I know there’s a ton of information out there about what is a “healthy” diet, and advertising doesn’t help to clarify the situation at all. We get bombarded with images of “all natural”, sugar-free, and pictures of skinny people eating and drinking things we think will make us fitter, thinner and healthier. Unfortunately, many of these products don’t deliver what they promise, and instead may wreak havoc on your waistline. Here are the top 5 offenders (in my opinion):
1. Gatorade. This is my favorite product to poke fun at, not because their advertising is deceiving, but because of the way most of us react to it. Every Gatorade ad features professional athletes, extreme endurance runners, and fitness gurus pushing themselves to the max, and using Gatorade to achieve their incredible goals. And yet, who consumes a huge portion of their product? We do. Us 30 min run 3-5 times per week, average joes. Why? We know we aren’t Lance Armstrong or LeBron James, and yet some of us drink these products after every workout. Time for a little reality check; Gatorade (or other sports drinks) are a great way to replenish electrolytes and carbohydrates if you’ve depleted them. Working out for 2-3 hours at a time in the sun means you’re very dehydrated, have low muscle glucose, and in need of sodium and potassium. If you just ran 2 miles on a treadmill, water will do just fine. For those of you who are interested in exercising to lose weight, Gatorade is a great way to negate all the hard work you’ve just accomplished. Put the bottle down and just have some water. It’s free!
2. Balance Bars. These are one of those energy bars that fall in between a few categories, and may be successful at tricking you into thinking they are incredibly healthy. (I used to eat one everyday!) The packaging has a runner on the front with a 40-30-30 graphic that suggests scientific research has gone into the bar (which it probably has). However, each bar has 200 calories, 17 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of fat. Just for a point of reference, a Twix Bar has 286 calories, 28 grams of sugar, and 14 grams of fat. So, the balance bar is better, but not by much.
3. Vitamin Water. How could something called vitamin water be bad for you? Well, it isn’t necessarily bad, just not as good as they claim. Each bottle of vitamin water contains 120 calories, and 32 grams of sugar (more than the Twix Bar). That’s a ton of sugar for something you’re just sipping on to get some vitamins. You’re much better of drinking water with lemon and taking a multi-vitamin every morning.
4. Diet Soda. You may have heard about this one. There are several reports and publications liking regular diet soda consumption to an increase in metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes, and weight gain. Here’s a nice article reviewing some of those studies. The evidence is controversial; some claim extraneous factors led to weight gain, and that not enough factors were controlled to draw accurate conclusions. What I do think is interesting is that while the relationship between diet soda use and weight gain is weak, there is convincing evidence that diet soda doesn’t lead to weight loss. (at least not in the long-term). Additionally, the artificial sugars and dyes used in soda have been linked to cancer and other digestive issues. If you can, try switching to water with lemon, or put some natural fruit juice in sparkling mineral water.
5. 100 calorie packs of anything. Honestly, I think these are just dumb. I bought them quite a bit in college thinking I would be able to regulate portions better and feel satisfied from a little treat, but it never worked. I would take one pack of 100 calorie cookies to school with me, eat another at dinner, and a third before bed; each time feeling completely unsatisfied with my meager portion of fake food. If you want to eat, then you should eat something whole, natural and real. Yes, it will contain more calories, but it will leave you actually feeling satisfied and you won’t need to eat so much.
What foods do you consider “diet” or “healthy” foods? Has your opinion of what’s healthy changed over time?