Tony the Tiger says his breakfast cereal is “Greeeaaaat!” Bruce Jenner, before taking a backseat to the Kardashians, was an Olympic champion who attributed much of his success to Wheaties®. And Taylor Swift, Batman and Superman all sported milk mustaches and asked if you’ve “Got Milk?” If you think these are merely entertaining and harmless ad campaigns, Houston, we’ve got a problem. The truth is these messages – and many more like them – have convinced Americans to accept as health foods many products that are actually bad for us. Let’s look at a few:
Cows’ milk. A 2011 study in the journal Nutrition and Cancer found that cows’ milk stimulated the growth of prostate cancer cells, producing an average increase in cancer cell growth rate by more than 30 percent. In contrast, almond milk suppressed the growth of prostate cancer by more than 30 percent. The researchers caution that elevated levels of estrogens in cows’ milk may be the source of the increased cancer cell growth. Although milk has been suggested as an ideal protein source, it is extremely allergenic.
Soy milk. Researchers suggest that soy affects the hormone balance in humans, resulting in higher testosterone levels in girls, who normally have minimal levels of testosterone; and higher estrogen levels in boys, who normally have minimal levels of estrogen. Another concern is that almost all soy is genetically modified. Men should avoid soy because it has been shown to lower testosterone, while women of reproductive age should also steer clear of soy because it can lead to poor body composition and increased risk of breast cancer.
Cereal bars. Where did people get the idea that eating bars made out of the same ingredients found in unhealthy cereals would be good for them? In addition to often containing gluten, which many people do not tolerate well, these bars often contain large amounts of sugar.
Pizza. There was a rumor last year that the US government declared pizza a vegetable! Not quite. If you find a copy of the massive 401-page agriculture appropriations bill that is at the heart of this controversy, you won’t find any mention of pizza directly, but it does mention tomato paste. More specifically, Congress was trying to determine how much tomato paste equals a half-cup of vegetables, and the answer appears to be an eighth of a cup. So, not only does Congress not know their vegetables, they also seem to have a problem with math!
Diet soda. One of the most popular types of sweeteners used in diet soda is aspartame. Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. It contains methanol and two amino acids: aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Phenylalanine can depress serotonin (a chemical released from nerve cells that has many benefits, such as helping you sleep). Aspartic acid is an excitotoxin that can overstimulate neurons in the brain, causing them to die. Aspartame has been associated with 92 different health side effects, including vision damage, depression, high blood pressure, insomnia and PMS.
Protein bars. Just the name protein bar borders on false advertising because it is difficult to design a bar that makes a significant contribution to daily protein requirements. Here are some examples of the protein content of several of the most popular health food bars: BTU Stoker, 10 grams; Clif Bar, 5; Protein Edge bar, 10; and Gator Bar, 3. Another problem with so-called protein bars is that they often add sugar (protein is not sweet).
Energy bars. Most popular energy bars are full of things you really don’t want in your system. For example, a single PowerBar™ contains 230 calories spread among 45 grams of carbs, 2.5 grams of fat and 10 grams of protein. Unfortunately, the number-one ingredient in these bars is fructose corn syrup, which promotes type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease.
Bottled tea. Refined sugar is commonly added as a sweetener in bottled tea. Also, bottled teas usually lack antioxidants called polyphenols. According to a study presented at the American Chemical Society in 2010, some bottled teas were so lacking in polyphenols that you would have to drink 20 bottles to get the equivalent amount found in just a single cup of brewed tea!
Yogurt cups. Often these products contain a considerable amount of sugar in the form of corn syrup. Also, many frozen yogurts contain yogurt that has been heat-treated, a process that kills the active cultures.
When you’re shopping, remember the popular axiom “Fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice, shame on me.” Be a smart consumer, read nutrition labels and don’t get fooled again by misleading advertisements.