8 Foods You Think Are Healthy…

Health Foods to AvoidSifting through all the competing information out there is tough. Every day I read the news, it seems there is a new article out there telling us to eat this food and avoid another. Diet books and TV doctor celebrities convince us all by sharing incredible health stories and before & after pictures.  What’s true and what’s not?

In college, I followed the mainstream nutritional guidelines recommended by my [nutritionally untrained] doctors. I typically ate protein bars and smoothies as meal-replacements and salads doused with fat-free vegetable oil dressings. Sometimes, I’d throw in a frozen Lean Cuisine. For dessert, I would eat fat-free marshmallows or fat-free cool whip on fat-free pudding.  Then, I’d run a few miles on the treadmill.  Compared to my friends eating ramen and fast food, I considered myself healthy. Coincidentally, that was also the sickest I’ve ever been. After a trip to the hospital and visits to multiple doctors, I finally started seeing a naturopath who completely changed my diet and gave me the supplements I was lacking to nourish my body.  And, wow, did that make a world of difference.

Since then, I became a skeptic of what we are told is “healthy” and doing the research for myself. I look at food labels. I understand the ingredients in what I’m eating. I look for foods that will nourish my body.  If you want to learn from my mistakes and my research, today I’m sharing a list of 8 foods deemed “healthy” by the mainstream that you should consider avoiding & why:

1. Fat-Free & Low-Fat Foods – If you love bacon, you know how good fat tastes. When fat is taken out of food, it tastes plain awful. To improve the taste, manufacturers add sugar, salt and other chemicals, making for a highly-processed item with ingredients you can’t pronounce. The mainstream nutritional circuit discourages us from eating food with fat because it contains saturated fat and cholesterol, which both apparently put us at risk for cardiovascular disease.  Except the research shows otherwise – there is no link to saturated fat harming our hearts. And, while fat can raise cholesterol, it actually raises the good kind – HDL – which reduces heart disease risk.  On the contrary, low-fat foods add so much sugar/carbs that they elevate our triglyceride levels, which are a proven cardiovascular risk. Plus, it’s not like fat-free isn’t making us fatter – Americans eat the most low-fat diet in the world and have the highest rate of obesity.

Fat is a much needed nutrient – “a gram of fat packs more than twice the energy of a gram of protein or carbohydrates.” In fact, we need fat to lose fat because your body requires that energy to keep its metabolism functioning and to burn calories.  Fat also helps keep us full – when you eat fat-free foods, you will find yourself feeling unsatisfied and eating more to satiate your hunger. Plus, many of the essential vitamins we need are fat-soluble, meaning we can’t absorb them without fat in our diet.  Keep in mind, not all fats sources are equal; when it comes to fat, natural sources are best.  Limit the carbs and enjoy some organic butter, avocados, nuts, and grass-fed steak to keep your heart healthy and body trim. (Source: Livestrong)

2. Vegetable Oil – This is another product promoted as healthy because of the “saturated fat causes heart disease” mantra. Even the name is deceiving – this isn’t kale oil, people. Research has repeatedly proven this is not true, so why is everyone still touting this message?  The US is the top producer of both soy and canola, and such a money-making industry has to be protected.  When the production of these crops boomed, so did the marketing that “vegetable oils are the healthiest choice.”  Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Here are two reasons vegetable oils (includes canola, corn, soybean, sunflower, safflower, grapeseed, cottonseed oils) are terrible for you:

  • Vegetable oils contain long-chain fatty acids which cause us to store fat.  On the other hand, the better alternative coconut oil is compromised of medium-chain and short-chain fatty acids, which our body breaks down for energy.
  • These oils are chemically unstable and oxidize quickly & easily, causing them to contain high amounts of free radicals. Free radicals cause cellular damage as they seek to steal electrons from other molecules, causing a chain reaction creating more free radicals stealing electrons.  They attack our cells, causing damage and mutations.  Ultimately, they cause degenerative diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, failing memory, reproductive problems, aging… the list goes on.   The alternative coconut oil contains none of these free-radicals, plus it’s safe & still beneficial when heated – a rarity among oils

I always use coconut oil for cooking & baking and olive oil for salad dressings or low-heat cooking.  Coconut oil is my top choice because it has so many other benefits to it as well – to learn more, read my blog on the Coconut Oil Miracle.

