According to Dr Michael Mosley in a world full of food manufacturers, with clever marketing and a lack of science behind their claims, it can often become confusing to know exactly which foods are healthy when you’re navigating the supermarket. With huge signs at the end of each aisle, telling you exactly why the latest products will turn your health around, it’s easy to fall into their well set traps and spend a fortune on “healthy” foods that are not so healthy.
In this piece he provides a run through of those ‘healthy’ foods that may actually cause more harm than good, so you know what to avoid next time you’re navigating the supermarket.
Vegetable crisps/chips: Yes, there may be real vegetables on their ingredients list however, those thin slices of veggies – that are far too small to provide any real nutritional value – are fried in sunflower oil to get the crunch you’re so familiar with. Not to mention, their sodium content, mixed with their carbohydrates and fat content, makes them so addictive that you’ll struggle to stop yourself going back for more.
Vegetable crisps, in reality, are no healthier than a standard packet of potato crisps. If you are looking to satisfy your craving for crunch, there are ways to do so without jeopardising a healthy lifestyle. Here are a few ideas:
Low fat products: Over the past few years, there has been an abundance of new evidence that recognises the health benefits of full fat products and from our understanding, the marketing strategy of low fat products is becoming exposed. A few reasons we should be avoiding ‘low fat’:
A study, carried out by researchers at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute, tracked the diets of 20,000 women over a period of 20 years. The study found links between the consumption of full fat dairy products (milk and cheese) and weight loss. Over a ten-year period, the women who regularly consumed full fat milk saw a lower BMI.
This was backed by another study that followed 1,600 healthy middle-aged men over an 11-year period. The ones that ate butter and drank full-fat milk were half as likely to become obese to those eating low-fat spreads and skimmed milk. It is likely that the reason behind this is that full fat products keep you energised and full throughout the day, meaning the desire for sugary top ups is curbed.
Margarine: While once placed on a pedestal for being a ‘healthy version’ of butter, with the potential to improve heart health, scientific evidence is now saying the opposite. In fact, there was never much scientific research behind these claims to begin with. Yes, margarine has less saturated fat than butter however, saturated fat is not necessarily a bad thing.
In the past, it was believed to raise cholesterol and increase risk of heart disease. However, scientists from Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard have found that this view had been overstated and new studies have found no direct link between saturated fats and heart health.
Margarine itself is processed and made from vegetable oil. As vegetable oil is liquid at room temperature, a process called hydrogenation takes place, which resultantly creates trans-fat. Trans fats should be avoided where possible as there is a plethora of scientific evidence linking increased intake of trans fat with inflammation, heart disease, stroke and poor cholesterol.
Alternatively, butter is made from churning cream, a natural whole food. As a concentrated dairy product, we’re not advising you to lather butter onto every meal; however, a small amount every now and then will cause far less harm than processed margarine and spreads.
Flavoured Porridge: Make it yourself from rolled oats and water, or whole milk, and you’ve got yourself a winning breakfast. However, if you’re finding yourself with the “just add water” sachets, you may as well be having three spoonfuls of sugar instead as some brands have an astonishing 16g of sugar per serving.
Breakfast cereals: It can often be overwhelming with the amount of options when it comes to the cereal aisle in the supermarket. As a result, most opt for the boxes that look the healthiest however, even cereal boxes with a 4-star health rating in Australia, or mostly green boxes if you’re in the UK, can contain up to 23% sugar. Be cautious as even the ones with high fibre ingredients, like bran and oats, are still laden with sugar.
Granola falls into the same category; quite often considered to be a healthy option, shop bought granola is incredibly high in sugars, carbohydrates and calories. Not only this, the recommended serving size is considerably smaller than you may think with most brands recommending 40g, which is the equivalent of around 3 tablespoons.
If you enjoy granola or cereal for breakfast, always check the ingredients and avoid any with dried fruits and chocolate chips. Or, better yet, make your own and top with Greek yogurt and fresh berries.
Vegan and gluten free processed foods: Just because the label says gluten free or vegan doesn’t mean they’re instantly healthy. On Dr Michael Mosley’s recent Channel 4 show, 21 Day Body Turnaround with Michael Mosley, he met a “junk food vegan” who was putting her life at risk by consuming unhealthy vegan foods, high in trans-fat, sugar and simple carbohydrates.
By swapping out processed, ready to eat meals for fresh, healthy whole foods with protein through sources like tempeh and chickpeas, Michael’s vegan volunteer was able to improve her Vo2 max score – a measurement of a person’s individual aerobic capacity – by 10 per cent, in just 21 days.
Commercial salad dressing: You may think that the salads you’re eating each day are helping you achieve better health, however, they may be the reason you’re struggling to make progress. Not only do commercial dressings have a significant amount of calories per serving (and not many of us actually stick to the recommended serving of one tablespoon), they’re also packed with additives, to extend their shelf life, thickeners, hidden sugars and other nasties that simply don’t belong in your cupboard! Instead of highly processed dressings, try a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon or a glug of good quality balsamic vinegar (just definitely not the glaze!).
How to avoid “healthy” foods that are not so healthy
The best possible way to avoid these big brand claims and long standing rumours around ‘healthy’ foods is to cook fresh, whole foods each day that align to a Mediterranean-style diet. Or, if you are looking for convenience foods, find ones that are made up of only healthy and satiating ingredients, like The Fast 800 shakes. If you do go for pre-packaged foods, always read the ingredients carefully and if you wouldn’t find the ingredients in your cupboard, or you’re not entirely sure what they are, it’s best to leave the item firmly on the shelf!