We live in an age where it seems easy to be healthy. Now, instead of the boring and arduous process that is actually eating healthily, we’re blessed with the health food of the future and a routine that fits our busy nature: down a smoothie in the morning, pop a fiber pill to regulate your digestive system at lunch, drink some juice at 2:00, and you’re set for life, right? Wrong. The only thing you’re feeding is an empire built on the idea that your trendy purchases are healthy. Sorry to break it to you, but all these health foods are a scam.
Hopefully you don’t think Vitamin Water is healthy, because that stuff is pretty much Gatorade (which you should only be drinking if you’re exercising strenuously or hungover). But I did once have a roommate who drank the orange flavor when she had a cold, so you never know. The point is that if you’re looking to get more vitamins, you should just go to the source. Eating a fruit or vegetable won’t kill you; on the contrary, it’ll probably help you live a few minutes longer.
Yogurt, especially Greek yogurt and novel varieties such as kefir, is all the rage. Yogurt is also one of the best things you can put in your body, provided you get the correct kind. It’s actually very good to put all those live cultures in your body, since they help break down your food. Healthy digestion is always a good thing. “Normal” yogurt is pretty much a dessert when you take all the sugar into account. Consider this: one serving of plain Greek yogurt contains 15 grams of sugar, and that doesn’t even taste sweet. And please, for the love of God, don’t eat the kind of yogurt that comes with candy toppings unless you’re four years old or fully aware that it’s really a dessert.
We need to rethink the way we look at fat. Saturated fat is not as terrible as we thought it once was, and unsaturated fat is integral to a balanced diet. Unsaturated fat contains HDL cholesterol (the good kind), which actually helps break down bad cholesterol (If you’re trying to lower your cholesterol, salmon and avocadoes will get you farther than Honey Nut Cheerios, JSYK). Besides, there are worse evils afoot, like starch and sugar. Less fat doesn’t have to be a bad thing if, you know, you’re just eating more produce and lean meats. But if you’re looking at something like low-fat ice cream or yogurt, it just means that the sugar content has been upped, and current food law dictates that sugar is worse than fat. In the end, it’s better to go big or go home.
Let’s get this clear: if it sounds too easy to be true, then that is really the case. If you can afford to, just get the real thing. You know, fruit and vegetables. And if you’re looking for a cheap way to get fiber (fiber pills are an abomination, end of story), just get lentils. They’re probably one of the most perfect foods ever, and they haven’t become trendy enough to get expensive yet.
Protein bars sound like the ultimate way out and a nice two o’clock pick-me-up: supplements covered in chocolate. They’re also rich in sugar, sodium and starch (the evil trifecta). For a better quick protein fix, try a handful of nuts: they’re far more filling, and the unsaturated fat can help cut LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) levels. If you’ve got to have your chocolate, try Emerald Nuts’ cocoa roast almonds, as they’re a tad healthier.
Cutting out starch isn’t a bad thing; it actually paves the road to a better lifestyle. However, you have to be careful about what you substitute here. The idealization is that you’ll eat more produce, but not everybody gets this. These diets can be bad for your heart, especially if you up your meat intake and allow more LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) into your arteries. Also, as a firm believer in the Gospel of Lentils, I can’t trust a diet that says you shouldn’t eat beans.
Granola has the best of intentions, it really does. You can eat the crumbly mix anywhere without worrying about it going bad, and it actually tastes pretty good—shocker, it’s because granola is full of sugar. Remember that scene in Super Size Me where Morgan Spurlock schooled his nutritionist by revealing that McDonald’s Fruit n’ Yogurt Parfait contained more sugar than a small strawberry milkshake? Most of that comes from the granola on top. Now, if you’re going by the serving size, it’s okay (kind of). The issue is that the serving size is around ¼ of a cup, and people who eat granola for breakfast every day are eating at least three times that amount. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, you can end up with as much sugar as you’d find in a soda. Aside from cutting granola out, the best solution is to make it yourself so you can control how much sugar goes in.
First, I would like to preemptively apologize to all of those who bought an expensive blender at the beginning of the year in hopes of routinely drinking smoothies and becoming healthier. When you whack fruit around a blender or Nutri Bullet, the seeds open up and start a fermentation process. It sounds like a good thing, but it’s actually not. Because the process of fermentation begins in your cup instead of in your body, you end up absorbing up to 80% more of the nutrients (sugar). Honestly, smoothies are better suited to people who need to gain weight in a short amount of time. You know, people who are on feeding tubes. There is absolutely no reason to blend produce, unless you’re trying to mix it into a cake or actually want to decrease its nutritional value.
Yes, we’re about to crush your spirit even more: juice is not healthy, it’s anti-healthy. It’s even worse than smoothies because it removes the most important part of the fruit—the pulp. Fruits are vital mechanisms because they use natural sugar to trick us into eating fiber, which substantiates that pulp you’ve just cast into your compost bucket. If you truly want the benefit of the fruit, you must eat the fruit whole and quit pouting. You can still enjoy your juice, but just know that it’s really a dessert: some kind of melted popsicle, if you will. And come on, juice cleanses? You know what gives the same result as a juice cleanse? A stomach virus or a glass of bowel prep: talk to your doctor and get the real hookup.
Sarra Sedghi is a freelancer based in Athens, Ga. Her perpetual food baby is named Frederick. She is currently making up for all the years when she didn’t like oysters, scrambled eggs or hot sauce.