3. Margarine – Made from vegetable oil, this spread is touted as healthy for all the same reasons, but, as I wrote above, simply is not. Plus, margarine contains a ton of trans fat, known to clog arteries.  It also increases the risk of developing type II diabetes. While it tries to imitate butter in taste, it simply can’t provide the load of vitamins that butter delivers, especially that from organic, grass-fed dairy! Conclusion: Butter is better.

4. Soy – Thanks to the marketing efforts of the US soy industry in the U.S., we’ve been deceived into thinking that soy is a phenomenal health food. It’s supposed to be heart-healthy and keep you young. Vegetarians rely on it as a protein source. It’s a widely available alternative for those with lactose intolerance. And the Japanese, whose diet is considered one of the healthiest in the world, have eaten it for years. But the truth is that it’s actually toxic to our bodies when not prepared or grown appropriately, and of course that’s how it’s produced today.

Soybeans contain two chemicals, goitrogens and phytoestrogens, that affect your thyroid and sex hormones. Traditionally, the Japanese would soak and ferment the soybeans before using them, which neutralizes these harmful chemicals and creates tasty and healthful miso, tofu, etc. But now, in commercially made soy products (even in many of those organically grown), the fermentation process is skipped because it’s cheaper & quicker to do so; instead it is hydrolyzed, a process that does not remove the toxins. So the soy sauce, soy milk, infant formulas, soy protein bars, tofu and most processed products you buy in stores and eat at restaurants are passing those chemicals straight to your body. These chemicals cause thyroid (regulates growth, metabolism and energy levels) issues, like hyper/hypothyroidism and thyroid & pancreatic cancer, as well as reproductive organ problems for both men and women. Even worse, 90% of soybeans are genetically modified, a serious health issue I discussed at length here. The GMO quality of these beans only adds to the health effects, now being linked to sterility and infant mortality.

When I removed soy from my diet, I saw a significant impact on my hormones within a couple weeks. Soy is in almost every processed food item (even organic!), so it can be hard to avoid; but, it is possible.

5. Conventional Dairy – Milk mustaches are stylish and the USDA recommends 3 servings of dairy per day in order to give us the calcium we need to build strong bones. While a good source of calcium, milk & its products can actually be quite toxic when we consume the conventional type.  Cows are fed genetically modified feed and given antibiotics, all of which are passed onto us.  Plus, when milk is pasteurized and homogenized, it destroys the probiotics and fat molecules that help us maintain strong digestive tracks, immune systems, brain function and bones. It also loses its nutritional content, making it really useless to us (which is why you see so many vitamins added back in – “fortified with…”). Lastly, the heating process destroys the enzyme lactase which allows us to properly digest the milk sugar, lactose; this is why many of us don’t handle it well.

The best option is raw milk from a local farm.  If you can’t get that, the next best option is organic whole milk cream or a complete dairy alternative – coconut milk. You should be able to find high-quality cheeses and yogurts made from raw milk in a natural foods store – they are so worth the price!

6. Farmed Fish – We are told to eat fish for its healthy omega-3 fats, a nutrient proven to help with heart disease, joint pain, depression and dementia. Unfortunately, farmed fish contains far less omega-3’s and protein than that of its wild-caught counterparts. Fish farming was created in order to protect from overfishing and to increase yield; while a good idea in theory, aquaculture shares many of the same problems as conventional ranching & farming: GMOs, pesticides & antibiotics.  (Source: Mercola) There have been many reports that the feed contains dog food and chicken feces.  They aren’t eating a natural ocean diet and thus end up having far less nutrients for us.  Recent research has also found that farm-raised tilapia causes significant inflammation and that dioxin (a toxic cancer-causing chemical) levels in farmed salmon are 11 times higher than in wild-caught. (Source: Dr. Axe)

To ensure you are getting your crucial omega-3s, go for wild-caught salmon or take a high-quality fish oil. Also, just avoid tilapia altogether.

