In a World…

Imagine your life as a movie, with you as the star and the choices you make ultimately determine the closing credits. That’s what life is after all, right? It’s made up of decisions you ultimately choose. You’re the star of the show, and your friends and family are there cheering you on for success.

But every great movie has its antagonist(s), the bad guy, the something or someone holding you back from reaching your ultimate goal. This may seem scary, but guess what this makes you? The protagonist! The leading character in your own narrative. You’re the hero, the one who determines the acts of your life.

So, ask yourself this – what choices am I going to make today that will write the next page of my life’s story?

Your best life will not be without its challenges, and in order to face these obstacles head-on, it’s important to remember that having the right physical and mental mindset is of the utmost importance.

Villains come in many forms. Today, our focus is on nutrition killers. Cue the menacing music, shut the blinds, and listen closely, because knowing what to look out for just might save your life.


Breakfast Blunders

For decades, breakfast has been hailed as the most important meal of the day, so shouldn’t something as instrumental in laying the groundwork for the rest of the day’s progress be given adequate attention? Even superheroes need their superfoods and we’re here to let you know of some of the seemingly healthy breakfast options that are secretly wolves in sheep clothing.

Cereal and Granola

Seamlessly innocent but loaded with sugar. Even options labeled as ‘high-fiber’ or ‘whole grain’ doesn’t discount the fact that most morning cereals and granola aren’t as healthy as they let on. For those who are gluten intolerant, watch out for inflammation trouble and skin breakouts. Sugar can also have this effect on the body. Not to mention spiking blood sugar levels and leaving you feeling sluggish after the sugar rush wears off. Think of overly processed and high sugar meals as your body’s kryptonite.

Healthier Alternative: Try an apple with some peanut butter and a handful of almonds instead. The apple will help give your body a healthy dose of energy from its naturally occurring sugar, and peanut butter and almonds add protein. Thirsty? Keep those bones strong with a glass of calcium-rich milk (or almond milk if you’re lactose intolerant). Now you’re ready to take on the day!


Sinister Snacks

The allure of hot golden crisp French fries, the crunch of salty potato chips… the thought alone is drool-worthy, but at what cost?

Chips, Fries & Popcorn

Calling out all chips – blue corn chips, veggie chips, multi-grain chips, and baked potato chips! Much like ice cream or other indulgent snacks, they seem to always be there in a time of need. The cravings for sweet and salty snacks is common for most, but can easily be replaced with healthier alternatives that provide that sweet or salty fix we’re craving (see below!)

The trouble is that most chips contain trans fats that can increase cholesterol levels, leading to an increase in coronary heart disease. If you’re thinking blue corn chips, multigrain chips, veggie chips or otherwise are healthier for you, we hate to burst your bubble, but they’re not. Calorie, fat and sodium counts are still going to be at elevated levels and lacking the true nutrition your body needs to stay properly fueled.

Fries, along with other fried foods, are oftentimes cooked in harmful oils and trans fats. When foods are baked or fried at high temperatures, a carcinogen called acrylamide is produced, which has been shown to increase cancer risk in mice. However, more studies need to be done on how this carcinogen affects humans.1 Our suggestion? It’s probably best to steer clear of greasy fried foods.

Sadly, microwaved popcorn is also another ostensibly healthy snack that actually isn’t so healthy. There are three main culprits that cause this: 1) carcinogens (there’s that word again), otherwise thought of as cancer-causing free radicals; 2) perfluorochemicals (PFCs) which help make the bags more greaseproof and also have been linked to thyroid disease, ADHD, and other illnesses, and lastly; 3) diacetyl, another cancer-causing chemical (found in the artificial fats).

Phew. That’s a lot of health negatives, not to mention the excessive amounts of sodium! Pop your own kernels to negate a lot of these issues.

Healthier Alternative: If you’re craving something sweet to snack on, make your own yogurt parfait with Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, nuts, and cacao! Looking for something more on the salty side? Try olives with cheese, pickles or whole wheat crackers topped with cottage cheese or a mixed olive spread!


