cause the body to respond differently under different circumstances. For example, phytoestrogens may provide a natural estrogen replacement in post-menopausal women, but it could suppress estrogen in premenopausal women. Women with breast cancer may also respond differently to phytoestrogens depending on whether they are classified as hormone positive or negative. As far as pesticides are concerned, organic soy products are a safer alternative, as a Norwegian study found very high levels of glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) in non-organic, genetically modified soybeans grown in the United States. If you’re going to consume soy in moderation, it is best to choose organic, fermented products like tempeh, natto, and miso. Swap soy sauce for coconut aminos and soy milk for almond, hemp, or oat.
Another popular meat-alternative, seitan, is made from vital wheat gluten and should be avoided by anyone with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity. While it is praised for being low-carb and has around 22 grams of protein per 100 grams, it is not a complete protein, is often very high in sodium, and is a highly processed food.
Although full-fat dairy has long be eschewed because of its higher calorie content, it has actually been linked to consumers being less likely to be overweight or obese. In fact, studies show that when people reduce the amount of fat they eat, they tend to replace it with carbohydrates and sugar, making a reduced fat diet more negatively impactful on diabetes risk and insulin resistance. Fat not only helps keep us feeling fuller longer, but low-fat and fat-free dairy is often full of added sugar to compensate for the flavor loss inherent in fat removal. Furthermore, you should always choose organic milk and dairy where possible, as research shows it has a healthier fat profile than conventional. This is because organic milk is much more likely to be sourced from pasture-raised cows.
Popcorn can be a filling, healthy whole grain snack—except when it’s microwaved. This is due to two chemicals that have been linked to cancer and lung disease: perfluorochemicals (PFCs) and diacetyl. The microwaveable bags are lined with PFCs to prevent grease from seeping through and is found in a number of things, including pizza boxes and Teflon pans. In fact, PFCs are so common that it can be found in the blood of 98 percent of Americans! PFCs break down into potentially cancer-causing perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) when they’re heated, meaning it seeps into your popcorn as it’s cooking. Diacetyl, used to give microwave popcorn its buttery flavor, causes an irreversible lung disease, known as popcorn lung, when inhaled in large quantities. While manufacturers voluntarily stopped using PFOA in 2011, a recent study found that two of seven popcorn bags tested above accepted concentration limits of PFOA and PFOS. Companies have also started using new chemicals to line bags, and little is yet known about their health risks. Bottom line? If you want popcorn, you’re better off popping it on your stove or in your air fryer.
VEGETABLE OILS & MARGARINE
Vegetable and seed oils, including canola, soybean, sunflower, and peanut are all very high in omega-6 fatty acids. While our bodies do require some omega-6, the problem lies in getting too many of them relative to our omega-3 consumption, and this imbalance has been linked to chronic inflammation. These types of highly refined oils are also easily oxidized—both on the shelf and in your body—which can cause free radical damage and even cell death. These vegetable oils are often also partially-hydrogenated, meaning they contain harmful trans fats. High consumption of trans fats has been associated with a number of chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and more. Margarine is also linked to the above health issues, as it often contains partially or fully hydrogenated oils, AKA trans fats. In lieu of these highly-refined, chemical-laden oils, choose real butter, ghee, olive, avocado, or coconut oil.
If you need help weeding out these junky health foods from your diet, or are wondering what else may be sneakily sabotaging your health, please contact me. Healthy living is a journey and I can be with you every step of the way.