Thanks to a rise in health food bloggers and a constant bombardment of diet and health news, telling us everything from which drinks to avoid to the foods that are going to turn back the years, we’ve been programmed to believe that ALL health foods must be good for us, right?
Well, maybe not quite. What if we told you that actually, some full-fat foods are healthy, while the health foods we’ve been told will really benefit us, whether it’s for their weight loss properties or ability to stave off certain illnesses, might not be as virtuous as we first thought?
We’re inundated daily by news of the latest health food fad that’s going to make us look and feel better than ever, but some of these are tricky to find in the shops, not to mention expensive! So wouldn’t it be great to know which health foods aren’t worth bothering with at all?
Here are the health food myths that most of us believe – you might be surprised by the truth…
1. Granola is a healthy breakfast
Oats, fruit, nuts… all of the core ingredients of granola seem to point to a nutritious start to the day. However, it’s all the hidden extras that make this go-to breakfast cereal less virtuous than it seems – a cup of granola can have as many as 500 calories, thanks to the inclusion of oils (for baking) and sugars.
‘Most granolas are classified as high sugar, with more than 12.5g of sugar per 100g, much of which has been deliberately added to make it taste more palatable than the granola once found in health food shops,’ Anna Raymond, dietician and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, told the Daily Mail. ‘Health guidelines recommend consuming no more than 90g of sugar in a day. Don’t be fooled by the addition of honey – it’s still a sugar, and no more healthy.’
2. Coconut milk is better for you than other milks
Coconut milk is championed for its high dose of vitamins, healthy fatty acids and dairy-free nature, making it great for people with allergens. But while it does carry certain health benefits, it also carries a stonking amount of hidden calories too!
Just one cup of full-fat coconut milk, which you might add to a curry or stir into a smoothie, contains a whopping 552 calories, and is notably high in saturated fat. While there’s no need to cut coconut milk out altogether, it’s worth reducing your serving sizes, or looking out for reduced fat options which provide all of the same creaminess with less cals.
3. Raw foods are more nutritious than fresh foods
Nutritionist Fiona Hunter told the Telegraph that this isn’t always the case when it comes to certain veggies. Carrots and tomatoes, for example, have tough cell walls which need to be cooked to help break these down and ‘liberate some of the phytochemicals’, which otherwise would stay inside the cells and wouldn’t be absorbed by the body.
4. Agave syrup is better for you than sugar
Some health food fanatics have claimed that agave syrup, a sweetener produced from the agave plant, is better for you than sugar and other sweeteners because it has a low GI – meaning it causes less of a spike in blood sugar levels than other types of sweetener.
Fiona points out that while this is true, one of the reasons that it has low GI is because it has a high concentration of fructose (the form of sugar commonly found in fruit). High intakes of fructose raise levels of triglycerides (a type of fat) in the blood, which could increase the risk of heart disease.
5. Green juice is good for you
Seems like everywhere we turn, someone is proclaiming just how amazing green juice is and how it should be introduced into our daily diets. But whether you buy it ready-made or make your own at home in a blender, green juices don’t come cheap. And on top of all that, they can be laden with sugar!
Some of these smoothie-like juices can contain anything from 50g of sugar per bottle, mostly from the fruit. It might be natural, but it’s still a hell of a lot of your recommended daily allowance of the sweet stuff.
6. Sushi is better than a sandwich for lunch
You’d be forgiven for thinking that sushi is one of the best options when it comes to choosing a healthy lunch, but that’s not necessarily the case. It may be low in fat, and if you go for salmon or mackerel you will be boosting your omega-3 intake, but sushi can actually have more calories than a sandwich. It’s usually high in salt and doesn’t offer you much of your five-a-day or protein, so Fiona warns that it might not keep you feeling full for very long.
7. Spinach is a good source of iron
Bad news ladies, contrary to popular belief (not to mention our younger years spent watching Popeye eat handfuls of the stuff to stay strong) spinach isn’t as good for us as first thought. Although it does contain iron, those little green leaves also contain a substance called oxalic acid which binds to the iron, making it difficult for the body to absorb.
If you’re determined to get your iron from green veg, then Fiona suggests that kale, which doesn’t contain oxalic acid, is a better source of iron. The best way to get your iron intake, though, is from red meat, which contains much more and in a form which it is easy for the body to use.
8. Fresh fruit and veg are better for you than frozen
We’re all guilty of assuming that fresh fruit and veg must be better for us than their frozen equivalent. But in her findings, Fiona explains that research from Hallam University, Sheffield, revealed that frozen fruit and vegetables can actually contain higher levels of vitamins than fresh.
Why? Because they are frozen within hours of being harvested, the vitamins are locked in, whereas some fresh produce can be over a month old before it reaches the supermarket shelves. Urgh!
9. Manuka honey is better for you than sugar
You might have been fooled into thinking that manuka honey is a healthy equivalent to sugar, with many health food shops now stocking the expensive liquid. But according to Fiona, despite the health claims and the inflated price tag there are no credible scientific studies to suggest that eating this honey offers any real benefits.
10. Fat-free salad dressings are a healthier choice
All these years we thought we were being so good by drizzling a fat-free salad dressing over our lettuce leaves. So imagine our surprise when we read Fiona’s advice that although in terms of calories fat-free dressings might seem like a better choice, studies have shown adding a small amount of an oil-based dressing to salad instead will help the body absorb phytochemicals (which scientists believe have various health benefits for the body).
11. Dark bread is always better than white
Yep, we’ve fallen for this one too! But according to experts, if a loaf of bread is darker, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s made with whole grains. It could simply contain caramel colouring or a little extra whole wheat and be no healthier than white bread. If you were fooled by this, then next time you’re in the supermarket look for the words ‘whole grain’ or ‘100% whole wheat’ on the package, and make sure the first ingredient listed is: whole wheat, oats, whole rye, whole-grain corn, barley, quinoa, buckwheat, or brown rice.
12. Rice cakes are a great healthy snack
Rice cakes may be low in fat and calories (around 30 calories per rice cake in fact), but they’re also lacking in any form of nutrition too. Most provide a single gram of protein and fibre, plus the flavoured versions are almost certainly full of artificial sweeteners and colourings!