We all do our best to eat well, exercise and to stay healthy, but the truth is that the food industry is against us in so many ways. With profits as their motivation, and marketing as their driver, their number one goal is to get you to buy their product. And with “health” as a main concern of shoppers, it’s only natural that companies use that as a driver of sales.
Utilizing terms like “natural,” “sugar-free,” “low-fat,” “lite,” and “farm-fresh” are all ways in which the illusion of being healthy is created. When in fact, many times these terms are empty promises covering the truth. The truth that these foods may not be healthy at all. They mislead you into eating something that might be harmful to your body, all the while you remain ignorant. The problem is that marketing teams are just too good at their jobs, and we as humans were not designed to scour ingredient labels before putting food into our mouths. And whether it is the fault of the company or not, it has become our job to take responsibility for what we are eating – as annoying, frustrating and time-consuming as this may be.
This dilemma is something that really hits home for me. It has personally affected almost all those who I love and care for. And the worst part is that I see these people trying, I mean really trying their best to eat healthy, and yet they fall short. They are eating healthy in concept, but when you really get down to the nitty gritty of the foods that they are eating, the ingredient list tells all. So I have put together a list of the top foods that almost all self-proclaimed “healthy” eaters eat, unknowingly putting toxic, disease-causing ingredients into their bodies. Hopefully this will be empowering rather than frustrating, because it all comes down to knowledge – taking the extra effort to be in control of your own health, and not entrusting it to others.
7 Unhealthy “Healthy” Foods you’re Eating
1. Coffee Mate Coffee Creamer
No matter how you buy it, regular, vanilla, sugar-free, or in powder form, Coffee Mate creamers contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil. This is another name for TRANS FATS – the fat that is banned in NYC, and is widely known to cause diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. Coffee Mate creamers also contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in the soybean and sugar used, which are suspected to cause liver and kidney damage, birth defects and infertility. The sugar-free version also contains two toxic artificial sweeteners called sucralose (Splenda) and acesulfame potassium. These chemical sweeteners cause a range of issues from gas, bloating, cramps, to anxiety, cancer and infertility. Acesulfame can cause bladder cancer, blurred vision and neurological issues.
Avoid: Partially hydrogenated oil, corn syrup/solids, sucralose, acesulfame potassium, soybean
2. Non-Organic Yogurt
Yogurt is a food staple enjoyed worldwide, offering many benefits if purchased correctly. It is high in protein, beneficial bacteria (probiotics), and healthy fats. The problem is that most of us believe that all yogurts are created equal, when in fact most yogurts have no place in a healthy diet.
To start, most yogurts contain unreasonably high levels of sugar. Whether that is from added fruit or flavoring, the added sugar can be very harmful to your blood sugar balance leading to inflammation, fatigue, weight gain, loss of focus/attention. Always buy “plain” yogurt which has about 6 grams of sugar or less. This is compared to 16-27 grams of sugar in the flavored varieties. Add your own fresh berries, stevia, and cinnamon to add some sweetness.
Next up, buy ORGANIC yogurt. Not “natural,” not solely “grass-fed.” This ensures that the yogurt is free of HORMONES (growth hormones and rbGH), antibiotics and GMOs. Most conventional milk comes from cows that are raised on a diet of GMO (genetically modified) grains (not grass) that are highly sprayed with pesticides, and are pumped with antibiotics, growth hormones (rbGH) and steroid hormones. These harmful substances can be found in the cow’s milk, which is then made into the yogurt found on the grocery stores shelves. The concern then arises that by consuming these toxins, a range of health complications can occur from hormone imbalance, antibiotic resistance, cancer and infertility. Consuming hormones via milk/dairy products can also be an underlying cause of early puberty, PMS, PCOS, endometriosis, cysts, menopausal symptoms, low libido, low testosterone and breast tissue growth in men. Learn more here.
*Note: a majority of people are lactose-intolerant, meaning that they cannot properly digest milk. Make sure that you are not milk intolerant before eating dairy products like yogurt regularly. If you are intolerant, this can lead to GI issues, acne, weight gain, bloating, constipation/diarrhea.
