Too much unhealthy food is one of the main reasons people are more overweight and unhealthy than ever before.
Unfortunately, there’s so much misinformation about nutrition that even the most well-intentioned, motivated people have trouble figuring out what to eat.
To make the whole process just a little easier, here are the top six nutrition and food scams you need to avoid for health and optimal body composition.
#1: Fat-Free Foods.
Fat-free foods are junk food in disguise. They are generally packed with sugar and artificial chemicals to provide flavor in place of fat.
Because sugar is addicting, fat-free sugary foods rarely help people reduce body fat. That sugar gives you a jolt of dopamine, which makes you feel good, so you’ll actively seek out those foods again, often overeating them.
If that’s not bad enough, diets low in fat don’t provide the body with the building blocks it needs for optimal health or balanced hormone function. For example, fat contains the vitamins A, D, and K in a bioavailable form and it is used to manufacture the androgen hormones that are involved in fat burning and muscle building.
Take away: When you see the label “fat-free” or “low-fat” on the label, run! By eating fat-free foods, you’re missing out on essential nutrients and setting yourself up for food addiction and diabetes. Pick the normal fat version if possible or look for an alternative food altogether.
#2: Healthy Whole Grains
Grains are not that healthy. They are high in calories but relatively low in nutrients, especially when compared to vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
In addition, they are hugely over-emphasized in the diets of most Westerner’s. They are very easy to overeat due to how they affect blood sugar and hunger hormones like insulin and leptin.
Food marketing has taken the advice to “eat plenty of whole grains by storm,” telling us that processed foods contain whole grains. This is ludicrous. Whole grains are grains containing the hull that are eaten after being cooked, such as boiled rice or cooked whole oats
When you grind whole grains up into flour or meal, they are no longer whole grains, but due to the fact that food marketers can pretty much say whatever they want many people are being duped into thinking they’re doing their nutrition a favor by eating processed foods that contain flour that was once a whole grain in some other incarnation.
Take away: If you choose to eat whole grains, don’t get them from processed food. Try sprouting them or boiling them, and favor the more nutritious grains such as oats, buckwheat, or millet.
#3: Organic Processed Foods
There are many wonderful things about organic meat, dairy, and produce: Choosing organic improves your nutrition, avoids pesticides and growth hormones, and promotes sustainability.
But the organic label on packaged foods actually does more harm than good. It provides a health halo that leads people to eat as much as 35 percent more calories then when they think the food is unhealthy. This is partly due to the fact that the organic = healthy “mindset” actually affects the release of hunger hormones like ghrelin so that we feel less satisfaction after a meal and get hungry sooner.
Plus, most organic packaged foods are just junk food in disguise. Organic raw cane sugar has the same calories and produces the same insulin spike as regular sugar. Same goes for organic corn, wheat, soy, and other grains that top the ingredient lists of most packaged foods.
Take away: Don’t get sucked in by the health halo of organic packaged foods. Plan the majority of your meals around whole foods: Meat, fish, dairy, veggies, fruit, nuts, legumes, etc., buying organic or local when you can.
#4: Foods with Added Protein—Bars, Cereal, Bread, etc.
Whole protein is pretty delicious—steak, eggs, salmon, bacon, and so on. Processed protein, on the other hand, is pretty tasteless. The blah flavor of protein and the fact that it’s very satiating poses a problem for food manufacturers who wanted to take advantage of the high-protein craze.
Their solution was two-fold: First, they took protein bars and powders and filled them with sugar or fake sugar substitutes and other flavorings. Then, they took everyday foods that are primarily made from carbs and fat, such as bread cereal and ice cream, and added soy protein isolate to them as a marketing ploy. The result is a whole bunch of processed junk with a bit of highly processed protein.
Take away: Ditch the packaged foods completely, and when you want to eat protein, eat real, whole protein from any of these sources: Meat, fish, dairy, beans, and eggs.
If you choose to use a protein powders or protein bars, avoid added sugar and artificial sweeteners. Also, check for the protein source—whey, pea, and even rice protein are superior to soy.
#5: Sports & Recovery Drinks
Most sports drinks are sugar water in disguise with a little bit of added vitamins and minerals. Sports drink marketers have one of the biggest scams going because not only are they omnipresent among endurance athletes, but team sports love them too. Doctors believe they can prevent hyponaetremia and promote recovery, and many regular folks believe they can help them lose weight.
The reality is that the brain doesn’t “register” liquid sugar calories in the same way as it does calories from food. This means that drinking your sugar won’t reduce hunger, so you may eat more calories overall.
The other huge problem with sports drinks is that they tend to contain a large amount of fructose, which is a very sweet form of sugar metabolized by the liver. The liver does a fine job of storing fructose as glycogen when you get it from a whole piece of fruit. When it comes in liquid form, it’s digested rapidly, and the liver has trouble keeping up, leading to greater fat storage and other metabolic problems.
Of course athletes do need to recover, but there are many ways to get post-workout nutrition and sugary sports drinks are not imperative for recovery.
Take away: Everyday folks who are interested in body composition and preventing diabetes should straight up avoid sports drinks. Don’t waste your opportunity to eat carbs by drinking them. Get your liquids from unsweetened coffee, tea, and water.
The word “natural” is meaningless when it comes to food labels. You can bet that when Pop tarts, Cheetos, and chicken nuggets can be labeled natural, we’ve got a problem. “Natural” is a completely undefined term by the FDA, which means that food manufacturers can slap it on anything, whether it contains artificial or synthetic ingredients or not.
Studies show this is hugely misleading and 60 percent of American consumers actually look for the term when they shop for food because they think that natural foods area healthier.
Take away: If you really want to eat “natural” food, stay away from packaged foods altogether. Shop the perimeter of the supermarket, choosing whole foods in their most natural form—meat, fish, produce, eggs, seeds, nuts, and dried legumes.