On the surface, these everyday foods seem like healthy choices, but according to recent studies, they contain ingredients that have been linked to cancer, diabetes, inflammation, and other serious illnesses.
To clear up the health-food confusion, we talked to Mira Calton, certified nutritionist, board-certified integrative health specialist, and co-author with her husband, Jayson B. Calton, of Rich Food, Poor Food.
Read on for Calton's list of sneaky "health" foods that are actually bad for you, plus her recommendations for tasty, nutritious substitutes >>
Why it's bad for you: Many popular brands of conventional chicken are raised with genetically modified feed and antibiotics, which have been shown in some studies to be harmful to animals. And a recent study found that chickens were being given an antibiotic banned by the FDA because it can create bacteria-resistant "super bugs" that are harmful to humans. Chicken can also contain alarmingly high levels of cancer-causing arsenic.
Mira says: "When it comes to arsenic in chicken, the writing appears to be on the wall. According to a 2006 study by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, 55 percent of conventional and premium chicken contains arsenic. Though the study found the amounts were low enough to be deemed safe by the FDA, researchers caution, 'even low exposures to something known to cause cancer generally is presumed to be risky, and therefore to be avoided.'"
What to eat instead: Opt for organic pasture-raised poultry to ensure the absence of antibiotics, genetically modified feed, and arsenic, and the presence of more vitamins and minerals in the meat.
Why it's bad for you: Bottled dressings typically are loaded with sugar, which can deplete vitamin C, lower immunity, and block the body's absorption of calcium and magnesium, not to mention pack on the pounds.
Mira says: "Sugar can be found in bottled dressings under various aliases, including Agave nectar, brown sugar, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, and sucrose. Whatever name it goes by, sugar is sugar. What's more, Catalina and ranch dressings often contain artificial colors—five of which (blue 1, blue 2 , yellow 5, yellow 6, red 40) are banned in other countries, because they have been linked to cancer, gene mutation and ADHD. Even products labeled as "olive oil" dressings generally contain little olive oil, and mostly are made of cheaper vegetable oils that aren't as good for you."
What to eat instead: Make your own salad dressing using organic extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar, and spices, or try Vigoa Lime Salad Splash or Zukay Sweet Onion Basil Dressing.
Why they're bad for you: Some creamers don't include any actual dairy and are instead made from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, corn syrup solids, and artificial flavoring. They are also extremely high in sugar.
Mira says: "According to the Harvard School of Public Health, partially hydrogenated oils cause about 50,000 premature heart attack deaths annually. This dangerous ingredient has been shown to raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack by 50 percent!"
What to eat instead: Try to use real cream (just a touch will make your coffee super creamy) and a few drops of stevia, a naturally occurring sweetener.
Why it's bad for you: Many non-organic canned sauces contain both high frustose corn syrup (HFCS) and MSG, both of which have been proven to promote overeating.
Mira says: "HFCS prevents your body from secreting the hormone leptin, whose job it is to make you feel full—this causes overeating. Also, studies have shown that eating foods containing MSG causes you to increase your food intake by 40 percent. Lastly, the can itself contains BPA, a chemical that has been linked, in some studies, to cancer, heart disease, and infertility. The Food & Drug Administration supports reducing exposure to BPA, though sees the need for more studies to address 'uncertainties.'"
What to eat instead: Choose an organic tomato sauce in a jar (BPA-free). Organic tomatoes can contain up to 300 percent more lycopene, which boosts eye health. Mira's favorite organic brands are Mom's, Amy's, and Eden.
Why it's bad for you: Most conventional ice creams contain artery-clogging trans fats, and the "light" versions are usually filled with sucralose, a sweetener that can be harmful.
Mira says: "Often found in ice cream, the trans-fatty acids known as monoglycerides and diglycerides can be labeled as emulsifiers, because they allow fats and waters to mix smoothly, which extends the shelf life of processed foods. But they are no different from the hydrogenated fats associated with heart disease, stroke, obesity, and diabetes. As for sucralose, a Duke University study found that this sweetener decreases "good" gut bacteria, which acts as part of your immune system and can help fight heart disease, reduce cravings, and, best of all, aid in the absorption of your micronutrients."
What to eat instead: Look for sorbets and ice creams that are low in sugar and don't include the "bad" ingredients or list them last. Mira's favorite organic brand is Coconut Secret Madagascar Vanilla Raw Coconut Cream Non Dairy Dessert.
Why they're bad for you: Diet or "light" chips often contain the fat substitute Olestra, which can prevent the absorption of nutrients, among other side effects. Baked chips are objectionable for their vast lists of nutrition-deficient ingredients.
Mira says: "Olestra causes dramatic depletion of fat-soluble vitamins, robbing you of vital micronutrients you might otherwise be eating. Furthermore, Olestra can cause embarrassing intestinal disturbances, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Baked potato chips may not contain Olestra, but they do contain some surprising ingredients—cornstarch, sugar, corn oil, soy lecithin, and corn sugar (a.k.a. high fructose corn syrup)—many of which may be linked to health concerns like obesity."
What to eat instead: Indulge in organic, full-fat chips—you're more likely to feel satisfied with just a few, and the ingredient list is refreshingly short. Mira likes Honest Chips, which are made with just organic potatoes, coconut oil, and sea salt.
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