Avoid: Non-organic yogurt (like FAGE), flavored varieties such as added fruit, honey etc.
Buy: Organic plain yogurt (Stoneyfield, Clover, Nancy’s), organic Greek yogurt (I like Wallaby), organic Icelandic yogurt (I like Smari), organic goat yogurt, or non-dairy yogurts (non-soy) *if raw organic yogurt is available, that is best
3. Salad Dressing
Salad dressing is one of the last places any of us look when thinking about avoiding unhealthy foods. I mean it’s just herbs, oil and vinegar right? Wrong. Because salad dressing is made to have a long shelf life, and to taste good, it is loaded with unhealthy fats, MSG, preservatives and GMO soy/corn/canola oil. And I’m not just talking about the cheaper brands like Krafts, but nicer brands (that we all know, use and love) like Girard’s. For example, Girard’s light Champagne dressing contains soybean oil (GMO – genetically modified), monosodium glutamate (MSG – a known excitotoxin), and corn syrup (also GMO). Not to mention, it also contains a slew of chemical preservatives and additives too. Another house favorite? Brianna’s dressing, which also contains GMO canola oil. Yes, it’s a shame.
In case you didn’t know, MSG is a known carcinogen, endocrine disrupter and killer of brain cells, which may also be linked to the development of cardiac problems, kidney problems, neurological disorders, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. Learn more here.
Avoid: Soybean oil, canola oil, corn syrup, monosodium glutamate, partially hydrogenated oil, sodium benzoate, disodium inosinate, and potassium sorbate.
There’s nothing like diving into a big bag of popcorn and settling into the couch for a movie night. Popcorn is most certainly a low-calorie, high-fiber snack, but the one glitch in the system is the corn itself. About 85% of the corn grown in the United States is genetically modified (GMO). That means unless you are buying ORGANIC popcorn, you are eating genetically modified foods. And why do you care? In case you missed the highlight from above, GMO foods have shown in research to lead to allergies, infertility, birth defects, liver damage and cancer. No thank you.
Next up is the oils. Oil and butter make the world go round, especially when eating popcorn, but the two oils that popcorn companies LOVE to use are soybean and partially hydrogenated oil. Yup, here are those two dreaded ingredients again. GMO soy and partially hydrogenated oil, also known as TRANS FATS. Remember trans fats? Diabetes, heart disease, obesity, high cholesterol.
Finally, we come to chemicals. Chemicals in the instant popcorn bag, chemicals used as flavoring, and chemicals used as preservatives. We’ve got all of them. They look like the following: TBHQ (ADHD, ADD, anxiety and restlessness), propyl gallate (may lead to may also lead to liver and kidney damage), artificial colors (ADD, anxiety), and chemical coatings such as PFOA, PFCs, and plastics (once heated, these chemicals leach into the popcorn, not only altering the taste, but exposing you to a toxic mess).
Avoid: Non-organic popcorn, soybean oil, partially hydrogenated oil, TBHQ, propyl gallate, artificial colors (like Yellow 6), PFOA, and PFCs
5. Peanut Butter
Peanut butter, the food that plays a supporting role in all childhood memories, whether on a sandwich, in a cookie or off of a spoon. We’ve been eating peanut butter for so long, we never even thought to question its purity. Well the sad news is that peanut butter is no longer just peanut butter. It is made with partially hydrogenated oils (yes, I wish I could stop talking about these dreaded TRANS FATS!), and GMOs in the form of corn syrup solids, soy protein, soybean oil, canola oil. So once again, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, infertility, liver/kidney damage, and cancer are all probabilities.
Next up, peanuts have high levels of aflatoxins, a fungus that grows on them. Aflatoxins are naturally occurring mycotoxins that are produced by Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. Aflatoxins are a potent carcinogen, known to cause liver cancer in laboratory animals and may contribute to liver cancer in Africa where peanuts are a dietary staple. The main concern is over long-term exposure to low levels of aflatoxins, which is why it is best to opt for seed butters, or other nuts that don’t contain high levels of aflatoxins like cashew and almond butter.
