Many of my patients come in and tell me that they don’t know why their weight keeps going up, or at least they’re not losing any when they feel they should have. They tell me they’re exercising, eating “healthy foods” and still their weight loss efforts are stuck on zero!
However, when I ask them to keep a food diary and let me see what healthy foods they’re eating, I soon discover why they’re not losing any weight and, in some cases, why they keep gaining! Let’s take a look at some common “healthy foods” that people buy and why they could be sabotaging your weight loss goals.
What’s So Unhealthy About These “Health” Foods?
Back in the late 1980’s, many food manufacturers tried to “healthy up” their cookies and crackers by making them “fat free” or “all natural”. The items couldn’t stay on the shelves, people were buying (and eating!) them like there was no tomorrow. All these “healthy” foods, I believe, planted the seeds of America’s current obesity/metabolic syndrome/diabetes epidemic by contributing hidden sugars to our diet.
Most fat free cookies, crackers, and cereals are taste-boosted with extra sugar to replace the fat in them! Some sugar-free products may not have actual white table sugar in them but are loaded with honey, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, raw sugar, cane and other “natural” sugars. Read the nutrition label on one of these “fat free”, or “all natural” products and you are likely to find a whopping dose of sugars and low fiber. Sugar, whether it is white table sugar, honey, corn syrup, cane sugar, etc, are all sugar and stoke your insulin levels to promote and hold fat on your body, particularly your mid section, if you are past the age of 40.
Here are some of the top “healthy food” offenders you may be eating:
1. Bran muffin: Most commercially made bran muffins contain enough sugar and fat for an entire day’s (and then some) quota. Many of these bran muffins can weigh in at over 500 calories, 20 grams of fat, and 50 grams of carbohydrate with over 30 grams of sugar! They do contain bran fiber, but unfortunately it doesn’t undo all the fat and sugar. Better choice: 1-2 tablespoons organic peanut, sunflower, almond butter (less sugar than regular) on a piece of lawash bread with 1 tablespoon of sugar-free fruit jam. Has about the same amount of fiber in it, has about 13 grams of protein, with less than half the calories and less than 10 carbohydrates!
2. Fruit Juice: Fruit juices are packed with sugar, natural and otherwise and should be limited to a very small amount a day. The sugars in fruit juice can spike blood sugar and insulin levels dramatically and sabotage fat loss. Better choice: 1/2 cup of strawberries, 1/2-cup blackberries or blueberries mixed in a blender with cold filtered water sweetened to taste with stevia.
3. Fruit Yogurt: While plain unflavored, unsweetened yogurt can be healthy, yogurt with “fruit at the bottom”, more accurately fruit jam at the bottom, adds a lot of sugar. You may as well eat a cup of regular ice cream. Better choice: Instead, buy plain yogurt and add a little fresh strawberries, blackberries or blueberries and sweeten with stevia to your desired sweetness.
4. Granola/Trail Mix: Commercially packaged granola cereals/bars and trail mix are loaded with sugar in the raisins and dried fruit they contain in addition to being sweetened with brown sugar, raw sugar, cane sugar, or honey. Better choice: Make your own! Combine several high Omega 3 nuts like almonds, macadamias, walnuts, unsalted sunflower or pumpkin seeds, add some fresh blueberries or blackberries or strawberries, or even a sprinkle of unsweetened or semi-sweet chocolate morsels or ½ cup of All-Bran.
5. Nutrition/Energy Bars: Most nutrition bars are filled with sugar containing about 50 grams of carbohydrates, most of them sugar. They likely also contain soy protein isolate as at least one of the protein sources. Even natural soy, a phytoestrogen, can play havoc with the male hormone testosterone, and add too much female hormone to pre-menopausal women. The “isolate” form of soy is a manufactured product which is chemically altered from its natural source to be more concentrated. Better choice: Look for bars that contain whey protein or brown rice protein, and not more than 20-25 grams of carbohydrates, with not more than 5 grams of sugar, sweetened with stevia.
6. Vitamin/Electrolyte Water: Staying well-hydrated is crucial. However, commercial vitamin and electrolyte drinks can be full of sugar. There may be times when you need this extra sugar if you are diabetic and become very dehydrated and your blood sugar levels drop from heat exhaustion or exercising/sweating a lot. In general though, it’s best to stick to plain water flavored with some real lemon juice, a little stevia, and about 1/16 tsp of salt substitute (potassium chloride) to 1 quart of water 2-3 times a day.
7. Dried Fruit: Many of my patients tell me they snack on dried fruit instead of chips, popcorn, pretzels etc. and they’re shocked when I tell them that it would actually be better for them to eat the chips and popcorn! Dried fruit contains an amazing amount of sugar from the drying process itself, which causes the sugar molecules to become more concentrated. Think of these as “candy” with a little bit of vitamins added. One piece here and there is okay, but not a handful.
As I explain to my patients, reading and understanding food labels is crucial to being successful with your weight loss goals and/or improving your blood sugar or cholesterol levels. The most important thing to remember in trying to lose excess body fat is to keep your sugar intake at a maximum of 20-25 grams a day or less (see Sugars section of food nutrition labels) to keep insulin levels stable and allow you to release stored fat weight, reduce hemoglobin A1c, and triglycerides.
Photo Credit: paul