7. Table Salt – Most people know that table salt causes hypertension and that they should avoid it, yet its on every table and always in the sodium-filled processed foods.  I agree that table salt should be avoided, but real sea salt is actually extremely beneficial.  Table salt isn’t real at all – it is a highly processed shaker of chemicals.  Real sea salt should be part of our daily diet – it provides trace minerals that help our body stay hydrated, contains powerful electrolytes, helps the body absorb nutrients from food, and is crucial for proper adrenal & thyroid function. (Source: You’re Not Sick, You’re Thirsty)

I purchase Himalayan Pink Salt and love the mild, natural taste.

8. Artificial Sweetener – Since the huge rise in diabetes and obesity, doctors have been recommending low-glycemic sugar substitutes. But the research is out and those fake sweeteners have a not so fake effect on our bodies…

A few years ago, Splenda was introduced into the market as a calorie-free alternative to sugar and as doctors started endorsing it, it’s popularity increased.  However, the product was deemed “safe” before extensive testing had been done on the sucralose product.  In fact, studies now show that Splenda causes digestive system imbalance by altering the flora in your gut.  Your digestive system is a crucial part of your immune system and greatly affects your general health.  On top of that, this product is chemically made and contains chlorine – a toxic chemical that causes cancer, birth defects and creates issues with the work your liver does to detoxify the body.  It was actually downgraded in 2013 from “safe” to “caution” following a study that seems to indicate it causes leukemia.  (Source: Natural Society)

Lastly, although many use fake sweeteners to lose weight, it causes us to overeat.  You wind up fighting a losing battle and continuing to crave sugar & carbs because your body wants the real stuff. Sorry to break it to you, but those sugar-free cookies and diet sodas aren’t doing your love handles any good.

In my home, I use either raw honey or coconut sugar for any sweetening.  Both of these products are not only low-glycemic, meaning they don’t raise blood-sugar as much, but also contain other beneficial nutrients for your body.

Did any of the items on this list surprise you?

Natural vs. Organic – Does it Matter?

CONVENTIONALVSWe’ve all been there… you’re in the grocery store looking at the rows of meat, most on sale for only a few dollars per pound.  You’re overwhelmed with all the confusing labels, not even sure what they really mean. You see the small section of organic meat and they want to charge you an outrageous $13 for a package of chicken breasts.  Considering you need a 3 of those for meals this week, it’s just too much.  You decide to be budget-conscious and go with the cheaper meat, feeling a little better that you’ve at least picked the “all-natural” option. Can you relate?

Since “organic” became a thing, it’s been controversial.  People think it’s a Whole-Foods-created hoax to charge consumers more money.  With so many different opinions out there, its hard to sift through it all and find the facts.  What’s the truth here? Is organic meat healthier than natural?  Are organic vegetables more nourishing than conventionally grown ones?

All-Natural

This word makes us think of rolling green hills, cows grazing, crops blowing in the wind and of a hard-working farmer harvesting his land. Consumer Reports found that 1 in 3 people thought “natural” = “organic.”  Companies put this buzz word and pictures of idyllic farms on their labels to make you buy the product, and even pay more for it. While the term “organic” is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, “natural” isn’t; it has no clear definition.  (Source: ABC News)  So, although we may assume these foods would be minimally processed or not containing any hormones or artificial ingredients, it is in fact meaningless.

Organic

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires all organic foods to meet strict standards on how those foods are grown, fed, handled and processed. Any food with the USDA Organic label must pass organic certification annual inspections. Unlike conventional foods, this ensures that the food has been grown using no toxic pesticides, no synthetic growth hormones and no petroleum-based fertilizers.  And that it has been processed without artificial colors or flavors, without artificial preservatives and without GMOs. (Sources: Consumerist and Organic: It’s Worth It)

NonGMOAdditionally, there is another important label you might find on organic foods – “Non GMO Project Verified.” This certification is managed by a non-profit organization that believes you “should have access to clearly labeled non-GMO food and products.” It is a very strict verification process, ensuring that no more than 0.9% of the product contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs), with complete absence being the goal. “This is in alignment with laws in the European Union (where any product containing more than 0.9% GMO must be labeled);” Europe is way ahead of America on this and other dangerous food ingredients. (Source: Non GMO Project)

Is Organic Healthier?

