Walking through the grocery store lately has become infuriating for me. I love food more than most, but the number of fake health foods flooding the aisles with crap is not only misleading, but detrimental to public health. It’s just downright confusing to say the least, and I do this for a living! What about everyone else?
We have our JRx nutrition expert and registered dietitian, Mike Gorski, back in a big way this week dispelling some of the most heinous so-called health foods and why they are anything but healthy. Some of these fake health foods you may know, and others will shock you. Time to set the record straight and know what foods are sneakily derailing your best health and wellness efforts.
Here’s What You Need To Know…
1. “Gluten-Free” and “Fat-Free” are not synonymous with healthy. While gluten may just be the biggest health hoax of our generation, the ingredients in most fat-free alternatives are equally as heinous for your health.
2. Sure, certain organic produce and meat sources can be a great upgrade to your nutrition. But lets get one thing clear, organic junk food is still junk food, and no sugar bomb cookie concoction is advantageous to your body comp efforts.
3. Drinking your calories is bad enough, but pounding chemical grade fluids instead is not the answer. For athletes, the sports drink may be one of the sneakiest sugar sources that can lead to a host of health problems down the line.
4. Last time we checked, wine is still a form of alcohol, and alcohol is usually considered a bad thing when it comes to fat-loss and hypertrophy efforts. Sure, there are studies that state red wine can be good for the heart, but being obese and chronically swollen is never a good thing.
How Americana Marketing is Making You Fat
The marketing teams for many food products are very creative, and can easily mislead consumers to believe that some foods may be healthier than they actually are. That’s how we define fake health foods. While foods need to maintain a specific integrity of labeling by law, just because they are labeled as healthy, or certain “experts” in the industry claim them as being healthy, doesn’t give them a free pass into your diet.
The following are just a few of the claims or justifications that some may make in regards to eating certain foods. While the list could go on and on, these are the most popular unhealthy health food trends that I see on a consistent basis. Don’t fall victim to untruthful food marketing. Instead, know what you are eating!
#1 Fake Health Foods: Gluten Free
Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine, requires a gluten free diet. However, one of the hottest trends in America right now is going gluten free to reduce inflammation or aid with weight loss. Truth is, the prevalence of Celiac Disease in America is only about .71% (or 1 in 141). (1)
Many people without Celiac Disease may feel better after eliminating gluten from their diet, because this usually means they are eliminating all the low quality, highly processed carbs along with a huge chunk of their calories from these foods – thus possibly leading to weight loss.
On the other hand, just because a food is labeled “gluten free”, doesn’t make it healthy. After taking a closer look at the label of a gluten free, Oreo like, cookie label, you will still find powdered sugar, non-hydrogenated palm and canola oils (yes, better than partially hydrogenated, but still not ideal) and 60 calories per cookie. This is actually 8 calories MORE than the traditional version of the cookie.
#2 Fake Health Foods: Fat-Free
Another common food to see advertised as healthy is the fat-free versions of many popular foods. Fat contains 9 calories per gram, therefore, by removing the fat from foods, it DOES reduce the calories from fat. Have you ever wondered how the hell there can be fat-free mayo on the market? These things just boggle my mind.
The problems that arise with removing the fat from foods are two-fold. First, a lot of fat-free or reduced fat foods have sugars added back to them to keep the food tasting somewhat palatable. The other issue that comes from removing the fat from foods is that fat helps increase satiety, or fullness.
By removing the fat, and possibly adding in sugar, foods that are naturally higher in fat and filling become less filling and sugar loaded. The artificial fillers and ingredients used to bio-engineer these foods is also a glaring issue. Most fat-free foods truly wouldn’t even make the requisites to be considered food, you know the stuff that you eat and gives you energy.
#3 Fake Health Foods: Sugar-Free
Sugar-free foods are typically synonymous with zero-calorie drinks or snacks. While they do not contain any calories, they also are not necessarily healthy. Studies have shown that the use of low-calorie sweeteners can help control body weight, however the overall difference in weight change is not a whole lot (2).
The other issues that may come from artificial sweeteners (all dependent on the individual) include potential migraines, changes in gut microbes, and triggering sweet tooth cravings for higher calorie real sweet snacks (3).
It is best to steer clear from any sugar-free, artificially sweetened drinks if you are someone who knows you can’t fight the cravings for real sweets once you get started. If you feel like you have no ill effects from the occasional sugar-free drink or snack, you may be in the clear – just be sure to read the labels and know what is in your food.
Another clever way that foods can be labeled “sugar-free” is if they contain sugar alcohols (4). While sugar alcohols are lower in calories than real sugar (1.5-3.0 cals/gram), the fact is that they still contain calories and in the end calories still matter when it comes to body recomposition goals.
