Don’t Be Fooled By These 10 “Health” Foods
Most people can agree that making healthy food choices has a positive impact on the health of both your body and mind. However, what do you do when you are in a rush? There are so many pre-made foods available at the grocery store that seem pretty healthy. But what impact might they have when it comes to your mental well-being? Let’s take a more in-depth look at some of the common go-to “healthy” options:
Bottled Juices and Smoothies
While there are some pretty good options for these, many can be misleading. Though fruit is typically considered healthy, when you take out all the fiber, the fruit sugars are more concentrated and it could spike blood sugar levels. Though some smoothies include more fiber than juice, many of the pre-made ones include added sugars and preservatives. Excess sugar can increase anxiety and irritability. These drinks may also contain dairy, which can be problematic if you are lactose intolerant (many people are and do not know because they have not been tested).
Healthier Options: Make your own smoothies at home. Try a green smoothie with green leafy veggies and a lower sugar fruit such as berries or green apples. For an extra nutrition boost, try adding some ground up flax, chia, or hemp seeds. To save time in the morning, you could blend your smoothie the night before or blend several batches of smoothie 1-3 days ahead and store in glass jars in the fridge. You can even make a large batch of smoothies to last you a week and freeze in freezer safe containers. Place one in the fridge to thaw the night before you want it and enjoy the next morning.
Peanuts and Peanut Butter
There are so many products out there containing peanut butter. While peanut butter may contain some protein, many jars include processed vegetable oils, sugar, and salt. Peanuts are a major allergen for many people. Even if you don’t experience anaphylactic shock from them, peanuts may still cause health concerns you may not be aware of. Peanuts contain aflatoxins/mycotoxins (a type of mold) that can have a negative impact on your mental health.
Healthier Options: Opt for one of the many other nut butter options such as almond butter or sunflower seed butter with no added sugar, salt, or processed oils. You could also opt for a handful of whole nuts or seeds. Walnuts are a great choice as they contain some omega 3s and
may support brain health. If you are allergic to tree nuts, pumpkin seeds are great as well. They are high in zinc, which can help lessen depressive symptoms.
Granola Bars and Trail Mix
While there may be many healthy ingredients within these products such as whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fruits, many brands also include added sugars, syrups, salt, starches, and processed oils. Processed oils and excess sugars have been linked to anxiety and mood changes.
Healthier Options: Make your own! There are plenty of great recipes for baked and no-bake options. If you can’t make your own, look for ones that are whole foods based with minimal ingredients and low sugar content.
Veggie Chips and Puffs
These are highly deceiving. While they may be labeled as “veggie” or “lentil” chips, the primary ingredient is often potato starch. They also often contain processed oils, sodium, sugars, and preservatives.
Healthier Options: Opt for pre-cut veggies and hummus. You will get all the beneficial vitamins in real veggies and healthy protein from the chickpeas.
Gluten Free Baked Goods
More and more people are finding they are sensitive and/or intolerant to gluten. It can be helpful to get tested to ensure you don’t have a problem that you are unaware of. But what about all those new “gluten-free” items on the shelves. Just because something is “gluten free” does not make it necessarily healthy. Many of these products substitute wheat flour for other highly refined grains such as white rice flour. These products may also contain a long list of other problematic additives such as sugars, sodium, processed oils, preservatives and artificial dyes.
Healthier Options: Try baking your own gluten free goodies at home. There are numerous recipes out there now for any treat you are craving. Try to focus on recipes that are whole foods based with low sugar or healthy sugar alternatives (see below for suggestions).
While oatmeal can be highly beneficial for your health due to fiber and protein, instant oatmeal is another story. Instant oatmeal has been pre-processed and higher on the glycemic index with
less fiber, iron, and protein. Also, many of the instant oatmeal packets and cups contain added sugars, sodium, preservatives, and additives.
Healthier Options: Take the time to make oatmeal at home. Rolled oats take approximately 10- 15 minutes to cook on the stovetop. You can make a large batch ahead, cool, and store it in single serving jars or containers. You can also try overnight oats. Soak 1 part rolled oats in 1 part milk of choice and leave in the fridge overnight (you could add in a teaspoon of chia seeds for added protein and omega 3s). In the morning, add some berries, cinnamon, and a healthier sweetener such as the ones listed below.
Pre-Packaged Salad and Veggies
While salad greens and veggies are great for health, the problem is with the dressing and fixings. Many pre-made dressings contain processed oils, excess sodium, sugar, and preservatives. Dried fruits such as cranberries are usually combined with sugar and croutons contain gluten, high sodium, processed oils, and potentially other additives.
Healthier Options: Make your salad at home. You can make a quick salad dressing using a cold pressed oil, vinegar, or lemon juice, and just a little salt to taste. Toss in some fresh or dried herbs for extra flavor. For a creamier dressing, you could blend in some avocado, tahini, or nut butter in place of the oil.
While herbal and green teas can be very healthy, the pre-bottled teas often contain sweeteners, preservatives, and artificial coloring that may not be healthy for you.
Healthier Options: Make your tea the night before. You can also try sun tea. Place your preferred tea or herbs and water in a jar and leave out in the sun for several hours. Sweeten with one of the healthier sweetener options listed below, or toss in some frozen fruit for extra flavor.
Vitamin Waters and Electrolyte Drinks
They have vitamins and electrolytes, so they must be healthy, right? Not necessarily. Though they may contain vitamins, many of these are easily obtained through a healthy diet. While they may contain electrolytes to help hydrate the body, these drinks also often contain high levels of sugar, artificial sweeteners, and artificial coloring.
Healthier Options: Try adding a pinch of celtic or himalayan salt, a squeeze of lemon juice, and some frozen berries to your water. Coconut water is another healthy alternative, just make sure there is no added sugar or harmful preservatives.
Processed and Dried Meats and Meat Alternatives
Many people go for these for extra protein. However, these products are often very high in sodium and preservatives. Sodium Nitrite is often added to meat products which is linked to cancer as well as mania and depression. These products may also contain artificial colors and flavorings.
Healthier Options: Try marinating and baking or dehydrating sliced mushrooms or eggplants. You can spread and roll up a pate inside nori sheets and bake or dehydrate.
Problematic Ingredients to Watch Out For:
Artificial Dyes – These have been linked to ADHD and mood disturbances.
Sugar – Excess sugar can lead to increased anxiety and irritability.
Corn Syrup – Has been linked to mood disruption and cognitive decline.
Artificial Sweeteners –Aspartame has been linked to headaches, dementia, alzheimer’s, seizures, and mood disorders.
Allergens – Common ones include corn, soy, dairy, and gluten have been linked to issues with brain fog, mood disruption, ADHD, and autism.
MSG – This is often disguised by other names including autolyzed yeast extract, autolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, maltodextrin, sodium caseinate, and citric acid. MSG has been linked to depression.
Hydrogenated Oils – These have been linked to anxiety and mood changes.
“Natural Flavors” – this is a catch all that could be something harmless, but could also be something more concerning.
Healthier Sweeteners: Monk fruit, Erythritol, and Stevia are all great low glycemic options. Maple syrup, coconut sugar, and molasses are some other sugar alternatives to consider.