As more people become health conscious, it is important to be aware of what “healthy” really means. Unfortunately, we have become very accustomed to accepting many foods as being “healthy”, which from a nutritionally scientific standpoint just aren’t. While you will not die or get an immediate disease from eating such foods, they are not going to keep you healthy and will increase the risks of various diseases and undesirable states and symptoms, including weight problems.
Of course, if we are not interested in thriving, and instead merely want to survive, then we can continue to get by with excuses like, “but it is just from time to time” or “it is okay in moderation“, but this is not conducive for optimal health, wellness and longevity. And while these things may seem to be worth it in the moment, they will not seem like that if you fast forward to the future where their effects, along with other such questionable items in your diet, accumulate enough damage that creates a state of disease.
Are There Really Unhealthy Foods?
Unfortunately, in the past, the American Dietetic Association of the United States released a statement that caused a lot of nutritional confusion. This being: “There are no bad foods. All foods, in moderation, can fit into a good diet.” If you don’t already see the problem here, just imagine if every food a person eats is treated with the faulty everything in moderation thinking. The whole diet then becomes subpar, yet the person is given a false idea that they are doing well. On top of that, as I share in my book Healing & Prevention Through Nutrition, there is no scientific or universal consensus on what moderation is for any specific food or person. And that is a BIG problem.
This statement greatly diverts attention away from the central truths that:
- Certain foods interfere with the optimal functioning of our systems, and create damage always!
- By eating “bad” or “unhealthy” foods, which scientifically speaking are lacking in nutrients and/or providing risky or harmful ingredients, a person does not have enough room in the day for the “good” or the right foods.
This is why through this series I want to raise awareness and help educate people like yourself about foods that are marketed as healthy, but really aren’t. Specifically in the first two parts of this series, I will focus on the first, and often referred to as the most important, meal of the day — breakfast.
1. Granola Bars
Granola bars are one of the best marketed foods as healthy options, which actually aren’t. Many people rely on them regularly for breakfast, thinking they are getting some good grain servings, while others may use them as snacks throughout the day. In either case, granola bars are not a good idea. Of course with granola bar sales skyrocketing and advertising conditioning people to believe otherwise, many people still do not know that. and made them their substitute for chocolate bars, proper breakfasts and additions to their children’s school lunches. Today, we have granola bars of all kinds that include various fruit flavors, chocolate flavors, nut or seed flavors, yogurt flavors and you name it!
Yet what hides in this food in plain sight is an ingredient list that speaks to the destructive properties of these items, which are based on refined and highly processed grains, sugars and sweeteners, oils, dairy, modified ingredients, isolates, extracts, flavors, additives and preservatives. They are usually devoid of any quality nutritional value, and contain high sodium, and ingredients that cause inflammation, acidity and other damage in our bodies.
All the lovely looking images and healthy-sounding claims simply distract from what these foods are actually made of, and what risks they expose us to when it comes to our health, weight, and energy levels. Of course, there are some better ones and some worse ones, but generally speaking even the “health food” granola bars leave much to be desired and not any kind of optimally healthy food.
So if you are ready to stop wasting your health and money on these highly processed foods, simply opt for swapping them for quick and easy homemade granola bars based on truly whole and unprocessed grains, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. This way you can control the quality of your ingredients and ensure you are not subjecting yourself to questionable or harmful ingredients. If you cannot make your own, you can try to find the best possible options in your health food store, which normally will not be grain-based, but nut-based, like Larabars. Just don’t fall for false healthy-sounding bars, like KIND bars.
2. Boxed Cereals
Boxed cereals, which feature grains in all sorts of processed and refined forms, with different additives, are one of the most common breakfast foods for people in our world today. A bowl of “milk and cereal” has become the signature breakfast for many adults and children alike due to its ease and convenience. Yet, it is one of the worst meals we could ever eat due to the dairy and highly processed grains.
Most health-conscious people already know to stay away from the worst of the worst, namely culprits like Fruit Loops, Lucky Charms or Frosted Flakes. Unfortunately, most of us still do not realize that almost all other boxed cereals are not much better and come with their own risks and health hazards. So if you are thinking Cheerios, Corn Flakes, or Muesli, are good choices, I invite you to start by reading their ingredient lists. Today, sadly, even the marketed “health food” cereals have at the very least several sweeteners added to them and ALL boxed cereals are made of highly processed grains. Non-whole grains are further refined in undesirable ways that strip the nutrients from the grain.
Like granola bars, boxed or processed cereals are contain various added, isolated sugars and sweeteners. Many contain synthetic vitamins and minerals, as well as isolates, extracts and modified ingredients, including oils and GMOs. Be aware that if your cereal contains any corn, sugar or soy ingredients that are not organic, they are almost definitely genetically modified.
What are the consequences of all this? Such a breakfast, or meal at any point in the day, is simply feeding you lots of empty calories, causing inflammation in your body, causing acidity in your body and various energy, mood and blood-sugar imbalances. Most people find themselves hungry again shortly after eating a bowl of such cereal, as it does not provide a substantial or nutrient-dense meal.
Even in “whole grain” cereals, most of the time the consumer does not see the actual grain, but some by-product of it, whether it be flakes, squares, circles, beads, etc. This means that most grains were processed into flours and then formed into various shapes. Well, as it goes nutritionally, flour, even if whole, are not optimal foods for us. Every step that is taken further away from the food’s original, whole integrity, decreases any benefits it had for us and increases potential health harm and problems for our body. To add more fuel to the fire, boxed cereals also often contain high levels of sodium, rendering them unhealthy choices on these attributes alone.