#4 Fake Health Foods: Organic & All-Natural Foods
Organic fruits and vegetables are one thing, but organic chocolate Oreo cookies are another. Just because something is labeled organic, doesn’t automatically make it healthy. This may be news to you on some fronts, but lets be honest, no type or Oreo will ever be considered nutritious. I know, I know, it saddens me deeply too.
Unfortunately, many food manufacturers have taken their top selling snack foods, replaced the ingredients with organic substitutions, and sold them as healthy alternatives. Truth is, a calorie from organic cane sugar is the same as the calorie from non-organic sugar. When it comes to weight control, a calorie is a calorie, organic or not.
You can even find organic soda on the market. Not only is it the same sugar sweetened beverage as regular soda, but it also has MORE sugar and calories! When it comes to weight control, a calorie is a calorie, organic or not.
Organic can also be just a fancy label on produce that bigger companies can pay bigger money for. There are plenty of pesticides that are still allowed on organic foods. If you want the freshest and highest quality produce, check out your local farmers markets. Many smaller farms grow their produce with the same stuff as organic labeled farms. They just don’t want to, or can’t afford to, pay the fee to be certified.
#5 Fake Health Foods: Sports Drinks
Sport drink commercials are everywhere, advertised as the perfect drink for intra-workout nourishment or post workout recovery. However, the sugar in most sport drinks may not be necessary, or helpful based on your goals.
Most bottles of commercial sport drinks contain about 21 grams of sugar per 12 oz., along with electrolytes. The electrolytes may be needed if you are a heavy sweater, and the sugar may be needed if you are training for endurance events, with training sessions lasting greater than 90 minutes. However, if you are training purely for fat loss or other aesthetic goals, the sugar from the sport drink may actually hinder your progress.
Slamming sports drinks like they are water is one of the easiest ways to increase your sugar and calorie intake without even thinking twice. Just because it is hot out and you broke a little sweat doesn’t mean you need to reach for the nearest Sugar-Ade and slam it down. In all actuality, you may as well be drinking regular Coca-Cola.
When fat loss is the goal, don’t waste your carbohydrates on sugary sport drinks. Instead, get your carbs from whole food and nutrient dense sources, like fruit, potatoes, rice, etc. And what’s wrong with drinking some water, or if you are truly dehydrated, add a pinch of salt. Too simple to work you say? Give it a try.
#6 Fake Health Foods: Red Wine
Red wine may not be advertised necessarily as a health food, as much as it’s healthy benefits are generally spoken about. By definition, drinking in moderation is 1 drink (5 oz. wine) per day for women, and 2 per day for men. Originally there were some heart health benefits found from drinking wine in moderation from the compound Resveratrol. More recently however, it has been found that the amount in moderate consumption is negligible and proves to be of no benefit (5).
Also, red wine still counts towards calorie intake, and empty calories at that. Five oz. of red wine has about 125 calories, and 5 oz. is not a typical pour or the only serving that one might have.
Also, without having to provide a scientific study, I think we all know what happens to food quality and quantity intake when a few drinks are involved. Not only could you be looking at an additional 250-500 calories from wine in a night, but all the additional savory and salty treats that are so much easier to reach for after a few drinks. Wine may not be the worst thing you can put in your body, but to justify it as a health food with huge health benefits is absurd.
Quit Faking Your Food
When it comes to justifying what foods are healthy and which are not, it may not be as simple as reading the flashy labels on the front of a food item. It is important to dive deeper into the label on the back of the product, and read what ingredients might be added or missing. Or an even better idea, try eating mostly foods that don’t even have a food label.
About The Author
Mike Gorski is a Registered Dietitian and personal trainer located just outside of Madison, Wisconsin. Mike works with clients on a wide variety of goals including sports performance, post-rehab training, weight loss, and overall healthy behavior change. His ideas and methods have been featured on some of the top publications in the fitness industry including the Personal Trainer Development Center. Mike’s mission is to create positive behavior change with all his clients that will not only get them to their personal goal, but last them a lifetime. Learn more about Mike on his:
Website: www.mgfitlife.com Facebook: mgfitlife Instagram: mgfitlife
- Rubio, et al. The prevalence of celiac disease in the United States. Am J Gastroenterol. 2012 Oct;107(10):1538-44
- Miller, et al. Low-calorie sweeteners and body weight and composition: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Sep;100(3):765-77
- Yang, Q. Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar craving. Yale J Biol Med. 2010 Jun; 83(2): 101–108.
- Semba RD, Ferrucci L, Bartali B, et al. Resveratrol Levels and All-Cause Mortality in Older Community-Dwelling Adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(7):1077-1084.