Now that we understand the labels, the real question becomes: is organic really better for you than natural/conventional?  There are studies that have found organic produce to be no more nutritional than its conventional counterpart.  That makes sense – an apple is still an apple and will still have the same amount of calories.  But, which version causes your body harm?  Let’s look at what “organic” labels promise not to include to see what effects those in conventional food might have on our bodies:

Toxic Pesticides: Pesticides are intentionally toxic substances used to kill living things – aka poison.  They are used consistently in conventional agriculture, even though many studies have shown to cause chronic health impacts like cancer, hormone disruption, neurodegenerative diseases, and reproductive issues. Children are especially at risk, even from minimal exposure, because they absorb more and don’t yet have fully developed brains or immune systems. A study by Harvard University and the University of Montreal found that exposure to pesticide residues on fruit and vegetables may double the risk of developing ADHD. (Source: Toxics Action Center)  Oh, and one of the most commonly used pesticides, organophospate, was first developed as nerve gas in WWII. Hmm.

Beyond the harmful health effects, they also make our food less nourishing.  One of the most popular herbicides (used to kill weeds) on the market is Monsanto’s product RoundUp – the main ingredient, glyphosate, steals nutrients from crops.  And when pesticides are applied to crops, as much as 60% of the antioxidants in the fruits and vegetables are lost.  Antioxidants are what help your body fight cancer-causing free-radicals.

As for how they effect our meat: “In a potato, the pesticide residue is .003 . in a piece of animal flesh, it is .281, nearly 100 more parts per million in every bite. It would take you over 90 days of eating conventionally grown potatoes to get the same amount of pesticide residue that one serving of chicken contains. Why? Because not only do the animals’ bodies collect and concentrate the poisons into their flesh, their feed is allowed to have 20% more pesticides used than that of crops grown for human use.” (Source: Natural News)

Watch this video to see how levels of chemicals changed in the children of a family who switched to all organic:

Synthetic Growth Hormones:  Growth hormones are widely used to increase weight gain in animals and enhance milk production in dairy cattle, one of the most well-known being rGBH.  These synthetic hormones mimic estrogen and, when they are passed on to us as we eat, can have serious side effects. After studies showed a 55-60% increase in breast cancer for women, rGBH was banned in many countries around the world; it’s still allowed in the US.  Many researchers believe that steroid hormones cause children to undergo puberty prematurely, who are now entering much younger than just a generation ago. Just a small amount of these estrogenic hormones can have significant impact on children, both on their development and risk of obesity. (Sources: Genetic Roulette, Health.com)

Artificial Colors: You would be hard-pressed today to try to find an item in your pantry that doesn’t have artificial dye in the ingredients list (Yellow #5, Blue #1). Most artificial colors are made from coal tar. Gross. And more research has been coming out lately linking food dye to brain cancer and ADHD. Not good. (Source: Forbes) While research is still limited on this newer additive, many countries around the world have decided to ban these.

Artificial Preservatives: Preservatives are used to help prevent the growth of bacteria or fungus, to prevent oxidation causing discoloration or rancidity and to inhibit the natural ripening of produce.  Sulfites and nitrates are common preservatives that cause allergic reactions in many people. (Source: Sustainable Table)  More research is needed to determine the long-term side effects of these.

GMOs: Genetically Modified Organisms are created by putting the DNA from one species into another to get benefits from both.  For our food and farming purposes, this means creating a seed that makes a plant produce its own pesticide or makes it pesticide resistant so that farmers can spray without damaging the crop.  It sounds like a great idea, except that it’s all a science experiment in genetic alteration, resulting in mutations and unpredictable side effects, creating toxins, allergens, carcinogens and triggering inflammation. Some of the crops highest (90%+) in GMOs are canola, corn, soy and sugar beets, all of which are extremely common in processed foods. Unfortunately, infant formula is full of both GM soy and synthetic growth hormones (and high levels of aluminum too).

