By Jade Teta and Keoni Teta
1) Cereal. We don’t care if it is corn flakes, fruit loops, or some fancy triple soy-enriched, go-lean crunch cereal. If it is cereal, it is far from a heath food in our opinion. Cereal is one of the most processed foods on the planet. And most all cereal is loaded with refined carbohydrates, lacking in fiber, and devoid of protein. This means eating cereal for breakfast will elevate insulin levels and be less satiating than a breakfast with more protein and fiber. The research on cereal can be confusing. Obviously, if you have been eating fast-food sausage and pancakes for breakfast, and you substitute cereal instead, you are going to see some positive changes in your health. However, a breakfast based in high-fiber phytonutrient-rich fruit and lean satiating protein will do much more to benefit your health and your waistline. Cereal also has high levels of cancer-causing acrylamide. Researchers from Sweden’s National Food Administration have shown that high starch foods like cereal, when heated to an excessive degree during the making process, form large amounts of this toxic chemical. If you must eat cereals, stick to the less refined, old-fashioned oats, cereals with less and more natural ingredients, and a total carbohydrate-to-fiber ratio of 3 to 1 or less. (“Acrylamide in cereal and cereal products: a review on progress in level reduction,” Food Additives and Contaminants 2007;24:47-59.)
2) Artificial sweeteners. As well as a very loose connection to cancer in both animals and humans, now you can add increasing hunger to the list. Not only are these compounds completely foreign to the body, but research shows they actually make us hungrier later in the day, which pretty much negates the whole diet thing, don’t you think? (1. “Evaluation of evidence for infection as a mode of action for induction of rat lymphoma,” Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis 2008;49:155-64. 2. “Involvement of specific orexigenic neuropeptides in sweetener-induced overconsumption in rats,” Behavioral Brain Research 2006;175:241-8.)
3) Sports/electrolyte drinks. Besides the artificial sweeteners mentioned above, high fructose corn syrup, yellow dye number 10, brominated vegetable oil, and oil of wood rosin are just some of the wonderful things you can find in your favorite sports drink. High fructose corn syrup (in high amounts) has been linked to diabetes, and bromine displaces the valuable nutrient iodine from our diet, compromising thyroid function. (1. “Metabolism of bromide and its interference with the metabolism of iodine,” Physiological Research 2004;53:S81-90. 2. “Fructose consumption as a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease,” Journal Hepatology 2008;48:993-9.)
4) Non-Fat Coffee Drinks. Coffee gets a lot of good press and IS the number one source of antioxidants in the American diet. When taken black or with a small amount fat it can be a healthy beverage. But, add in the mega dose of synthetic caramel/vanilla/candy cane flavoring and the jumbo tron serving of sugar and you have a dessert whether it is fat free or not. Coffee is also a stimulant, so when sweetened you are getting a dose of both insulin AND cortisol, not a good combination. In one study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2004 (vol. 80 # 4), coffee was shown to increase five out of five biochemical markers of inflammation. Add to that the fact that coffee depletes the body of minerals, and raises blood pressure and cholesterol in susceptible individuals, and you see why this food made our list.
5) Granola. We are not sure why granola would have ever been seen as a health food. It is also loaded with sugar and fat and therefore not a healthy food for those trying to keep waistlines thin. Everything that applies to cereal is true for granola. Granola is one of those foods that marketers have cleverly disguised as healthy when it is not. Today’s granola is a far cry from the original natural granolas of our grandparents. This food has gone from natural to Frankenstein with many brands loaded with high fructose corn syrup…the same compound in soda that can lead to diabetes and a fatty liver. The fat and sugar content of granola is often so high that the serving size is shrunken down to a miniscule amount like a quarter cup. This is a misleading fact since most people will easily eat one-half cup to a full cup or more. That means you must double or even quadruple the 3-6 grams of fat and the 20-30 grams of carbohydrate in a “serving,” and more than half a cup and even one full cup is still a fairly modest serving for some big eaters. If that were not enough, like many baked cereals, granola may have high levels of acrylamide. Diet granola is also frequently loaded with alternative sweeteners, and the dreaded trans fat from hydrogenated oils frequently find their way into this food. If you must eat granola, stick to the truly natural brands and read the labels.
6) Low fat. Fat is a major factor in making us feel satisfied at a meal. If you cut out all the fat, you will eat more. The 80s were not just the “low fat” era, they were the “get fat” era. Replacing fat with carbohydrates was a bad move and led to a lot of fat people stuffing their face with fat-free cookies and cakes. Some fats are needed to burn fat. (“Fatty acids and insulin sensitivity,” Current Opinions in Clinical Nutritional Metabolism and Critical Care 2008;11:100-5.)
7) Soy. The vegans are going to hate us for this one. The bottom line is soy was never meant for human consumption. The Asian cultures had to ferment it just to make it digestible. Soy has levels of manganese that can be toxic to an infant, acts as a thyroid disruptor in those with low thyroid function, is loaded with phytates which block the absorption of many healthy nutrients, and chronic consumption is questionable in estrogen related disorders. While moderate consumption of traditional soy foods is great and healthy, mega doses of soy sausage, soy milk, soy ice cream, and soy chips is far from what nature intended, and not desirable. ( 1. “Long-Term Effects of Phytoestrogen Daidzein on Penile Cavernosal Structures in Adult Rats,” Urology 2008 Mar 20. 2. “Pilot studies of estrogen-related physical findings in infants,” Environ Health Perspect 2008;116(3):416-20. 3. “Manganese neurotoxicity: a focus on the neonate,” Pharmacol Ther 2007;113:369-77. 4. “Effects of soy protein and soybean isoflavones on thyroid function in healthy adults and hypothyroid patients: a review of the relevant literature,” Thyroid 2006 Mar;16:249-58)
8) Diet soda (harmful ingredients other than artificial sweeteners). The caramel color in sodas is loaded with advanced glycosylated end products, appropriately abbreviated AGEs. The AGEs have been shown to do just that: age you. In addition to the synthetic sweeteners and AGEs, the potassium benzoate added as a preservative can be broken down into benzene, a nasty carcinogen. Also, aspartame, a common sweetener in diet soda, undergoes conversion into formaldehyde in the heat. (1. “Volatile organic compounds in foods: a five year study,” Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry 2003;51:8120-7. 2. “Formaldehyde derived from dietary aspartame binds to tissue components in vivo,” Life Science 1998;63:337-49.)
9) Organic Sweets. No scientific references needed here, this one is just plain common sense. Just because something is organic does not make it a health food. An organic cookie loaded with sugar may have less pesticides and IS a better option than regular junk-food, but it does not qualify as health food.
10) Bagels. Does anyone really still believe white bread, because it is low fat is healthy? The average American eats upwards of 70% of their food in the form of starch. Bagels, like all refined bread products, cause an excessive rise in blood sugar when consumed giving rise to the fat storing and inflammation producing hormone insulin. If you want to avoid diabetes, keep your waistline thin, and maintain high energy you will stay away from refined bread products and focus on fruits and vegetables instead. (Dietary patterns, insulin resistance, and incidence of type 2 diabetes in the Whitehall II Study. Diabetes Care. 2008l;31:1343-8)