Fa(s)t Foods

Life gets busy, days fly by, and sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to focus on healthy eating. This is normally when fast food seems like the quickest and easiest option when rushing around to get things done – but don’t take the easy option! Remember, you’re the hero of your life’s movie and heroes never take the easy way.

“Healthy” Fast Foods

Let’s break it down. Sure, fast food burgers are generally assumed to be unhealthy, and for those looking to lower their caloric intake or choose a healthier option, they may turn instead to a fast food salad, veggie burger, veggie pizza, veggie omelet, turkey burger, or grilled portabella sandwich instead (just to name a few). These are not always a better choice.

These marketed “healthier options” are usually pre-made, cooked in oils or butter, and can contain “hidden” calories found in added dressings, toppings or seasonings they are prepared with. There are ways, however, to help combat these issues. Ask for dressings on the side, have your meal prepared without butter or salt, and ask to have your burger or sandwich made protein-style (wrapped in lettuce without a bun).

Plot Twist: The drive-through isn’t your only enemy.

It’s important to note that this includes fast frozen dinners and sometimes canned products too. Yes, the grocery store does have its version of “drive-through” foods. Frozen diet dinners are usually packed with preservatives, loaded with sodium and contain few veggies. Have you ever wondered why a frozen meal just doesn’t quite taste as good as a home-cooked meal? That’s because it’s not fresh.

Canned products like soups and beans can seem healthy, but we think you’re noticing a theme here… beware of these seemingly healthy products! When shopping always read the ingredients list to check for sodium, sugar, and carbs, and take into consideration the serving size. A product may seem healthy, but if it contains 3 servings and you eat the entire thing you have to remember to multiply the nutrition facts by three (as an example).

A word to the wise, good things take time.

Healthier Alternative: Make your own “fast foods” at home! Sunday night meal prep means you can make your foods in advance, pay attention to what you’re putting into your dishes, and then pre-package (or even freeze) your meals ahead of time for the rest of the week. Less money spent on eating out, a healthier body, and the proud accomplishment that comes with making a smarter choice. You go, you.


The Trouble with Fruit Alternatives

Fruit is healthy, right? Right? Not always. Fruit juices, dried fruit, smoothies, fruit cocktail, and fruit snacks can be loaded with added sugars! Seems strange, doesn’t it? Fruit is already naturally sweet so why add even more sugar? Too much sugar can lead to a countless number of diseases, obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

When fruits are taken out of their original states, a lot of times this means what you’re eating or drinking doesn’t have the same nutritional value as eating the fruit whole on its own. Dried fruits usually have added ingredients to help with self-life and spoilage. Fruit juices are often not even 100% fruit juice and can contain artificial flavors and added sugars.

Smoothies are tricky because they can be healthy if made yourself at home and with the right healthy ingredients, but if purchased elsewhere, they can often be loaded with unhealthy base ingredients and again, added sugars. Fruit cocktails are kept in a sugary syrup that does nothing good for the body and fruit snacks pale in comparison to eating the real thing.

Healthier Alternative:

  • Step 1: Find your favorite type of fruit.
  • Step 2: Wash it.
  • Step 3: Eat that instead.

Bad Breads

Breads get a bad rap. Are they really bad for you? Yes and no. What is bad for you are the breads that add no real nutritional value to your diet or the breads that add way too many calories to your meal.

Wraps and Croutons

There is no lack of the types of tortilla wraps you can choose from. From sun-dried tomato, to spinach, to whole wheat, they seem healthy but depending on their size, added proteins, fillers, and sauces, your calorie count can easily exceed a healthy value.

As for croutons, they may seem small and harmless but they offer no added nutritional benefit for the body. It’s an easy way to add on calories to otherwise healthy salads. If you’re missing the crunch they bring to the dish, try swapping them out for nuts or crunchy veggies instead.

Healthier Alternative: If you don’t want to completely give up your relationship with bread, try opting for 100% whole wheat sandwich thins or use cracks instead. Another option is to use smaller tortillas for wraps and save yourself the extra calories, or you can always split your sandwich or wrap in half and enjoy the rest later!


Damaging Drinks

Sports drinks, energy drinks, diet drinks, tea drinks, flavored soymilk, protein shakes, and sodas – all of these are not water and not the greatest for you.

