The TRUTH About Healthy Food...!!

Watching what we eat is common sense when we’re looking to lose weight. Quite often though, our healthy choices might not be as healthy as we think. In fact, we could even be making matters worse. Here are just a few examples…

Healthy Breakfast Bars

Okay, so we know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day; it ‘kick-starts’ our metabolism. But if you’re not a ‘morning person’, you may at some point have been tempted to grab a ‘healthy’ breakfast bar on-the-go. But, are breakfast bars really healthy? It depends on the bar you’re talking about, of course, but it also depends on your definition of healthy.

Unfortunately, definitions of ‘healthy’ vary widely across the food industry. For example, one leading authority states that healthy breakfast bars should contain no more than 15 grams of sugar and at least 5 grams each of fibre and protein; whilst another organisation suggests 6 grams or less of sugar, at least 4 grams of fibre and at least 5 grams of protein is what constitutes a healthy breakfast bar.

Nutritional guidelines like these are confusing enough. But more important than analysing the nutrients and tallying up the calories, is understanding what goes into making it. A genuinely healthy breakfast bar should be made of whole foods and other wholesome ingredients. However, very few bars on the market actually are and many are as processed as biscuits or sweet snack-bars.

Breakfast bars can also contain a lot of added sugar, but manufacturers can make it seem as though they don’t. Ingredients are listed in order of predominance, with those used in the greatest amounts first. But, by using a variety of added sugars, manufacturers can list them separately and lower down the list of other ingredients, effectively tricking us into thinking they seem healthier.

Low Fat Yogurt

The demand for ‘low-fat’ foods these days is understandably high. Sometimes though, the popularity of some ‘low-fat’ products is a little misguided. Have you ever tried to find ‘Whole Milk Yogurt’ in your average supermarket? It very nearly doesn’t exist. Virtually all the yogurt in the dairy section of my local Tesco can be classified as low-fat.

Another thing to look out for; whilst low fat yogurt is rich in protein and calcium, many brands contain shocking amounts of added sugar. Some manufacturers add 30 or more grams of fructose, sucrose, or other sweeteners. Compare plain yogurts with fruit yogurts to see the difference between naturally-occurring milk sugar and added sugar listed on the Nutritional Information panel.

Slimmer’s Sandwiches

Pre-made ‘slimmers’ sandwiches seem like a healthy and easy lunch option, but they can hide scary amounts of fat, sugar and salt. Some supermarkets now push healthy versions, but these may not be very different. One supermarket branded ‘Light Choice’ Ploughman’s sandwich is sold offering ‘30 per cent less fat than the Standard Ploughman’s’. But in reality, that should just warn you to avoid their standard sandwich.

Pre-made ‘light options’ sandwiches can be a minefield when it comes to healthy eating and with many offering between 300 calories and 500 calories, a trip to McDonalds wouldn’t be that much worse. Also, watch out for those ‘meal-deal’ options; adding that bag of crisps to your lunch can seriously boost your salt and fat intake even further.

Low Fat Crisps

Low-fat’ does have an official meaning: Less than 3g of fat per 100g. Many products call themselves low in calories, light or healthy, when they’re actually not low in fat at all.

One famous High St brand of crisps, directly pitched at the weight-conscious, boasts of being less than 100 calories and ‘free from hydrogenated fats’. But the crisps contain 22g of fat per 100g, which actually makes them ‘high in fat’ according to the Government’s regulations.

Also, the term ‘Free from hydrogenated fats’ is a red herring: No reputable manufacturer still uses these dangerous fats.

Many brands now offer baked versions of crisps, again marketed to appeal to dieters and offering claims such as ‘70 per cent less fat’ on the packaging. But again, they’re often not officially low-fat and they’re often only a handful of fewer calories than their regular crisp counterparts. This is because the baked crisps often contain up to three times as much sugar as the regular ones, to replace the taste lost by removing oils.

Light and Lite Mayonnaise

The words ‘light’ or ‘lite’ have no meaning in law, and manufacturers tend to use them to get a health premium from a product that may not be very different or much healthier than the original.

