The Most Overrated Health Foods and What to Eat Instead

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We’re constantly bombarded with advertising and messaging about nutrition, the next best diet craze, and what we should be eating. It can quickly become difficult to distinguish fact from fiction or how to pick out what food trends come with real nutritional merit and what are being sold to us as the solution to all our dietary issues simply because enough people have hopped on the bandwagon to make it a “thing.”

All foods fuel our bodies in some form or another – even the “bad” stuff like desserts and “junk food!” It takes but only a little knowledge about how the body breaks down and uses macronutrients – especially fats, proteins, and carbohydrates – to understand that some of the healthy food trends on the market today are really not the best options for all of us. Below we list some of those foods, and what you should be eating instead.

Protein Bars and Powders

The 1990’s brought us a lot of great stuff, but the trend of protein in the form of bars and powders was not one of them. We get it – there’s something to be said for the convenience– throwing a protein bar in your gym bag for a quick post-workout recovery snack. And with so many options on the market, you’re bound to find one that tastes good. But protein bars don’t grow on trees and you can’t get protein powders from an animal. That’s to say that they aren’t naturally occurring food staples, so we have to synthetically make them in food labs.

Not to mention, this means they are often loaded with sugar since we have to make them palatable and mask the chemical tastes that might be lingering. Sure, they pack a protein punch but there are plenty of REAL foods that do too. It might require a little extra elbow grease, but opt for real plant or animal sources of protein like lean meats and fishes, or beans and legumes.

Egg Whites

Egg whites are not a bad healthy food, but why stop at just the white? We are advocating that you eat the whole egg, yolk included. In recent years, fat free diets were all the rage and so many people took to taking out the yolks in their morning breakfasts to lower the fat, calorie, and cholesterol content. But the body needs good sources of fats. Fat helps you stay fuller longer so that, even though you may be saving a few calories at the beginning, you are more likely to get hungry quicker and then overeat later. And in reality, the amount of cholesterol contained in an egg yolk is very minimal – definitely not enough to make a significant difference to your health.

Sports Drinks and Green Juices

Before, during, and after a race, the body needs fast-absorbing sources of electrolytes. Sometimes, we automatically grab those sports drinks that are being served at the race aid stations because water just won’t cut it. But these sports drinks can be completely loaded with sugar, meaning excessive calories. The same can be said for green juices. There are a lot of people who drink green juices regularly because they are touted as a health food – but do you really know what you’re drinking?

Most green juices, like sports drinks, have crazy high sugar levels. In fact, the sugar content far surpasses the vitamin and/or mineral content that you’re likely drinking a green juice for in the first place. Another one to avoid? Coconut water. It’s high in sugar and fat and you are better off with good old fashioned water or fresh squeezed fruit juice, which has natural sources of sugar from the fruit itself. (And we aren’t suggesting the fruit juice sold in containers in stores.)

Low Fat Nut Butters and Powdered Peanut Butter

Lots of food companies have gotten smart. They know that if they slap a “low fat” sticker on something, people will mistakenly think it’s a healthier alternative. But that’s certainly not always the case, especially for low fat peanut butters. If you compare the nutrition labels of low fat nut butters to full fat nut butters, you’ll see that the calories are basically the same. But the sugar content of the low fat nut butters is usually HIGHER than the full-fat version because the manufacturer has had to replace the fat they took out with something – so they choose sugar for taste and consistency purposes.

And remember, you need fats. Don’t be scared of them! This is especially true for powdered peanut butter. While it may have less calories than the real thing, it hardly has any fat at all. You will, guaranteed, be way less satisfied and probably left wanting more (and thus, more willing to go for less healthy carbs like desserts and sweets).

Sugar Substitutes

We’ve been explaining how you’re better off straying from foods loaded with sugar. The exception is when you need to use sugar itself. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking sugar substitutes are better for you. Sucralose and aspartame have been linked to a myriad of health issues for consumers, and basically leave you still wishing you had something sweet.

Avoid the “healthy” sugar options from other sources besides cane: agave nectar, coconut sugar, etc. Agave nectar actually has higher calories and is much sweeter than actual sugar so your taste buds are likely to be thrown off. Not to mention it actually has more fructose than high-fructose corn syrup.

Gluten-Free Foods

Unless you’ve been clinically diagnosed with Celiac’s disease or a gluten allergy, there’s no medical reason to avoid gluten. Gluten-free foods actually have higher calories than their full-gluten bread counterparts, but they don’t contain gluten (obviously) which holds breads and pastries together and has much better staying power (aka keeping you fuller for longer). Unless you have a gluten allergy, don’t go gluten free!

Trail Mixes

A serving of trail mix can be a great snack! It has everything you need: fats, carbs, and proteins and will keep you full. However, a single serving is often only ¼ a cup – which is less than a palm-full usually! Unless you’re diligently measuring out your trail mix, it can quickly become a calorie bomb, and before you know it, you’ve eaten an entire bag (i.e. 20 servings) in one sitting. Go for another snack that’s lower in calories but still a macro-nutrient-dense powerhouse. Some ideas are a single pb&j sandwich with low-sugar jelly or pretzels dipped into canned tuna mixed with ¼ of a mashed avocado.

Sources

  1. Dr. Michael Greger, Egg Consumption & LDL Cholesterol Size, Nutritionfacts.org Blog, Apr 28, 2016
  2. SHARON FEIEREISEN, 20 Most Overrated Healthy Foods, Eat This! Not That Article,
  3. Darya Rose, Top 10 Most Overrated Health Foods, Summer Tomato Blog, Mar 03, 2014
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