3 Surprising “Healthy” Food Substitutions That Aren't Good For You After All
It typically only takes a few minutes on Facebook or Instagram in order to be inundated with every detail of your friends’ food choices. Not only are we living in the age of #foodporn, in which every meal must be gorgeously documented on social media prior to taking the first bite—our feeds are also flooded with every kind of special interest diet imaginable (healthy or maybe not). Of course each comes with its own army of hashtags! It makes you wonder: should *I* be worried about strict adherence to #paleo, #keto, #celiac, #bbg or #aip protocols?
Once you descend into the diet hashtag rabbit hole, things can get downright overwhelming. Fortunately, your friends at Carepoynt believe in living holistically balanced lives—and for us, that includes the robust enjoyment of a variety of delicious foods, as part of a healthy lifestyle and a well-rounded diet. For this reason, we wanted to call out a handful of food types that are often substituted for another perfectly healthy food that’s getting a bad rap because it doesn’t conform to a specific diet protocol.
Note: our intention isn’t to create an exhaustive list of what to eat (or not), but to help you identify and avoid the most common “health food imposters.” The top three might surprise you.
Imposter #1: Processed Gluten-Free Foods
Celiac disease is potentially life-threatening autoimmune condition in which consuming gluten—an essential protein found in wheat, oats, barley, spelt and a variety of other grains—causes a destructive immune response within the small intestine. In recent years, a mounting awareness about this condition has created a thriving marketplace for gluten-free foods. That’s great news...IF you’re a true celiac.
Unfortunately, the gluten-free trend has unwittingly turned into a smear campaign against wheat. It’s important to note that highly processed foods and flours—whether or not they contain gluten—are what nutritions call “junk carbs,” offering little or no nutritional value. What’s worse, many of the flours used in gluten-free baked goods (like potato, tapioca, rice, corn and oat flours) are both higher in carbs that wheat flour, and more likely to cause gut inflammation. It’s just junk food with a health food label.
Whether or not you have celiac disease (or its harder-to-diagnose relative, non-celiac gluten sensitivity), your best bet is to aim for a diet that includes wholesome, minimally processed foods that are naturally gluten free: including beans, nuts, fresh fruits, veggies, lean proteins and healthy whole grains.
Imposter #2: Alternative Milks
Let’s start with an obvious caveat: if you’re lactose intolerant or are choosing to live a vegan lifestyle, by all means peruse the alt-milks aisle! You may have noticed that dairy-free beverage options have expanded in recent years, with milks made from every kind of nut, seed, grain and bean imaginable. But are they really better for you than traditional cow’s milk? Nutritionists don’t think so.
The comparison chart below breaks down the specific nutritional components offered by alt-milks like almond, soy and rice—and the numbers don’t necessarily stack up in their favor. Another thing to think about: because the Western palate is accustomed to the creamy consistency of cow’s milk, many alt-milk manufacturers add thickening agents like carrageenan, which has been linked to chronic gastrointestinal inflammation...often the reason folks stop drinking cow’s milk in the first place! Many alt-milk blends are also flavored and sweetened, which adds empty calories and carbohydrates as well.
Imposter #3: Nutrition Bars
With so many of the diet hashtags mentioned above focused on so-called “clean eating,” you’d think the nutrition bar aisle at your local supermarket would be dwindling rather than ballooning. But it seems there are more options than ever, with continually growing lists of increasingly unpronounceable ingredients. But with upwards of 30 grams of protein, tempting flavors like chocolate chip cookie dough and the convenience of a handheld meal, nutrition bars have become a diet staple for SO many.
The problems, nutritionists believe, are twofold. First, the “nutrition” in most of these bars isn’t what you think. “Thirty grams of protein is too much for most people at one time,” says Carissa Bealert, Registered Dietitian and and co-owner Evolution Fitness in Orlando. The protein in question often comes from sources our bodies can’t easily break down, so we’re not even getting the benefits listed on the label.
Second, most high-protein bars are intended for consumption after a vigorous workout, or as a wholesale meal replacement—yet they’re most often consumed as a mid-morning or late-afternoon snack. Which means you’re adding upwards of 300 completely unnecessary calories (often containing loads of refined sugar and other unwanted additions) to your daily food intake. Instead, reach for a glass of chocolate milk.