These sneaky culprits claim to be good for you, but diet and nutrition experts say otherwise.
I field inquiries every day on what patients should and shouldn’t eat. As good-natured and earnest as they come, these inquiries are so loaded with misadvice, misunderstanding, and old notions of what’s “good for you,” it leads to some inevitable confusion.
Yet interest in nutrition and mindful diets has skyrocketed in recent years. And with it, so has a field of folks looking to help navigate this nutrition minefield.
These healthy eating experts, or nutritionists, agree on a few basic principles: That an optimal diet balances proteins, fats, and complex carbohydrates while keeping sugars, empty calories, and processed foods down. They also tend to agree that if they don’t put it in their bodies, they wouldn’t put in yours.
So what exactly makes it on the nutritionist naughty list? Foods high in sugar and processed ingredients for starters, as well as foods that just generally rely on some out-of-date health advice, many of which fall below.
- Store-bought smoothies or green juices
A snappy and simple way to eat more fruits and veggies, it’s no wonder green smoothies are so popular. Yet those pre-made bottles you now see dominating the grocery store (in the produce aisle, too!) are so riddled with sugar and additives, it’s better to keep your cart moving.
Store-bought smoothies can average between 200-1,000 calories depending on size and flavor, and can carry up to 60 grams of sugar. That’s nearly three times your recommended daily amount in one drink! Better to blend your own using frozen fruits and veggies, leafy greens, protein powder, and a dash of your choice of milk.
- Vitamin supplements
Through countless studies, years of research, and billions of dollars spent by the health and wellness industry, the jury’s still out on vitamin supplements.
Unless pregnant, diagnosed with a specific deficiency, or following a diet that might make naturally obtaining certain vitamins difficult (such as vegans with vitamin D and B12), many nutritionist suggest caution when consuming daily vitamins. The supplement industry itself remains largely unregulated and leads to a range of subjective results. More often than not, if you’re not getting the nutrition you need from your diet, experts suggest tweaking the diet itself.
- Frozen diet meals
Yes, your Lean Cuisines are a mindless dinner after a long, tiring day. But nutritionists warn against this convenience, as well as their misleading low-fat, low-calorie advertising.
Frozen diet meals may help your calorie count. But like most frozen and processed foods, they’re deficient in the macronutrients (protein, good fats, and complex carbs) our bodies need to stay full and healthy, often swapping complex carbs and fresh veggies for some low-calorie counterparts and sodium-injected, cheaper proteins. Not fueling yourself properly with real food means not achieving your health and wellness goals, no matter what they may be.
- Farmed fish
Though fish are a fantastic source of lean protein, low in saturated fat, and high in Omega-3s, they’re increasingly raised and harvested from fish farms. This system sets off a host of concerns, from pollution and contamination to the quality of the fish itself.
Farmed fish are typically fed a diet of fishmeal (other ground fish) and fish oils to jumpstart their growth, while the use of antibiotics, water pesticides, and carcinogenic chemicals added in their pools get ingested by the fish and stored in their fatty tissue. Due to a myriad of related health risks, nutritionist recommend wild-caught fish whenever possible. For bonus points, you can check out Seafood Watch, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s official guide to sustainable fish consumption.
- Grilled meat
Apologies to our gameday grill-out lovers and tailgaters. Without question, science has shown grilled meats cook in a manner that produces carcinogens — those sneaky substances that disrupt cell metabolism and cause cancer. More specifically, meats seared or grilled over flames stimulate the production of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs), carcinogens that coat your steaks, pork chops, and ribs during bouts of high heat. Nutritionists suggest grilling over lower temperatures or looking up carcinogen-reducing meat marinades (yes, that’s a thing) to reduce your cancer risk.
6. Egg whites
Often lauded as the trendy, low-cholesterol alternative to whole eggs, sans yolk, you’re contributing next to nothing to your body nutritionally.
Egg yolks store over 80 percent of an egg’s vitamins, minerals, and healthy fatty acids. Not to mention without a complementary amount of fat, your body can’t absorb what protein, vitamins, and minerals remain in your whites anyway. Diet experts suggest purchasing high-quality, pasture-raised eggs if possible — and enjoying every last bit of that gooey, savory yolk.
- Fat-free salad dressing
The problem with fat-free dressing is similar to the problem with egg whites. Without a healthy dose of fat, your body simply isn’t able to soak up the goodies you’re getting from your meal.
What’s more, salads can be powerhouses of nutritional goodies. From vitamins A and K found in greens to the antioxidants of beta-carotenoids in carrot shavings to the healthy cell stimulator folic acid, a good salad is a perfect vehicle to get your recommended servings of veggies. Topped with complex carbs and proteins like chickpeas, black beans, seeds, or lean chicken breast, go ahead and seal the absorption deal with regular dressing.
- Granola bars
Popular granola bar brands like to masquerade as quality snacks. Yet most are so packed with sugar and so rarely balanced by protein or fiber, you might as well eat a candy bar when the mid-morning munchies strike.
Take a look at the ingredient list on the packaging of most granola bars. You’re bound to see things like high-fructose corn syrup, modified oils like canola and soybean oil, and up to 200-calorie per serving bars. Instead, aim for granola bars that offer a similar protein-to-sugar gram ratio, are loaded with whole nuts, and use more natural sweeteners, like raw honey or maple syrup.
In America, we’ve somehow managed to transform a naturally protein-and-probiotic-packed superfood into dessert. The culprit? High-fructose corn syrup, as well the rainbow of other cheap sweeteners (natural and processed) yogurt manufacturers add to make their products more appealing (and arguably addictive). In addition, many yogurts contain food dyes and artificial preservatives that only further push this dairy staple away from its healthy origins.
- Chicken wings (yes, even baked ones)
Again, my apologies to all the weekly wing-night fans out there. But your game-day staple is leading you to consume nearly three-days worth of fat in one succulent sitting.
As delicious and varied as chicken wings can be, they’re often some of the fattiest meat of a chicken that’s then slathered in a sauce of sugar and salt. A single chicken wing contains 80-100 calories and 5-6 grams of fat. And let’s be honest, who ever has just one chicken wing?
If you would like expert advice on your own personal meal planning, we offer nutrition counseling services at Digestive Care Specialists. Schedule an appointment by calling 301-288-1319.