There are lots of scams out there in the health and fitness industry. And it got a lot worse in the last decade, because now we can see those scams literally across every supermarket and storefront.
New marketing strategies claim so called "fit foods" as "organic", "low-fat", "no added sugar" or "all natural".
Here are 12 foods you should cross off your healthy grocery list, if you really want to make it healthy!
1. Diet Sodas
Who doesn't love a big glass, full of guilt-free coke? But calorie-free doesn't always mean healthy. When it comes to diet sodas you can actually harm your body.
Plus, studies show that they won't even help you with your weight loss. Artificial sweeteners in diet sodas fool your body into thinking you're eating real food and can cause a spike in insulin.
Hence, artificial sweeteners are sweeter than regular sugar, that's why they can make you want to eat more sweet stuff. Better stick to your water or tea!
I heard it way too often the last couple of weeks: try bran, it's healthier and lower in calories. No, it actually isn't healthier!
Bran is the outer layer of grains, such as oats, wheat or rice. Of course, it is the part of the grain with the most fiber and protein content, but it's also much more processed than normal oats or wheat.
Another problem is that bran contains phytobezoars. Eaten in a too large amount, it is undigestible, will build up and cause obstructions in your bowel.
There's a reason grains have a bran: to protect them! And even though humans can cope with it to some extend, it's still hard on your digestive system and can lead to irritations.
3. Sports drinks
Never ever waste your money on them, unless you are doing very very long endurance training. You just don't need a sports drink for normal gym activities, light housework or a leisurely walk with your dog.
Many sports drinks contain 15g of sugar! Spare yourself the extra calories and the extra money.
4. Agave nectar
Agave nectar has become a hyped sweetener that's claimed as healthy and lots of people use it as an alternative to refined sugar or corn syrup.
Basically there is nothing wrong with using agave nectar instead of sugar, but there is also no real health benefit. If you like the sweet taste of agave, go ahead and use it, but always keep in mind that it's not essential to your diet and it's a source of extra calories.
Plus, agave nectar is high in fructose. Fructose doesn't raise blood sugar levels in the short term, but if you consume it in higher amounts over a longer period of time it can affect your insulin resistance.
Watch your intake!
5. Vegetable oils (even Olive oil)
Just in case you didn't know: vegetable oils are not only bad for the environment, but also for you. Yes, even olive oil. Don't get fooled by the word 'vegetable'.
But why? Vegetable oils are highly processed, because they have been extracted from seeds, like rapeseeds, soybean, sunflower, safflower, peanuts etc. They're typically refined under heat and pressure, which changes the molecular structure of the oil, damages the omega-3 fats and produces eruct acid and trans-fats.
The biggest problem with them is, that these oils are promoted as healthy because they contain monounsaturated fats and omega 3 fatty acids. That's what advertisers focus on to fool you into fake health claims.
What they didn't mention in their advertisement is, that those oils are high in polyunsaturated fats, which oxidise easily and cause inflammation and mutation in cells. Plus, there are all the additives, pesticides and chemicals involved in the process.
Many of them contain BHA and BHT (Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluene). BHA and BHT are artificial antioxidants, which keep the food from spoiling too quickly, but they're also known to produce potential cancer compounds.
Your body needs healthful fatty acids, but those fatty acids must come from naturally sources, not refined oils.
Better focus on cold-presses oils, coconut oils, butter or avocado oil and use them sparingly.
6. Packaged Granola / Instant Oat meal
Rolled oats, nuts and dried fruits? Doesn't seem unhealthy, right? Nope, not really. What you forget is how much sugar, molasses and oil is added by nearly all granola brands during the cooking process. A medium bowl of a nice breakfast can easily contain 500 or more calories - that's without the milk!
Whipping up your own home made granola is super easy, quick and allows you to control the ingredients you use.
Same with oatmeal. Oatmeal can be a great whole-grain energy source, but if you buy the instant oat meal at your supermarket it will be a sweet bowl of refined carbs that will most likely leave you starving mid-morning.
Instant versions are low in fiber and protein and are packed with added sugar.
It is much better to cook and refrigerate a batch of oats. That way you can simply reheat the oatmeal and add flavours using fresh fruits and nuts.
