Monday, September 5, 2011

Four Serious “Healthy Food” Myths

The food industry is big business.  Just witness all the marketing hype, especially these days when everyone is jumping on the “health” bandwagon.  Now that mainstream companies are aware of the consumer trend leaning towards more conscious habits, marketers are using labeling ploys to lead the non-researching public by the nose.

If you want to be healthy there is no other way but to read labels and to do your own research.  What might be time-consuming in the beginning will become a sure fire way to insure that you are informed and getting what you pay for, rather than falling for outrageous health claims that are antithetical to smart eating practices. 

Here is a very short list of some foods on what I call the “hype” list:

Canola Oil
Canola oil was initially one of the biggest exports from Canada, hence the “Can” in Canola.  This oil is pressed from the rapeseed plant, which is a member of the mustard family.  In order to get the oil out of this plant, on a commercial level it requires processing at extremely high temperatures using mechanical pressing procedures.  At about 300 degrees F, a whole lot of trans-fats (hydrogenated, artificial fats that raise cholesterol levels) are created.  Additionally, the high heat factor tends to make the oil rancid and foul smelling, requiring a deodorizing process using chemicals to do so. On top of this, the oil gets refined, bleached, and de-gummed ~ with the results obviously going into our bodies when we consume the oil.  Canola’s high sulfur content also makes the oil become rancid quickly, and if any of you out there have used it to create baked goods, you’ve already noticed how fast they develop mold.

Canola oil contains 5% saturated fat, 57% oleic acid, 23% omega 6, and 10 – 15% omega 3.  But studies at the University of Florida at Gainesville have shown that 4.6% of all the fatty acids in canola oil are highly hydrogenated (and known as trans-isomer fats) because of the harsh refining process.  Other studies were published in a 1997 article in Nutrition Research showing that piglets fed canola oil became seriously depleted of vitamin E, which is essential to health.  Yet another laboratory study showed that a strict canola diet actually caused the death of the animals that were a part of the experiment.

Cold pressed, organic canola oil is a safer bet, but of course if you really want to go for a healthy oil, especially for cooking, buy coconut oil.  Coconut oil does not contain any trans-isomers and boasts no nutritional depletion when heated.  There are many, many benefits of using coconut oil both internally and externally, and I will cover these in another article coming up soon!

Farm Raised Salmon
Here’s a frightening statistic given what you are going to read in a second:  over 60% of fish eaten in the United States is farm raised and 80% of the salmon in the marketplace today comes from farms.  Ok… now brace yourself…

Farm raised fish are placed in pens that can contain upwards of a million!  These fish cannot move and thus develop all sorts of diseases due to crowding and lack of space.  Farm raised fish are fed things they never eat such as grain, chicken feces, genetically modified canola oil, and fishmeal.  Because they are fattened with these highly foreign elements, farm raised fish are lower in protein than their luckier bretheren who are still in the open waters.  A wild salmon’s diet is krill, which is toxin-free and contains astaxanthin, a potent anti-oxidant that gives salmon its pink color.  Because nothing in a farmed salmon’s diet contributes to a hue we associate with salmon, they are fed artificial color. 

Farm raised salmon has 39 times more sea lice than wild salmon, especially due to the crowded conditions in their pens.  Strong pesticides are used to kill the sea lice.  Copper sulfate is also used as a way to remove algae that forms on the nets that capture farmed salmon for killing and packaging ~ another toxic chemical that we ingest when we eat these fish. 

Farm raised salmon contain up to eight times the level of carcinogenic PCBs as wild salmon.  They are lower in omega 3 fats than their free-swimming brothers and sisters who generally have a very high omega 3 concentration.

Farm raised salmon means great profit for producers, and the demand that comes from ignorance keeps putting money in their coffers.  Wild salmon remain more or less the way nature intended them to be, and for this they are more expensive for consumers, which is true with organically grown foods of all kinds.  As with everything in life, you get what you pay for and in this case if you buy farmed salmon, you may be paying dearly with the health of your body.

Popular Cereals and Energy Bars
Flashy boxes make big statements when you’re walking down a grocery store aisle.  Most commercial cereals are highly processed to make them sweeter, tastier, and easy to prepare.  Most commercial cereals are loaded with stgar and low on fiber content, often contrary to what they advertise on the box.  Because we’re often in a rush when we shop, we don’t stop to read the list of ingredients carefully and when Raison Bran uses the words “raison” and “bran”, we think, ah, two healthy foods, right?  Take a closer look and you’ll find loads of sugar and processed filler. 

The best cereals you can eat are whole grains that require cooking time, like steel cut, organic oats and the like.  Take the time to cook them and you will feel the difference in the way your body responds in terms of energy, cleansing, and reducing the propensity for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Energy bars, protein bars, breakfast bars, or granola bars… whatever they are called, they generally contain a very small amount of fiber and a whole lot of sugar and processed carbohydrates.  Why risk raising your blood sugar levels to experience the subsequent energy drop and mood swings when you can make your own?  Homemade bars using unprocessed whole grains will help control your weight, balance your moods, up the ante on your endurance, as well as keep your system regular.  Unprocessed whole grains help to stabilize the system and are recommended as part of an anti-cancer, anti-heart disease, and anti-diabetes diet.  Simply mix a handful of organic raw oats with coconut flakes, chopped raw almonds, organic raisons or currents, and raw honey.  Shape your mix into logs and freeze and you have the perfect healthful pick me up that won’t wreak havoc on your body.

Frozen Yogurt
Yogurt is healthy because of the live culture of beneficial bacteria it contains.  When yogurt is heated more than 112 degrees F, this culture is killed.  When commercial frozen yogurt is made, the milk it takes to make it is heated upwards of this index.  Additionally, artificial sweeteners are added to the mix, as well as chemicals that allow it to last longer.  Unlike fresh yogurt that benefits digestive health, frozen yogurt is just another desert that beckons because it contains less calories than ice cream. 

If you are a yogurt lover and want the benefit of live bacteria that assists in digestion, buy plain fat-free yogurt such as the Greek or Bulgarian kind.  Add a sliced banana, a pinch of cinnamon, and a bit of honey if you don’t like eating it plain and you’ll have a delicious, healthy dessert.

The moral of this article is: read labels, do your research, shop carefully, cook slowly, and don’t believe the hype!