Remember when the foods that were bad for us made sense? Our
minds weren't exactly blown when we learned a balanced breakfast
did not, in fact, include a bowl of Lucky Charms. It wasn't a
"Eureka!" moment when we gained a firsthand understanding of the
term "beer gut." And, although entertaining, we probably didn't
need to witness the real-time bloating of a documentary filmmaker
to know that hitting the
) drive-thru for a solid month might have consequences.
But it seems the days of obvious bad choices are over. In our
efforts to wean off the fried and the fatty for the sake of our
cardiovascular and metabolic well-being, we've turned to what
we've been led to believe are healthy alternatives. Marketed as
"diet," "nonfat," "all natural," "organic," and an array of
confidence-inspiring appellations, we're learning that many of
these products are packing enough sodium, high fructose corn
syrup, and synthetic ingredients to spite our vital organs just
Frozen Diet Meals
To a two-and-a-half-packs-a-day smoker with a hot-fudge-sundae
habit to boot, the Healthy Choice line of packaged meals must
have been the very fountain of youth. When then-
) CEO Mike Harper
launched the brand in 1988
after a heart attack had him rethinking his lifestyle, Healthy
Choice was indeed his processed-food company's attempt at hale
To those of us who don't use our bodies as a cherry-topped
smokestack, however, Healthy Choice isn't likely to get us in
fine fettle. Take the Roasted Sesame Chicken, named the
Worst "Healthy" Frozen EntrÃ©e
. A peek at the fine print tells us that the flour-dredged
chicken is essentially fried in vegetable oil, the pasta is
soaked in pineapple juice, and the fruit side is smothered in
Boasting the sugar equivalent of three
) Traditional Cake Donuts, it's all guilt and no pleasure.
"This is like, private-island good!" "No. This is like,
No. This is like,
A ladies' night mani-pedi treatment while watching Magic Mike
being a close second, nothing says having it all like getting
permission to indulge in red velvet cake, key lime pie, and
chocolate mousse -- without committing the cardinal sin of
cheating on your diet. But it's not all low-calorie, low-fat
bliss inside that little plastic cup.
Although yogurt was on our list of
"Health Food That's Actually Junk"
last year, we felt it deserved another appearance for a
) has taken what should be a perfectly healthy snack food and
engineered it into a Franken-dessert of artificial flavors,
modified corn starch, gelatin, tricalcium phosphate, and the
high fructose corn syrup. Perhaps mistaking its customer base
for the shallow half-wits portrayed in its commercials, Yoplait
after being barraged with complaints on
) and Twitter -- and, so far, only from a limited number of its
We can thank the proliferation of HFCS in our otherwise healthy
foods on US government subsidies to our largest farming
corporations. Since 1995, taxpayers have underwritten
$18.2 billion worth of food additives
while, during the same time period, allotting only $637 million
This high-protein legume has been sustaining humans for
thousands of years. Leave it to modern technology -- and,
again, government subsidies -- to transform it into a
ghost of a health food
In genetically modified form, soy has become a staple of
processed food, implicated in DNA damage, digestive distress,
thyroid dysfunction, infertility, and possibly cancer and heart
of all soy farmed in the US is genetically modified.
Public backlash has begun in the form of global protests
against one of the biggest producers of engineered plants, the
agricultural biotech company
(MON). For months,
March Against Monsanto
activists have rallied in 436 cities in 52 countries around the
It's time the star of the
(WFM) middle aisles got the interrogation spotlight.
It's true that, unlike Odwalla -- which
sold its soul
(KO) -- the Amy's brand hasn't been polluted by a corporate
buyout. But the natural and organic privately held entity seems
to have done just fine on its own injecting its packaged meals
with unhealthy ingredients, namely sodium.
Amy's cheese pizza contains 480 mg of sodium per 100 grams of
pizza, beating out the sodium content of comparable products
Linda McCartney Foods
(HAIN), Tony's, and Whole Food's 365 brand. Likewise, the
sodium in Amy's Organic Family Marinara Pasta Sauce is higher
than the marinaras from Barilla, Walnut Acres,
(WMT) Great Value brand, Newman's Own,
(UL), and even RagÃº.
Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter
Every major peanut butter manufacturer -- from
(PG) to Peter Pan -- offers a low-fat variety. And wisely so.
We consumers love our PB. We just needed to cut back because of
the high fat content.
A little recipe tweaking here and a clever marketing tactic
there and, wouldn't you know it, we started stocking our
But what we're getting with this altered recipe is a case of
six and a half dozen of the other. What peanut butter has been
spared in saturated fat --
a paltry half a gram and 10 calories
, by the way -- has just been loaded up with artificial
sweeteners, sodium, and partially hydrogenated oils that raise
"bad" LDL cholesterol.
If you've been patting yourself on the back for eating out
healthfully at the sushi bar, get ready to break out those
chopsticks and dig into a big old boat of crow (side of wasabi
So, why is sushi nutrition non grata? In a word: starch. After
all, sushi is, by definition, seasoned rice. With a
disproportionate amount of white rice to raw fish in a typical
sushi roll, a maki platter is a high-glycemic feast of refined
carbs. Substituting the white rice with far less appetizing
brown rice or naruto (peeled cucumber) or swapping it for
sashimi puts the Japanese cuisine back in the "good foods"
But that's not quite good enough. To properly ensure a healthy
meal, only the
lean protein varieties
like salmon, tuna, and yellowtail and omega-3-rich mackerel and
eel should be considered.
Of course, all bets are off if the fish isn't wild.
You're a good parent. You understand the vital role nutrition
plays in early physical development. That's why you dutifully
follow the American Heart Association's
and force-feed your kicking and screaming child two servings of
fish every week.
Well, what if you found out you've been on the wrong side of
these mealtime battles?
Though some experts believe the cardiovascular benefits of
consuming caged fish outweigh the risks of the antibiotics,
mercury, PCBs, dioxins, waste-polluted waters, and other
environmental contaminants produced in aquaculture,
the "sketchy state of seafood import monitoring" simply doesn't
give us enough data to make an informed assessment.
Today, farmed fish account for half of all the world's seafood,
and with wild marine stocks depleting and demand increasing,
this figure is predicted to swell.
On the bright side, your kid will probably find an Omega-3
supplement a whole lot easier to swallow.