Most mayonnaise brands often comes in three types; Regular, Light and Extra Light versions. Whilst the two healthier versions do indeed deliver less fat, it’s still a lot; on average, just two spoons of light mayonnaise has 8g of fat, more than ten per cent of a woman’s daily guideline amount.

Again, when manufacturers remove fats, this impacts on the taste: they make up for this by increasing the sugar and salt levels. Extra light mayonnaise will generally contain around twice as much salt and three times the sugar as their regular versions.

‘Healthy’ Salad Dressings

Any dietician or weight-loss plan would recommend we eat more salad; but just as important as what you put in the salad is what you put on the salad; the dressing.

If you go through all the trouble of making a nice salad, you should reward yourself with a tasty dressing to compliment it. But beware, some dressings can do more harm than good. Of course, dressings add calories to a low-calorie meal; but this is actually a good thing, because the fats in dressing add nutrition and a feeling of satisfaction to your meal… as long as you are choosing the right kinds.

Here’s a simple 4 step plan for choosing and using salad dressing, with the goal of keeping your salad healthy (as it is intended to be!).

1. Avoid fat free dressing.
Fat is okay, in fact fat is good! Fat helps you absorb fat soluble vitamins found in certain vegetables and fat slows the digestion process, so it helps to keep you feeling full for longer. Healthy fats like those that come from oils can improve heart health. Fat free dressings are usually highly processed and contain no good nutrition. The calories are reduced significantly but it's not a place where you should be looking to save them, you'll just end up hungry.

2. Save creamy dressing for special occasions.
Creamy dressings are a special treat. They taste great but they can be a downfall to your diet if you are indulging in them too often. Save creamy dressings for special occasions like an evening at a nice restaurant or dinner at a friend's house. Creamy dressing are higher in calories but the real problem is the much higher saturated fat content. Saturated fat is harmful to the heart so don't undo the good salad choice with a bad dressing choice.

3. The first three ingredients should be oil, water and some kind of vinegar.
This is the base for a good salad dressing and it's this combination that will keep your salad healthy. Vinegar and water are calorie free and oil adds the good fat and nutrition we want. Make sure there is less than 0.5 grams of saturated fat per serving to ensure they are not sneaking in unhealthy fats after they use a little good fat. Ideally the rest of the ingredients in the dressing should be all natural - herbs, spices and other seasonings you are familiar with, not additive names you can't pronounce.

4. Don’t pour, measure!
Even if you pick the healthiest salad dressing, using too much of it will load your salad with calories and you won't reach your weight goals as easily. It's a great idea to actually measure out a standard 2 Tablespoon serving into a small bowl then pour that over your salad; you may be surprised how much less dressing that is compared just pouring straight from the bottle. If you take a salad to work, find a small container and pour yourself a 2 Tablespoon serving to take with you.

Diet Drinks

If you drink so called “diet” soft drinks, you may be at risk of weight gain. The problem with diet drinks is that many people turn to them because they want to lose weight, but they really are not the best drink in the world for you.

Diet soft drinks contain artificial sweeteners that can actually cause us to crave more. When this occurs, we're likely to turn to more diet drinks, resulting in taking in many more calories than we originally intended.

Experts have not yet extensively studied the effects of diet drinks on the human body, although they have carried out a lot of lab research on rats, to observe the effects that these drinks have on weight. One of the things that scientists have discovered, is that the artificial sweeteners in diet drinks cause weight gain by actually tricking the rats’ brains into thinking that they are not full, even if they have eaten a meal. The sugar substitutes tell the rats' brains that they are receiving calories as a result of tasting the diet drink. But when the calories that the brain expects don't actually get into the body, the rats' bodies respond by craving more food. This has shown to cause them to gain weight over time.

If we are really serious about maintaining or losing weight, we need to think about substitutes for diet soft drinks. By far, the best thing that we can drink is water.

Of course, many foods labelled as ‘healthy’, really are healthy and play a huge part in helping us reach and maintain a healthy size. But it really is worth staying mindful that there is also a lot out there that can just as easily take us right off-course.

Go on then; check your cupboards and fridges for stocks of unhealthy ‘diet’ food and I’ll catch up with you next time…!

Best wishes