I am jumping on the bandwagon of a current craze on food blogging. Having recently changed my diet to one of low carbs and little processed foods, I have become one of THOSE people. Call it Atkins, Paleo, Primal or just `the guys that eat bacon all the time’. Yes, that’s it.
I had decided to make the transition from ‘normal’ eating using Phil Maffetone’s 2-Week-Test. I had read about the Maffetone-Method in Chris McDougall’s latest book Natural Born Heroes last summer and was determined to try it out as soon as an opportunity arose. There was a promise to help me with my increasing back problems, an unhappy stomach while running, and mostly a general lack of interest in my beloved sport after three marathons in as many years without any significant performance improvements.
The 2-Week-Test is designed to reset your body’s system: no processed foods, no sugar (yes, that includes fruit), dairy, honey, or any types of carbs (legumes, pasta, bread etc.). The idea is that we have gotten so used to feeling sluggish, tired, bloated from an overconsumption of sugars and carbs, that we don’t notice it any more. In two weeks we can change that by tuning our senses again to the effects certain foods have on us.
I was on the last day of this strict diet when my boyfriend and I found ourselves next to a very talkative and obese man on a plane to Salt Lake City. Having prepared for airports and planes where we would be unable to eat anything, we had brought along some cut veggies, hard-boiled eggs, and a variety of roasted nuts. This immediately caught our seat neighbors’ attention and after a brief introduction, he started to talk about his troubles with diets and hunger pangs. He also asked a million questions about our thoughts on proper eating. What impressed him a lot was a memorable advice my boyfriend gave him:
Read the labels and don’t eat anything that you cannot picture in your head.
One of his last questions took us by surprise, and we couldn’t find an adequate answer for it at the time. Ever since then, it has nagged me in the back of my mind and today I decided to put pen to paper. This is the question:
What is the worst food that people think is actually good for you?
My bias in answering this question lies in believing that today we are eating way too many carbs for our own good and that there is always an alternative to processed foods.
So, this is my list of “Eight foods you think are good for you that actually are not“:
1. Low or fat-free ‘anything‘
This includes, fat-free yoghurt, skim milk, low-fat cheese and lunch meat. When fat is removed from dairy and other products, guess what is also removed? Flavor. Lots of it. So what do you need to do in order to bring flavor back to the table? Sugar. Go ahead and compare the ingredient list in a fat-free natural yoghurt with the whole-milk version next time you are in a supermarket. You will be stunned. The fat in full fat yoghurt is actually good for you. Contrary to popular belief fat, unlike (refined) carbohydrates, are not stored immediately as fat after consumption. Our body needs healthy fats to function properly.
2. Alternatives to butter
‘I can’t believe it’s not butter!’ Ever since I’ve moved to the States, I’ve wondered why that was such a popular ad stunt. I’ve always liked butter and when I first tasted the brand, I almost spit it out again. No, trust me, I do believe it is not butter. What’s wrong with it? The only ingredient in butter is milk; churned for a period of time – boom, butter. Margarine and any butter alternative on the other hand are highly processed foods made of vegetable oil (the worst oil to eat, btw) and full of trans fat. Read what others have to say about this and then decide next time you go shopping.
3. Fruit juice
Many people believe that fruit juices, especially those not from concentrate and without added sugar are good and healthy. And urge their kids to have a glass of OJ in the morning for a healthy start to the day. But, juicing removes all that is nutritious in fruits – fiber and vitamins. What is left is the sugary water content of the fruit. Smoothies are a much healthier, delicious and more wholesome alternative to juice. Try out some of these.
4. Whole Grain Bread
What is being marketed as `whole grain’ today, most of the time still contains highly processed flour and only partial grains. There are a few people trying to change this, but until then, even ‘whole-grain bread’ is a processed food that quickly turns into sugar in your digestive system. When grains are processed, the part of the food that spoils most easily, is removed. This part, however, also happens to contain the most nutritious value.
5. Sports Drinks
While I was skiing a few weeks ago I suddenly became very aware of the number of kids having Gatorade and Powerade during lunch breaks with their parents. They would not let their kids have soda (’cause we all know sodas are bad), but sports drinks are ok. Health and Fitness magazines are constantly telling us to have sports drink instead of water while exercising, since they contain electrolytes and vitamins. And yes, you guessed it. They also contain incredibly large amounts of sugar, sweeteners and artificial flavoring. Hardly the drink of choice for growing bodies or athletes and surely not a healthy alternative to sodas.
6. Granola, cereal and health-bars
Are highly processed and contain a lot of sugar. We have been tricked into thinking that a healthy start into the day includes a bowl of cereal with (skim) milk. Do you ever wonder why you are often hungry again only one or two hours after breakfast? Because cereal not only contains a lot of added sugar, but even its main ingredient – grains – are sugar in disguise which is very quickly used up by the body and stored away in fat reserves. KIND bars might be an alternative made of natural ingredients, but they still are mainly carbs. Keep those to a minimum and do not let clever advertising and labeling trick you into thinking that these are healthier for you than other processed foods or candy bars.
7. Artificial sweeteners and zero-calorie drinks
If you think that having a beverage without calories is good for you, please think again. Take a look at the label. Can you picture any of it? Artificial sweeteners trick our body into believing that it will soon process sugar. So it goes into fat-storage mode which can actually lead to weight gain. No calories also means no nutritional value. And why would you consume anything that has no positive effect on your body whatsoever, does not give you any energy, and tricks your body into storing fat when no fat should be stored?
8. Trail mix
Theoretically, these contain a lot of great foods – nuts, dried fruits. The problem is, this is not all. More often than not, there are also copious amounts of chocolate chips in them, the nuts are salted beyond recognition and the dried fruits contain a lot of sugar with much less nutrients than their fresh counterparts. Just because the label shows a happy hiker in the wilderness does not make this a healthy food. Make your own. Roast some nuts and flavor them to your liking, mix them and add just a few raisins or cranberries. Done. Cheaper, healthier and much more delicious: here are some great ideas – I love the garlic almonds!
This is my organically growing list of good-bad foods. Please feel free to comment with additional ideas and thoughts on how to expand or limit it. My next post will provide some more alternatives – lets say, real health foods. Naturally.