Aaahh, the inexpensive butter substitute.
Let me ask you one question: Do you rather rely on cows or chemists? Why? Because margarine is nothing more than hardened liquid vegetables oils.
Again, vegetables oils are free from any natural vitamins or antioxidants.
There's also no evidence that margarine helps with anything, let alone cholesterol levels.
Best choice is yellow butter from grass-fed cows (Kerry gold without added oil for instance).
8. Gluten free products
It's time to clear up the misconception of those gluten-free products. They are not inherently healthier than wheat based products (unless you suffer from celiac disease). Alternative flours are used for those products, which contain just as many carbs - or even more - as wheat does.
In fact, manufacturers often use less nutrient-dense flours and fat to replace the gluten. Therefore, focusing on gluten-free products, without suffering from celiac disease, is wasting more money for no additional nutrients and sometimes even a less healthier product.
If it's packaged or processed - gluten or no gluten - it's not healthier than whole foods you could be eating.
9. Fruit juices / vitamin waters
They're quite popular these days: fruit juices. Promoted as healthier, because of their high content of antioxidants, lots of people get trapped.
The truth is, most fruit juices come up nutritionally short, because they contain little fiber and are loaded with extra sugar. If you want something fruity, eat a fruit, which contains much more essential fiber and is digested slower, keeping you full for longer.
If you really want to consume your fruits in a liquid form, try smoothies instead.
Now to so called "vitamin waters". Sounds like two healthy things come together. What you forget is that vitamin waters contain much more than just vitamins and water. They come with a huge amount of sugar and therefore unnecessary calories.
Water should always be your drink of choice. If you need some flavour, simply add some lime, lemon or orange wedges on your own.
10. Reduced fat peanut butter
I love peanut butter. But it's huge downside, that it's loaded with calories. So, why not opt for reduced-fat peanut butter and save at least some calories?
Sadly, the reduced-fat version is not necessarily healthier than regular peanut butter. The truth is that both, reduced-fat and regular peanut butter, contain nearly the same amount of calories. In fact, the reduced-fat version contains much more sugar.
Furthermore, it isn't really healthy to reduce the fat in peanut butter. Peanut butter is a natural source of monounsaturated fat, the "good" fats. So, you don't want to cut the good and add the bad.
Focus on nut butters with an ingredient list that contaisn no added oils (specially no palm oil) and not too much sugar or try to make your own at home.
Almonds and cashews are actually better than peanuts, so stick to them if possible.
11. Light salad dressings
Salads are the perfect lunch or dinner when you try to lose weight. But sometimes they can get a little bit boring. Why not top it with some light or fat-free salad dressing?
Think twice about using them. By skipping on a full-fat dressing, you may be missing out on fully absorbing the nutrients of your fresh vegetables, especially the green ones which contain fat-soluble vitamins.
Furthermore, to provide the flavour of a light dressing, sugar is added.
The healthier alternative here is to choose a full-fat dressing, which is made out of olive oil or canola oil and provides less than 2g carbohydrates per serving.
But use is sparingly. Some people opt for a salad because they want to cut back on calories and don't realise their salad has 1000+ calories because of too much dressing and cheese. If you want to keep it super low calorie, use a water and herbs based dressing instead.
12. Frozen diet meals
We all know those days where we just aren't able to cook fresh. On those days we just grab a fast pre-portioned frozen meal. Yeah, maybe they are a good way to keep your calories in check, but when it comes to the nutritional value, they just suck.
They are filled with preservatives, way too much sodium and too few veggies. You're better of if you leave those meals in the freezer and buy yourself some fresh veggies and fruits for your lunch break.
It's in our nature to try new fads and new products, listen to promises of fast and easy weight loss methods. But always listen to your gut. Most of all this is common sense and your body reacts to the stuff you put in your body.
And remember that eating healthy does not mean you'll lose body fat! You can eat healthy all day and gain a pound per week. Energy balance is the important factor!
Having said that, eating healthy is certainly better than eating crap, regardless of your body goals. So don't let the marketers fool you. Stick to whole foods, unprocessed ingredients and a good amount of common sense!