Finally, when nuts are roasted their delicate healthy fats are damaged. This makes an inferior food, one where there is less benefit, especially since one of the main reasons to eat nuts is their healthy fat content. Therefore, always purchase freshly ground, raw nut/seed butters.
Avoid: Partially hydrogenated fats, soybean oil, corn syrup solids, soy protein, canola oil, peanuts, roasted nuts
6. Canola Oil
If you frequent any health food market such as Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Sprouts or Gelson’s there’s a 100% chance that you’ve eaten canola oil. Almost all prepared foods in the hot bar and salad bar are made with canola oil. And what is canola oil? Well, it does not come from the canola plant… because there is no such thing (well originally). Canola oil originally comes from the rapeseed, so it is a rapeseed oil derivative… but that doesn’t roll off of the tongue very well does it. In the late 1960s, Canadian plant scientists used traditional plant breeding methods to get rid of rapeseed’s undesirable qualities – erucic acid and glucosinolates, and to create the canola “plant.” This word was derived from the combination of “Canada” and “ola,” meaning oil. So it goes by the name canola oil.
And why has canola oil made it to this list? Because over 90% of canola oil is GMO – genetically modified. Hopefully we remember by now why GMO foods should be avoided. Now this is one of the hardest ones to avoid… at least for me it is, because it is in EVERYTHING. Sometimes a girl just wants a to-go salad at Whole Foods! So the answer is to do the best you can, READ the labels at the market before purchasing, and WRITE to your markets. Tell them you do not want canola oil in your food, you want REAL oils like oil, coconut, hemp, flax.
Avoid: Canola oil: premade salads, salad dressings, baked goods
Soy is in practically everything now. From tofu, edamame, soy milk, and soy yogurt, to breakfast cereals, protein bars and packaged goods, you can bet your eating lots of soy, soybean oil and soy protein. Over 93% of soy grown in the United States is GMO – genetically modified. So as we’ve learned before, that can lead to liver/kidney damage, infertility, and cancer.
Next up, soy is a phytoestrogen. A phytoestrogen is a compound that acts like estrogen in the body. What that means to you is that it can disrupt normal hormone balance. It raises estrogen levels in the body, which in turn can diminish testosterone and influence the production of progesterone. Depending on your hormone levels, it can increase your risk of breast cancer, decrease libido (sex drive), PMS, endometriosis, weight gain (hello muffin top!), acne and breast tissue growth in males.
Finally, soybeans are high in phytic acid, an acid that is present in the bran or hulls of all seeds. Phytic acid is also termed the “anti nutrient” because it can block the uptake of essential minerals – calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc – in the intestinal tract. The soybean has one of the highest phytate levels of any grain or legume that has been studied and therefore puts you in risk of a mineral deficiency. Furthermore, soy foods contain trypsin inhibitors that inhibit protein digestion and affect pancreatic function. Learn more here.
* The only exception to eating soy products is organic fermented miso, tempeh and Nama Shoyu. The fermented organic forms have great benefits such as increasing healthy bacteria (probiotics) in the gut, which help to maintain and healthy immune system. The fermentation process breaks down the phytic acid, making the nutrients more bioavailable. Organic ensures that it is not GMO.
Avoid: Conventional soy products: tofu, edamame, soy milk, soy ice cream, soy yogurt, soy creamer, soy food bars, tofurkey
Buy: Nut/seed alternatives like almond milk, coconut yogurt/ice cream, organic tempeh, nama shoyu, miso
So there you go – was it that painful?? Hopefully you don’t have too many things to throw away, but remember, knowledge is power. The more you know, the better choices that you can make. Take some time to have this information sink in, it doesn’t happen overnight, and that’s okay! This is a learning process that has so many rewards. Not only improved health and a better future, but also the possibility for delicious new foods to try. Amen to that!
If you have any brands you love, or other products that you think fit the list, please don’t hesitate to share below.