Sports drinks are mainly a combination of water (good), electrolytes (not bad) and sugar (yikes). For athletes performing high-intensity training, they might benefit from the electrolytes and sugar to help replenish the sodium and sugars they’ve depleted during their workout. However, most people do not need these types of drinks and are best to replenish with all-natural water instead.

Energy drinks should be a definite no-go. Most energy drinks on the market are not FDA approved because they are marketed as dietary supplements, rather than a conventional food or beverage which fall under the authority of the FDA. Without knowing exactly how these drinks are affecting your body, or the ingredients in them, again opt for water instead. It’s the one thing your body absolutely needs after a major sweat-sesh.

Diet sodas and regular sodas are usually made up of artificial ingredients, flavorings, and high levels of sodium. Even drinks that boost about zero calories, zero sugar, and zero sodium should still raise a red flag. Diet drinks use alternative sweeteners that could do long-term damage on the body. Drinkers of diet sodas have also been found to eat more calories after consuming a diet beverage2.

Good news! Tea drinks can be healthy! It’s the tea beverages with added sugars, sodium and artificial flavorings that are the ones to stay away from.

Sugar seems to be the reoccurring theme of what makes certain beverages less than ideal. For example, flavored soymilk can contain so much added sugar that it acts as more of a dessert than a regular everyday drink. Opt for original soymilk if you prefer it over whole milk. Regular soy milk can help provide the body with protein and potassium and be low in cholesterol.3

 Take caution with protein shakes. While protein is essential to helping build muscle and keeps our bodies strong, the wrong type of protein drink could be highly processed and filled with sugar. Make sure you know exactly what ingredients you’re consuming before mixing up your next protein shake!

Breads get a bad rap. Are they really bad for you? Yes and no. What is bad for you are the breads that add no real nutritional value to your diet or the breads that add way too many calories to your meal.

 

Healthier Alternative: The healthiest option is always water. Our bodies need it to live. If regular water gets too boring for you, try infusing it with cucumber or orange slices. There are also carbonated flavored waters on the market which can help satisfy if it’s the fizz you’re missing.


Low-Fat, Fat-Free, Gluten-Free, Reduced-Fat, Organic, and Light Food Options

Light salad dressings, flavored fat-free yogurts, low-fat muffins, reduced-fat peanut butter – they all sound great but don’t let their labels deceive you. Many times, when the fat is pulled out of a product that means a less healthy alternative is being added in its place to make up for the lack of flavor. This could mean you end up eating chemicals, artificial sweeteners and excess amounts of sugar or sodium that your body doesn’t need.

Even gluten-free or organic labeled food items can be unhealthy if they are junk foods. Sorry – there is just no way to make those tasty cheats healthy, even if they are gluten-free or all organic (sigh).

Margarine also falls into this category because contrary to popular belief, it’s not all that healthy. Marketed as cholesterol-free and as a healthy alternative to butter, it’s actually much higher in trans-fat compared to butter, which can elevate cholesterol levels and do damage to blood vessel walls.4 If you’re looking to stay away from both butter and margarine, try supplementing with olive oil instead.

Breads get a bad rap. Are they really bad for you? Yes and no. What is bad for you are the breads that add no real nutritional value to your diet or the breads that add way too many calories to your meal.

 

Healthier Alternative: Sometimes it’s OK to indulge in the all-natural, full-fat products. Our bodies do need a healthy balance of fats after all. Just make sure not to overdo it!

Sources:

  1. Orenstein, Beth W. “Web Exclusive.” Today’s Dietitian, todaysdietitian.com/news/exclusive1114.shtml.
  2. editors, shape.com. “50 ‘Good’ Foods That Are Bad for You.” Shape Magazine, Shape Magazine, 10 Dec. 2015, www.shape.com/healthy-eating/diet-tips/50-seemingly-healthy-foods-are-bad-you.
  3. Ibid
  4. Simone, Mike. “8 Absolute Worst Foods for Weight Loss and Health.” Men’s Journal, 24 Feb. 2018, www.mensfitness.com/nutrition/what-to-eat/healthy-resolution-the-8-absolute-worst-foods-you-can-pump-into-your-body/slideshow.

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