The best example of what this does to our bodies is this: GM corn is created to include BT toxin within the seed. When an insect eats the crop, it is designed to break open the stomach of the bug and kill it.  It does the same to us, opening up tiny holes in our intestines leading to what’s called leaky gut.  Then, when food passes through our intestines, it slips through these holes, entering our body… our body attacks those particles, seeing it as an invader;  over time, we develop food allergies to those items.  To watch an illustration of this or to learn more about the health effects of GMOs, read my other blog post here.

What About Antibiotic-Free, Pasture Raised & Grass Fed Animal Products?

None of these are promises made by an “organic” label, but fortunately many producers who have an organic certification will also believe in these practices too.  While a big part of this is related to the humane treatment of the animals, there are also some health effects to consider.  When animals are kept in close proximity to each other in cages all day, keeping the cages clean is impossible, leading to poor hygiene and the spreading of disease. Antibiotics must be used with these animals to prevent illness and ensure they survive to sell.  When we eat the animals, these antibiotics are passed on to us, worsening the antibiotic-resistance epidemic. In fact, 80% of all antibiotics are used with animals rather than prescribed to humans.

As for pasture-raised and grass-fed meat, it is important to know the sources of the meat, eggs and dairy that you buy.  I buy my eggs from a local farm (at the grocery store!) called Coyote Creek.  The chickens are allowed to forage for food naturally on organic pastures; they are also fed soy-free feed. The grass-fed meat that I buy ensures that these cows aren’t being fattened up by GM corn and soy feed.  They naturally graze the fields, ensuring I am getting the most nutrients from soil rich with minerals. “Research indicates that grass finished meat has superior ratios of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids, linked to a reduced risk of heart disease.” (Source: Eat Wild)

How to Shop:

Even if you’re now convinced that buying organic is worth trying to avoid all those detrimental health effects and ultimately healthier for your family, you may think I simply cannot afford it. Here are some tips on how to make it possible:

  • Compare & coupon – Where you shop can make it or break it. I’ve shopped around and discovered that usually a natural foods store can have the best pricing.  The organic produce & meat at my local grocery store, HEB, is usually several dollars more (sometimes double!) that of a natural foods store.  Farmers Markets can also be inexpensive since you are buying directly from the source.  Read about how I’m able to buy all organic on a budget here.
  • Buy fresh – Organic processed and pre-prepared foods are expensive.  Stick to the edge of the store as you shop and load up with fresh ingredients to cook at home.
  • Avoid the worst – There are some fruits and vegetables higher in pesticide residue. If you can only buy some items organic, at least avoid the conventional dirty dozen. And always thoroughly wash your produce when you get home!
  • Plan ahead – Meal plans, grocery lists and a strict budget can help you stay on track as you shop.

Or you can look at it this way: Is high-quality, organic food really that expensive by comparison?  This awesome 11 yr old kid makes a pretty good argument… “It seems to me that we can either pay the farmer or we can pay the hospital.”

Do you think you’ll make the switch to buying organic?

Easiest Egg Drop Soup

Egg Drop SoupWith all this rain lately, I’m all about eating soup like it’s cold outside. I recently discovered (out of necessity- aka no groceries) a super easy recipe for those days you don’t feel like cooking or just need a quick immune boost.

This version of egg drop soup is quite healthier than the sodium-filled version you’ll find at your local take-out spot, but still packs all the flavor and lots of protein. The base is bone broth – one of the four pillars of authentic world cuisine; here’s quick summary of why it is so healthy:

Animal bones contain a protein molecule called glucosamine.  Glucosamine, the main ingredient in arthritis meds and joint supplements, helps build and repair joints and also triggers the growth of new collagen. Collagen provides structural support for our bones, tendons and ligaments, and gives our skin shape, texture and youthfulness. By simmering the nutrients out of the bones, joints and cartilage slowly, you are able to safely extract the minerals and vitamins (magnesium, vitamin D & calcium) and make a bone broth filled with glucosamine & collagen – these not only help prevent issues, but also rebuild and repair your skin, hair, bones & arteries.

