Superfood myths: Health foods that aren’t actually healthy
THEY might have ‘healthy’ or ‘natural’ written on the label, but many so-called superfoods and eating fads are anything but.
Unfortunately, that means your quest for optimum health could actually be making you fat — and poor.
Here, we look at the biggest food fads, so you know exactly what’s good to go and what has got to go.
Check the ingredients on your protein bar to see if they contain high levels of sugar and fat.Source: News Limited
If you think by putting down the barbell and picking up a protein bar you’re fuelling muscle growth, Lucinda Hancock, executive officer of Nutrition Australia, has some bad news.
“Some of them can contain as much sugar and saturated fat as a chocolate bar,” she warns. Despite that picture of a jacked-up muscle man on the wrapper, you probably had a feeling they were too good to be true.
Many of them also contain long lists of preservatives and other ingredients you’ve never even heard of, which won’t be doing your body any favours. Here’s how to make sure you won’t be discovering a golden ticket to the Chocolate Factory in your next protein bar.
Fat: No more than 10 grams of fat per 100g. (Less than one-third from saturated fat);
Kilojoules: Maximum 900kJ if it’s a post-workout snack. Much less if you’re having it just because;
Sugar: Less than 15g per 100g;
Fibre: At least 3-5g.
A better bet: A glass of low-fat milk is a much healthier post-workout recovery option.
“It’s a great source of protein and hydration,” explains Hancock.
Another good choice is unflavoured, natural yoghurt topped with high-fibre cereal and some nuts.
Coconut Oil is 92 per cent saturated fat.Source: Supplied
Miranda Kerr eats it so it must be good for you, right? At 92 per cent saturated fat, the answer is no, warns Hancock. While there’s new debate around the benefits of saturated fat, Hancock says there’s still overwhelming evidence that it increases cholesterol levels, which are responsible for heart disease.
“Coconut oil behaves slightly differently to typical saturated fat; studies have shown that it can increase HDL cholesterol, which is the good kind,” she explains.
“But it’s also been found to increase LDL “bad” cholesterol, making it better than butter, but nowhere near as good as olive or canola.”
A better bet: “You can’t beat 1-2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil a day,” says Hancock.
It’s unrefined, so the antioxidants in the olives aren’t lost when being made into oil. It’s also rich in mono-unsaturated fat, which can help lower LDL and overall cholesterol levels. As for the argument that heating olive oil makes it go rancid: “That’s a misunderstanding, which has caused many people to think they have to cook with coconut oil,” says Hancock.
“Good-quality extra-virgin olive oil has a very high smoke point.”
Check the label to ensure it’s Australian certified and you’re good to go.
Going vegetarian or vegan
Vegetarian salad. Picture: iStockSource: Supplied
Pretty girls snacking on raw vegan desserts and saying the word “wellness” a lot might inspire you to ditch meat, but going vegetarian or vegan is tough yakka, warns accredited practising dietitian Lisa Renn.
“It isn’t as easy as just taking the meat off your plate and only eating vegetables — it takes planning and work,” she says.
“Otherwise you’ll be hungry, have low energy and be short on protein.”
If you’re going vego in a bid to lose weight, it could actually have the opposite effect — unless you have the nutritional know-how, you’ll probably end up living on bread and pasta.
“A raw vegan diet for weight loss falls under the category of ‘diets’ and diets don’t work in the long-term,” says Renn. “Unless you’re philosophically aligned with that lifestyle, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to keep it up long-term.”
Do it the right way: Include vegetarian proteins such as legumes, tofu, grains, seeds and nuts into your diet every day. And load up on lots of colourful vegetables. Renn recommends seeing a dietitian for guidance before you stop eating anything that has a face. “
Otherwise, you’ll probably leave out important nutrients,” she says.
Check the label on Muesli. It can be high in sugar.Source: Supplied
If you love nothing more than a bowl of muesli topped with yoghurt and fruit for breakfast, choose wisely — many brands contain as much sugar as Coco Pops. So run a magnifying glass over the nutrition label, advises Hancock.
“Sugar goes by many different names, such as dextrose, honey and syrup,” she says.
Also, steer clear of toasted muesli because it will likely be packed with dodgy oils. Opt for something low in saturated fat and high in mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Here’s what to look for on the label:
Fat: Less than 10 per cent total fat (one-third of that saturated);
Sugar: Less than 15g per 100g;
Fibre: More than 3g per serve.
Scan the ingredients list — everything is listed in order of prominence. If the first three ingredients are sugar, oil, or something you can’t pronounce, put it back on the shelf. And the fewer the ingredients, the better.
A better bet: Just make your own, says Hancock. Fill it with rolled oats, nutmeg, cinnamon, a few sultanas, raw nuts and a little unsweetened apple juice, then top it with vanilla yoghurt for some sweetness.
“You’ll know exactly what’s going into it and you won’t be getting the colourings and flavours that are in commercial products,” she says.
Acai Bowls: This berry is good at cleaning out your wallet. Pic by Richard GoslingSource: News Corp Australia
Does the superfood that no-one can pronounce really fight damaging free-radicals, increase energy levels, boost immunity and promote good digestion? Probably not, says Hancock.
“These are bold statements but the acai berry hasn’t had many clinical human studies carried out on it,” she explains.
What the little berry that could will do, however, is clear out your wallet.
“It’s just clever marketing that uses technical terms we don’t understand,” she says. Plus, eating an acai bowl topped with banana, strawberries, honey, cacao, dried fruit and toasted muesli becomes one mother of a sugar bomb.
A better bet: Just have a piece of fruit. Yeah, it’s boring, “but it’ll be far cheaper and the high amounts of antioxidants fruit contains are proven,” says Hancock. Besides, what would you prefer: $1 for an apple or $15 for an acai bowl?
Cacao beans. Cacao is rich in antioxidants but high in kilojoules.Source: Supplied
Closer to nature than its full-fat housemate chocolate, research has found cacao to be rich in antioxidants. It may also help lower levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol, says Hancock.
“But you are still consuming something that’s high in kilojoules, so don’t assume you can have as much as you want,” she warns. So, just like the regular stuff, stick to a few squares.
Be sceptical of anything labelled a “superfood”, says Renn. “We can spend lots of money on them and feel like we’re being healthy,” she says. “But in actual fact you can get everything you need from a healthy diet containing a wide variety of fruit and veg. Plus, it’s much less expensive and you get loads of other important nutrients.”
A better bet: A big handful of fresh berries, says Hancock. But if you are going for cacao, “make sure it’s in its raw state, not treated or cooked”, she says.
Cassie White is a Sydney-based personal trainer, yoga coach and health journalist.