Healthy Foods That Aren't
Staying on top of what's actually good for you versus what's said to be beneficial requires constant vigilance.
But it seems the days of obvious bad choices are over. In our efforts to wean off the fried and the fatty for the sake of our cardiovascular and metabolic well-being, we've turned to what we've been led to believe are healthy alternatives. Marketed as "diet," "nonfat," "all natural," "organic," and an array of confidence-inspiring appellations, we're learning that many of these products are packing enough sodium, high fructose corn syrup, and synthetic ingredients to spite our vital organs just the same.
To a two-and-a-half-packs-a-day smoker with a hot-fudge-sundae habit to boot, the Healthy Choice line of packaged meals must have been the very fountain of youth. When then-ConAgra (NYSE:CAG) CEO Mike Harper launched the brand in 1988 after a heart attack had him rethinking his lifestyle, Healthy Choice was indeed his processed-food company's attempt at hale and hearty.
To those of us who don't use our bodies as a cherry-topped smokestack, however, Healthy Choice isn't likely to get us in fine fettle. Take the Roasted Sesame Chicken, named the Worst "Healthy" Frozen Entrée by Men's Health. A peek at the fine print tells us that the flour-dredged chicken is essentially fried in vegetable oil, the pasta is soaked in pineapple juice, and the fruit side is smothered in sweetened syrup.
Boasting the sugar equivalent of three Krispy Kreme (NYSE:KKD) Traditional Cake Donuts, it's all guilt and no pleasure.
"This is like, private-island good!" "No. This is like, shoe-shopping good!"
No. This is like, fueling-diabetes-and-the-growth-of-cancer-cells good.
A ladies' night mani-pedi treatment while watching Magic Mike being a close second, nothing says having it all like getting permission to indulge in red velvet cake, key lime pie, and chocolate mousse -- without committing the cardinal sin of cheating on your diet. But it's not all low-calorie, low-fat bliss inside that little plastic cup.
Although yogurt was on our list of "Health Food That's Actually Junk" last year, we felt it deserved another appearance for a different reason.
Yoplait (NYSE:GIS) has taken what should be a perfectly healthy snack food and engineered it into a Franken-dessert of artificial flavors, modified corn starch, gelatin, tricalcium phosphate, and the tumor-proliferating high fructose corn syrup. Perhaps mistaking its customer base for the shallow half-wits portrayed in its commercials, Yoplait only began removing HFCS after being barraged with complaints on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Twitter -- and, so far, only from a limited number of its flavors.
We can thank the proliferation of HFCS in our otherwise healthy foods on US government subsidies to our largest farming corporations. Since 1995, taxpayers have underwritten $18.2 billion worth of food additives while, during the same time period, allotting only $637 million to apples.
This high-protein legume has been sustaining humans for thousands of years. Leave it to modern technology -- and, again, government subsidies -- to transform it into a ghost of a health food.
In genetically modified form, soy has become a staple of processed food, implicated in DNA damage, digestive distress, thyroid dysfunction, infertility, and possibly cancer and heart disease.
Today, over 90% of all soy farmed in the US is genetically modified.
Public backlash has begun in the form of global protests against one of the biggest producers of engineered plants, the agricultural biotech company Monsanto (NYSE:MON). For months, March Against Monsanto activists have rallied in 436 cities in 52 countries around the world.
It's time the star of the Whole Foods (NYSE:WFM) middle aisles got the interrogation spotlight.
It's true that, unlike Odwalla -- which sold its soul to the Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO) -- the Amy's brand hasn't been polluted by a corporate buyout. But the natural and organic privately held entity seems to have done just fine on its own injecting its packaged meals with unhealthy ingredients, namely sodium.
Amy's cheese pizza contains 480 mg of sodium per 100 grams of pizza, beating out the sodium content of comparable products from Ellio's, Linda McCartney Foods (NASDAQ:HAIN), Tony's, and Whole Food's 365 brand. Likewise, the sodium in Amy's Organic Family Marinara Pasta Sauce is higher than the marinaras from Barilla, Walnut Acres, Classico (NYSE:HNZ), 365, Walmart's (NYSE:WMT) Great Value brand, Newman's Own, Bertolli (NYSE:UL), and even Ragú.
Every major peanut butter manufacturer -- from Jif (NYSE:PG) to Peter Pan -- offers a low-fat variety. And wisely so. We consumers love our PB. We just needed to cut back because of the high fat content.
A little recipe tweaking here and a clever marketing tactic there and, wouldn't you know it, we started stocking our pantries again.
But what we're getting with this altered recipe is a case of six and a half dozen of the other. What peanut butter has been spared in saturated fat -- a paltry half a gram and 10 calories, by the way -- has just been loaded up with artificial sweeteners, sodium, and partially hydrogenated oils that raise "bad" LDL cholesterol.
If you've been patting yourself on the back for eating out healthfully at the sushi bar, get ready to break out those chopsticks and dig into a big old boat of crow (side of wasabi optional).
So, why is sushi nutrition non grata? In a word: starch. After all, sushi is, by definition, seasoned rice. With a disproportionate amount of white rice to raw fish in a typical sushi roll, a maki platter is a high-glycemic feast of refined carbs. Substituting the white rice with far less appetizing brown rice or naruto (peeled cucumber) or swapping it for sashimi puts the Japanese cuisine back in the "good foods" column.
But that's not quite good enough. To properly ensure a healthy meal, only the lean protein varieties like salmon, tuna, and yellowtail and omega-3-rich mackerel and eel should be considered.
Of course, all bets are off if the fish isn't wild.
You're a good parent. You understand the vital role nutrition plays in early physical development. That's why you dutifully follow the American Heart Association's guidelines and force-feed your kicking and screaming child two servings of fish every week.
Well, what if you found out you've been on the wrong side of these mealtime battles?
Though some experts believe the cardiovascular benefits of consuming caged fish outweigh the risks of the antibiotics, mercury, PCBs, dioxins, waste-polluted waters, and other environmental contaminants produced in aquaculture, studies suggest the "sketchy state of seafood import monitoring" simply doesn't give us enough data to make an informed assessment.
Today, farmed fish account for half of all the world's seafood, and with wild marine stocks depleting and demand increasing, this figure is predicted to swell.
On the bright side, your kid will probably find an Omega-3 supplement a whole lot easier to swallow.
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