Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Food and You: Healthy? NOT.


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College can be a really difficult time to eat healthy.  Even if you steer clear of pizza and too many cookies, there are lots of things we are told are healthy that actually aren't.  After the jump, see a list of five common so-called "healthy" foods and better substitutions, as well as a "bonus" tip ;)


1. Yogurt is the fake healthy food that drives me the most nuts.  REAL yogurt is unsweetened cultured milk that is pale in color and doesn't come in cheesecake flavor.  It is, of course, extremely healthy and filling.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of the yogurt anywhere it is provided is filled with sugars like high fructose corn syrup, dyes, artificial fruit flavorings, and preservatives.  It's more dessert than food.   Next time you're in the store, check the back of the yogurt container.  If it is whipped into a mousse, promises that it's fat free or lists sugars, dyes, preservatives, or flavorings, take a pass.

Better Option: try buying plain yogurt (Greek Yogurt is fantastic!) and mix fruit (fresh or dried), nuts, a small spoonful of jam, or granola in.  To make a great veggie dip, mix in some seasoning blend.  Check the label to ensure it doesn't contain any ickies.


2. Fruit Smoothies are FULL of sugar.  It's mostly fruit sugar, of course, but as far as your body is concerned, it is just sugar.  Smoothies often do not contain skin, pulp, and other beneficial parts of the fruit.  That means you're missing out on lots of vitamins and minerals you could be getting.  Don't misunderstand -a Naked Juice or an Odwalla is a better choice than a Coke, but do try to limit your consumption.

Better Option:  try diluting your smoothies in water.  I do this with smoothies, sodas, and juices, usually in seltzer water.  You can also try mixing some with vanilla ice cream as a dessert shake!

3. Who knew that the Salad Bar could be a problem area?  College salad bars are FULL of stuff to avoid.  All the cheese, creamy dressings, and mayo-based salads, like egg salad, potato salad, or cole slaw aren't vegetables, and should not make up the majority of your salad.  Iceberg lettuce, iceberg salad mix, celery, and cucumbers are mostly water and aren't doing you much of a favor in the nutrient category.  Another note: corn is a grain, not a vegetable.

Better Option:  Load up on leafy greens like spinach and romaine.  Pile on the tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, beans, beets, olives, and other deeply colored bright vegetables.  Nuts and dried fruits are full of energy too.  Cheeses, dressings, and prepared salads are yummy, and a great way to add flavor to your other veggies.  Use them sparingly, though.

4.  Don't Drink Your Calories.  Fruit juices, sodas, and sports drinks are all the same thing: sugar water with added flavorings.  Even the "diet" versions contain fake sugars like aspartame that are linked to all sorts of problems.  Those big glasses they set out by the drinks are more than one serving anyway.  You are consuming several teaspoons of added sugar as well as flavorings, colorings, and preservatives with every glass.

Better Option: drink water.  It's refreshing and delicious and available everywhere on campus.  For free.  To the die-hard sugary drink fans, there are two pieces of advice I can give.  First, giving up sugary drinks isn't as hard as it sounds!  I stopped drinking everything but water one summer (financial choice) and now find that all drinks are much, much too sweet and unappetizing.  This leads me to my second piece of advice: dilute.  Try mixing your sodas and juices with water or seltzer water.  Your drinks are healthier and go farther that way.

5.  Granola Bars have as much sugar as candy bars.  In fact, they are pretty much the same thing.  Nuts, sugar, chocolate, and crunchy puffed rice.  The only difference is that they are full of crushed up vitamin tablets and marketed as healthy.  And watch out -many power bars, meal bars, and granola bars are actually more than one serving!

Better Option: check the label of your granola bar.  It should have no more than 9g of sugar per serving.  In general, you should count it with the candy bars -delicious as a dessert or sometimes treat, but nothing close to a meal replacement.  To get many times the health benefits and feel fuller longer (without all that sugar) make your own nut, fruit, and seed mix.  You can even include some dark chocolate chips or dark chocolate candies for a sweet boost.  Dried cherries, cranberries, blueberries and apricots are some of my favorites.  They are sweet, chewy, delicious, and nutritious. 

Bonus Problem: Not enjoying food.  This is one of the worst offenses people are guilty of.  People look up all the attributes of their foods and decide that they are unhealthy.  They stress over every bit they eat.  They make judgy faces at people who chow down on pizza or hot dogs.  They refuse cupcakes at parties.  They put fake creamer in their coffee, even though they think it's gross.  What kind of life is that? 

Better Option:  Real food is good.  Homemade birthday cake with real eggs, butter, flour, sugar, etc. is delicious, and perfectly fine for an occasional treat.  A slice or two of pizza on Friday night is not horrible!  The point here is not the "this food is bad; this food is good" dichotomy.  Everything really *is* fine in moderation, and you should enjoy every sip of soda, every bite of pizza, and every chomp of sugary granola.  You just have to shift it around a bit -these foods belong as dessert or occasional treats, not everyday fare. 

*Stay tuned for parts two ("unhealthy" foods that are actually healthy), three (busting the food myths) four (building a food philosophy), and five (what does a healthy diet look like?).  Note that I am not a licensed professional.  All advice given here is a result of tons and tons of personal research and experience.

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