Buyer beware: Health foods that are often unhealthy

Looks can be deceiving and this is especially true in the world of health foods. Health has become big business and many companies are trying to capitalise on this.

The trouble is, many of these companies are trying to profit by making unhealthy processed food appear healthy. It’s a classic case of wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Want to know which foods to watch out for?

1. Flavoured water

Most nutritionists agree that water is the best drink you can have. However, many people like their water to have a bit of flavour.

A number of companies have addressed this with flavoured water but not all flavoured water is so good for us.

The best way to check the health credentials of flavoured water is to check the ingredients list and nutritional content.

Some flavoured water contains a lot of sugar. For instance, Volvic’s ‘Touch of Fruit’ water contains 12g of sugar per 250 ml serving.

Other flavoured water typically uses artificial sweeteners such as sucralose or aspartame. These do not contain sugar but research has raised questions as to whether these sweeteners may negatively affect gut health.

Our advice
Where possible, make your own flavoured water. This is relatively easy to do by keeping some frozen berries or citrus fruit slices in the fridge. These can be added to tap or filtered water to give flavour without any sugar or sweeteners needed.

2. Granola and cereal bars

The fact that granola and cereals bars can be marketed as health foods shows how far marketing can bend the truth.

Some of these bars may contain fruit, seeds and oats but they’re nearly always held together by vegetable oils and sugar.

A serving can typically be in excess of 200 kcal and 27 g of carbohydrate.

Our advice
Forget cereal and granola bars and instead opt take a handful of unsalted nuts and maybe a few raisins if you’d like a bit of sweetness.

Keep to having a modest portion as nuts are fairly high in calories and raisins fairly high in sugar.

3. Maltodextrin

Maltodextrin maybe marketed as a sweetener but it is a high GI carbohydrate and no better than sugar.

Maltodextrin contains 97g of carbohydrate per 100g.

Our advice
The healthiest option is to avoid added sugar and sweeteners altogether.

4. Vegan versions of animal products

Vegan diets are often seen as healthy and therefore vegan foods may ride on this fact in order to be viewed as healthy.

These days you can get all sorts of vegan foods such as vegan sausages and vegan cheeses. The question is, are these really good for us? The answer is that often they’re quite highly processed.

Our advice
Rather than going for processed vegan attempts at animal products, it’s far better to stick with meals from fresh vegetable ingredients.

There are plenty of vegan workarounds that don’t involve animal products and there’s really no need to make vegetables look like animal products.

5. Frozen yoghurt

Frozen yoghurt has been billed as a healthier alternative to ice cream. It is lower in fat than ice cream and therefore is slightly lower calorie.

However, watch out as frozen yoghurt can often be higher in sugar. Also, frozen yoghurt can sometimes be more highly processed than ice cream.

Our advice
Treat frozen yoghurt as an indulgence just as you would ice cream. By all means have some frozen yoghurt but have in small quantities and not on a regular basis.

As the frozen yoghurt and ice cream are largely on a par, feel free to have ice cream on occasional basis if you wish. If you go for ice cream, pick a good quality ice cream that does not rely on emulsifiers.

6. Kale chips and other vegetable crisps

Kale and vegetable crisps may be billed as healthier alternatives to regular crisps but really they’re not much healthier and, like many of the foods on this list, should be viewed as an indulgence.

They are dried and fried in oil so are relatively high calorie. They bring a little more nutrition than regular potato crisps but not much more.

Our advice
Don’t regard vegetable crisps as a health food. If you want a healthy snack go with fresh vegetables, fruit or nuts.

7. Dried fruit

Dried fruit can be part of a healthy diet but care needs to be taken with portion sizes as dried fruit is sugary.

A pack of dried apricots or banana may look healthy but looks can be deceiving.

Our advice
Steer clear of candied druid fruit and if having unsweetened dried fruit, eat in smaller quantities. A good replacement for dried fruit is whole fruit. So rather than having a pack of dried apricots, opt for a whole apricot and you’ll be giving far less sugar to your body to struggle with.

8. Rice crackers

Rice crackers are very high in carbohydrate and infused with oil so keep that in mind if you have a packet of these in your cupboards.

We looked at a few rice crackers and found that they can contain as much as 85g of carbohydrate and in excess of 400 kcal per 100g weight. That’s a lot of carbs and a lot of calories.

Our advice
Our general advice is to avoid rice crackers altogether. If you do have them, stick to small portions such as one or two rice crackers as a maximum.

9. Fruit juice and smoothies

Fruit juice and fruit smoothies pack a large hit of sugar. The amount of sugar that fruit juices contain is often on a par with full sugar cola and lemonade.

We looked at the first cartoon of orange juice we could find and compared it with coca cola. 100 ml of Coca Cola contained 10.6 g of carbohydrate and 100 ml of the orange juice contained 10.7 g.

When we looked at the first carton of a smoothie, this one was a ‘Pomegranate Blueberry And Acai Smoothie’ by Innocent, it had a whopping 14 g of carbohydrate per 100 ml.

Research has also shown that people that regularly drink orange juice are at an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Our advice
Don’t be afraid to pour away the fruit juice or fruit smoothies you have. It really is much better to opt for a glass of water and a piece of whole fruit. This will not only have a much lower sugar content but also adds a source of dietary fibre.

10. Low fat foods

There is a certain amount of sense in having lower fat versions of some foods, however, there’s also a more sinister side to many foods labelled as low fat.

Lower fat foods generally have fewer calories than full fat versions. The problem though is that in place of the reduced fat content is usually additional carbohydrate and sugar.

An important point to note is that fat is better at keeping us feeling full than carbohydrate and a lot better than sugar in particular.

The trouble with having a diet consisting of low fat foods is that it can often lead to higher sugar levels shortly after meals and feeling peckish for snacks between meals.

Another problem with low fat foods is that they tend to be more highly processed than their higher fat counterparts.

Our advice
Rather than focusing on picking lower fat products, opt instead to cut down on your carbohydrate intake and aim to avoid having processed foods.

Many people with diabetes find that, when it comes to carbohydrate, less is more. This is because having fewer carbohydrates tends to result in lower sugar levels which helps people feel more energetic and upbeat.

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About the author

Benedict Jephcote

I have been researching and writing about diabetes for the best part of a decade. I have a passion for helping people with diabetes and championing their rights. Outside of diabetes, I have a love of music and seventeenth and eighteenth century history.

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