You’re going to the gym and choosing healthy options instead of chowing down on chips and chocolate. So, why is your waistline still bulging?
The truth is that for too many years, we’ve been force-fed a diet of inaccurate information about the food we eat. Manufacturers have pushed fat-free, “diet”, and “light” options that tend to be highly processed and full of sweeteners, sugar, or other additives. These foods are ultimately less satisfying than the original person, so we tend to eat larger portions to feel satisfied, causing the scales to only move upwards.
You may feel like a paragon of virtue when you pick the OJ instead of a fizzy soda – but when it comes down to it, they’re both just sugary water. When fruit is juiced, all the fibre that keeps your bowel healthy and regulates absorption of nutrients into your bloodstream is chucked in the bin. That means that a glass of juice has most of the calories and sugar contained in the fruit, but it’s much less filling without the fibre content. It’s easy to glug juice equivalent to a bag of 5 oranges in a few minutes, but you’d be unlikely to do the same if you tried 5 whole oranges as a quick morning snack.
So, skip the cartons of juice. Instead, try using a Nutribullet or similar machine that will include all of the fibrous goodness too, or better yet, just have a glass of water and eat the whole fruit or veg instead.
Low-Fat Flavored Yoghurt
When manufacturers remove fat from yoghurt, they tend to pump it full of sugar and artificial flavorings to compensate for the loss of taste and rich texture.
Many ‘healthy’ yoghurts actually have more sugar than sweet mousses and chocolate pots that are considered indulgent desserts.
Take care to look at the labels and step away from any products with double-digit grams of sugar, and choose natural Greek yoghurts instead, as they tend to be naturally lower in sugar. You can even add berries, nuts, or seeds if you’d like to add texture, flavor, and a little nutritional boost.
Granola was touted as a healthy breakfast option back in the sixties and seventies. It was the healthy, hippy option, and containing whole oats and nuts, it was probably a better choice than the sugar-frosted and chocolate concoctions usually gracing the breakfast table.
However, most granola contains high levels of fat and added sugars, so you might as well crumble up chocolate flapjacks for your brekkie! Granola can be hugely calorific, so it is best to only enjoy small amounts as an occasional treat.
If you love your granola, try making your own so you can control the amounts of sugar and oil and bump up the nutritional goodness. Try sprinkling it on a dollop of Greek yoghurt on with berries for a meal that packs a bigger protein punch with less added sugar.
If you’ve been slathering margarine or low-fat spreads on your toast as a healthy alternative to butter, stop now. Many of these products contain trans fats, which are associated with increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and other chronic diseases such as cancer. Either skip the spread, or choose a small amount of butter instead (1).
Lots of people argue that refined flour is as bad as sugar. In fact, when refined flour is broken down by the digestive system, it has approximately the same nutritional makeup as sugar. Often, a brown loaf has just been colored to change its appearance, and it’s simply a white slice in disguise.
“Enriched” on the packet has got to be good, right? No. It usually means that nutrients have been lost in the manufacturing process, so the micronutrient content has been artificially boosted to make up for what was lost.
Whole-grain bread can certainly be healthy and wholesome, but the definition of “whole-grain” can be problematic, as many whole-grain products are low in fibre. For example, you’d need to eat 16 slices of whole-wheat bread to get the recommended daily dose of fibre. Get your fibre from fruit and veggies instead.(2)
Low-Fat Ready Meals
These seem like the answer to a busy dieter’s prayers. Described as quick, balanced, nutritious, and low in fat, the pictures on the box can certainly be tempting. However, these meals are often loaded with sodium, sugar, and filled out with refined carbs. They may be low in calories, but they also tend to be lower in nutritional value.
Many people have stopped using white sugar and instead sought alternative sweetener options. Agave nectar seems to be a healthy, natural alternative. However, agave is typically more calorie-dense than sugar, and some brands even contain high levels of fructose. When it comes to sweet treats,your best bet is simply to eat smaller portions, rather than trying to create ‘healthier’ alternatives (3).
Find out more:
- Intake of saturated and trans unsaturated fatty acids and risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies (BMJ 2015; 351) Russell J de Souza, Andrew Mente, Adriana Maroleanu, Adrian I Cozma, Vanessa Ha et al.
- Whole-Grain Foods Not Always Healthful (Scientific American on July 25, 2013) Melinda Wenner Moyer
- Agave Nectar: A Sweetener That is Even Worse Than Sugar (Authority Nutrition May 2016) Joe Leech, Dietitian