So is there any hope? Of course. If you want a delicious and nutritious grain-based breakfast or meal, go for actual whole grains. This means real oats, as oatmeal, buckwheat, quinoa, teff or one of the many other healthy grain choices. For ideas, read my 6 Optimally Healthy Breakfast Grain Options article. Yes, it will take you a little more time to prepare in the morning, but you can always prepare them the night before, and ultimately prioritize your health to the point that you make changes in your lifestyle to include nutritious breakfasts that are not rushed for you or your loved ones.
3. Sweetened/Processed Juices
If you look around at how breakfasts are portrayed in any popular media, show or movie, you are bound to see a glass of orange juice present. Somewhere along the way in North America (as most other countries do not have such a habit), people became conditioned to think that orange juice is part of a normal, and dare I say “healthy”, breakfast. Sadly, this is not true at all. Juice in general has been incorrectly accepted as a healthy drink, especially as a healthy alternative to soft drinks and similar fabricated drinks. I too was conditioned to think that all those lovely cartons by the dairy section were good choices and full of beneficial properties for us. Thankfully as part of my expanding research in all areas of nutrition, I understood that they are nothing more than “liquid calories” or “liquid sugar”. I have Dr. Olson’s book “Sugarettes” to partly thank for that.
So let’s break down the problems with juices. First, unless you are making your own homemade juice with a juicer, from fresh, organic ingredients, you are ingesting a refined and highly processed food product. For example, if you have ever seen fresh orange juice, it looks nothing like what comes out of the typical carton. All commercial juices are pasteurized and/or heat treated in destructive ways to the nutrients the original fruit contained.
Secondly, all juice is stripped of its fiber and other nutrients, which are perfectly packaged in and provided by fresh fruit. So it is important to always remember that drinking juice is NOT a substitute for eating fresh fruit. If you are drinking fruit juice, you are missing out on most of what whole fruits provide for our health.
Thirdly, isolated fruit sugars and acids in juices are bad for our teeth and oral health in general.
Fourthly, juices really don’t provide you much besides, as shared above, liquid calories and liquid sugar. When we drink liquid sugar our body prepares for physical digestion, but there is nothing really there to digest. The simple sugars quickly pass through the digestive system and can create blood-sugar imbalances and/or stimulate appetite, which may lead to over-eating and weight gain. Each glass of juice alone can offer 100 or more calories, which many people fail to take into consideration during weight-loss regimes, and how these calories add up over the course of each day. Simple, isolated sugars can also cause cravings, mood imbalances, irritability, mental fog, and energy imbalances.
Lastly, some juices contain various harmful or undesirable ingredients, including added sweeteners, extracts, flavors, other additives, preservatives, and GMO ingredients.
So what is the solution? Opt for whole-food versions of drinks, like smoothies, instead of juices. Green smoothies are the best, just be sure not to ruin your green smoothies with these ingredients. Aside from smoothies, which use whole and unprocessed foods like fruits, homemade juices can be a potential option from time to time. Pure fruit juices are really never ideal though, so always aim to make your homemade juices vegetable-based with some fruits added. Finally, the best case and most optimal solution is to eat whole, fresh fruit, as much as possible, and not any processed or refined versions of them. And when a drink is desired, always aim for water, which is the ideal liquid to drink throughout the day. You can always flavor your water with some freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice.
4. Canned Fruits / Fruit Cups
Fruits are perhaps the best and most ideal foods suited for the human body, however not when they are processed and packaged in such a way that makes them stress our body and offer little, if any benefits. If you are eating fruits for breakfast, make sure that they are fresh or frozen for optimal health and nutrition benefits. Canned fruit and any kind of fruit cups or processed fruit products should be avoided due to the problems it comes with.
For starters, most canned fruit is heat treated to the point that most vitamins and healing antioxidants and phytonutrients are rendered useless. So if you thought you were eating fruit to benefit your health, you actually are not when the fruit is in this form.
Second, most canned fruit, fruit cups, and processed fruit products have all sorts of added sugars and sometimes even preservatives or other undesirable ingredients.
Third, such processed fruit products will come in either plastic or metal can packaging, both of which introduce us to harmful chemical compounds that make up that packaging. With plastic, there is no such thing as a safe plastic really, regardless of what plastic number it is (found on the bottom of the container). When it comes to cans, they have to be lined with some product that will not react with the fruit acids or liquid, in general, that would cause the can to rust, etc. This is where most cans, unless stated otherwise on the can package, include a liner that contains bisphenol A, which is a serious hormone disrupting toxin. It was associated with the controversial safety of plastic water bottles, but it is also found in liners in food cans. When it comes to banning bisphenol A, as of April 2008 Canada has officially become the first country to initiate a ban on the importation, sale, and advertising of items with this substance, and currently other countries are following suit. (Unfortunately in years since then, much of that has been overturned.) Bisphenol A is a big problem because as already mentioned, it is a very strong hormonal disruptor that mimics estrogen, and has been linked to all sorts of reproductive organ cancers, fertility issues, and proper sexual development in kids.
So remember, fresh is best when it comes to fruit, and if you cannot have fresh at any time, for any reason, then frozen is second best. If neither of these options is possible, then opt for non-sulfured dry fruit, but don’t waste your health or your money on canned and processed fruit food products.
Now that you have a greater awareness about these food items, you have the opportunity to change any habits that will not benefit your present and future health, and which are sabotaging your body’s optimal potential. The best part is that these breakfast foods are all so easy to replace, and we literally never have to rely on them or sacrifice our health for them. You just have to make a conscious intention to change and adjust your breakfast or any other meal patterns accordingly.
Remember, everything that you put into your body creates it and the state of your health. So give yourself the best you can and don’t sabotage your wellbeing.
Continue to learn more by reading Breakfast Foods That Seem Healthy But Aren’t — Part 2.