You’ll also notice that this recipe is completely soy-free.  I went soy-free a couple of years ago to avoid the effects that the toxic processing & GMOs were wreaking on my hormones.  Read more here.

Ingredients:

Simply put a bowlful of bone broth in a pot and bring to a boil.  While you’re waiting, crack open your eggs and whisk them in a separate bowl. Once the broth is boiling, add the salt and coconut aminos.  Then, turn off the heat (if using an electric stove top, also remove from the burner).  Next, put the whisk in the broth and start swirling the liquid as you slowly pour the eggs into the center of your cyclone. You’ll see that the eggs cook immediately, but not too much that they’re scrambled. Ta-da – you’re done.  Serve immediately and enjoy!

Healthy, Fast: Snap Kitchen

One of the best things about being a wellness & food blogger is all the awesome people I get to meet who think and feel the way I do about health.  It is so encouraging and reaffirming to keep on my journey towards true health.  About a month ago, the CEO at Snap Kitchen stumbled upon my blog and was compelled by my story, so I was invited to meet the head chef, see their kitchen and have lunch with their Marketing Director and Chief Dietitian last week!  It was a great experience, getting to enjoy a yummy wild-caught Salmon salad loaded with local veggies & goat cheese, and hear about their philosophy and passion for nutrition.  I got to share how changing my diet changed my body, so drastically improving my health and about why I started this blog.  They are fellow “foodies” who share in a desire for great tasting, good-for-you food.

If you haven’t heard about Snap Kitchen, consider yourself told.  It’s a place where you can stop in and get fresh, pre-packaged meals that are totally healthy and portion controlled.  The ingredients are right on the label of each container, and there’s nothing on there that you have to question; it’s all real food.  As a gal who reads labels constantly, this is such a relief – it’s not full of “modified,” something-“ized,” or other chemically altered ingredients.  I saw their kitchen and there was nothing I wouldn’t have in my own.  There was no freezer and extremely few “pantry” items – mostly spices. Plus, most of their ingredients are organic and local, which makes me confident about the level of nutrition I’m getting and supporting the farms in my community. I had a delicious egg white breakfast bite earlier this week with huge leaves of spinach that were so garden fresh. Their menu is seasonal and based on the freshest ingredients they can get, so you’ll never get bored with all they have to offer.

The meals come packaged in BPA-free plastic containers that can be reused and are quick to warm up in the microwave.  For me, they are the perfect weekday lunch.  I can grab it on my way out the door each morning, rather than leaving it up to how much time I might have to go grab something nearby or sticking with my boring everyday salad.  This week, I enjoyed crispy chicken “breaded” with nuts over veggies, beef stroganoff with greens and butternut squash & turkey macaroni.  Having grown up on comfort food, I crave it constantly and love finding guilt-free versions of those meals that actually taste good.  I can’t wait to try their quinoa “mac & cheese” and vegetable lasagna.

This is what my husband picked when we visited... I wish I had quite his love for kale!
This is what my husband picked when we visited… I wish I had his love for kale!

As I’ve mentioned before, I am paying particular attention to avoiding inflammatory foods, and Snap Kitchen is perfect for that.  They don’t use canola/vegetable oil – only olive oil and grapeseed oil for their cooking (if only I could convince them to use coconut oil!), they use very little sugar, the soy is easy to spot in the few meals it’s in and with lots of paleo and vegan/vegetarian options, I can get the protein and veggies I need while avoiding grains and not sacrificing taste.

If you are a fan of My Fit Foods (or just looking for a better on-the-go option), I highly recommend you try Snap Kitchen.  You will appreciate the real ingredients in their foods, knowing that you are really getting the nutrition you need to be healthy.  Portion control isn’t everything, y’all.. this is all about getting well.  Plus, if I’m being honest (I don’t make any money from this blog, so I can say whatever I want, right?), the food simply tastes better.  

If you’re in Austin or Houston, you’ve got to check it out and let me know what you think!