Some foods we think are healthy really aren’t. And some are just too delicious for our own good. But avoiding these six foods is the right decision for our waistline – and our pocketbooks.
We all want to eat healthy food – in theory, at least. And given its ubiquitousness, you’ve probably tuned out dieting advice entirely since becoming totally confused about what you should and shouldn’t eat. There are no end to the myths surrounding food and healthy eating. And that’s not even to mention the various diets out there: from paleo to raw food and low carb, all the way to veganism or so-called clean eating. In the end, it’s up to each of us to decide which food makes us feel best.
There are some foods which are especially unhealthy and simultaneously are bad for the environment. That makes it easier to eliminate them from (or decrease their frequency in) our diet. And luckily, there’s usually a simple alternative that’s just as good.
1. White Rice
All rice is not created equal: In order to make white rice, the grains are milled. This means that the husk, the bran, and the germ are removed from whole-grain rice. Then the grains are polished, leaving just the starchy core of each grain of rice. This process removes the valuable nutritional elements.
White rice doesn’t harm your body directly, but it has no benefit either: it fills you up without providing any nutrition.
A step above white rice is so-called parboiled rice. Before it is stripped and polished, it’s soaked, then pressurized, and finally dried. This process results in most of the nutrients being absorbed into the rice grains, resulting in about 80% retention of vitamins and minerals. Of course, parboiled rice still lacks the fiber of whole-grain rice.
The healthiest rice, therefore, is whole-grain rice. It’s neither stripped nor polished and therefore contains all the fiber, vitamins, and minerals possible. Whole-grain rice is browner than white rice and often called brown rice. Whenever possible, buy organic rice.
2. Instant Vegetable Broth
Instant vegetable broth cubes or powder is practical for whipping up a quick soup, broth, or sauce. But in reality, there’s hardly a vegetable involved: salt is usually the first ingredient in the ingredients list, followed by MSG, a common flavor enhancer. Besides salt and flavor enhancers, vegetable broth includes chemical flavorings, palm oil, and sugar. This short list is reason enough to leave instant vegetable broth alone.
A better alternative are organic vegetable broths – these cannot contain flavor enhancers or further questionable additives. Or even better? Cook a healthy vegetable broth to have on hand, and use your ice cube tray to make single-use portions that are just as handy as bouillon cubes.
3. All Things Made with White Flour
Basic white flour creates light, spongy breads and cakes because its grains, like white rice, have been stripped of their nutritional elements, leaving behind starch. While this may fill us up quickly, we have been robbed of fiber, vitamins, and minerals — and that ultimately leads to feeling hungry again sooner.
Besides their lack of nutrients, baked goods made from white flour are often an unhealthy choice: as many who’ve hopped on the gluten-free bandwagon know, avoiding white flour means regularly avoiding high-calorie, -fat, and -sugar items like cookies, cakes, croissants, and sandwich bread. But we don’t have to vilify wheat flour entirely – we just have to switch to whole-grain flour to reap its nutritional benefits.
And whether it’s wheat, rye, or even spelt: whole-grain flours contain all elements of the grain, and therefore whole-grain products contain more vitamins, minerals, and fiber to keep us fuller longer.
4. Breakfast Cereals
Cocoa puffs, corn flakes, and even instant oatmeal packets are no good start to the day. Breakfast cereals are highly processed foods that often contain far too much sugar. They are calorie bombs that barely fill you up and have to have vitamins and minerals added in order to make them in any way nutritional.
Instead, make yourself a fresh bowl of oatmeal from real oats, or a homemade whole-grain granola, mixed with fresh, in-season fruit and a handful of hazelnuts or walnuts.
5. Protein and Energy Bars
Who among us hasn’t downed a protein or energy bar now and then on a long hike, or after a run, swim, or climb? They refill our energy tank and help us build muscle – or so we think. Yet in reality, these bars are far from natural or healthy. Designed to pack a high-calorie punch, these highly-processed bars are full of added sugar, flavors, and selected vitamins and minerals. And that’s not all: Germany’s Öko-Test Magazine tested energy bars in its February 2016 issue and found they contain GMO soy as well as traces of pesticides.
Athletes benefit more from a healthy, balanced diet than from energy or protein bars. For example, legumes like lentils and peas, potatoes, and whole-grain products are chock-full of valuable protein. Or when it has to be portable, make your own energy balls as a healthy alternative.
6. Light and Diet Food Alternatives
Light and diet food alternatives promise lower calories, less sugar, or less fat than the original products. Often we find, however, that whatever has been reduced has simply been replaced by another ingredient, and therefore the calorie counts are hardly different. In order to make light and diet products palatable, companies add flavor enhancers, chemical flavorings, and sweeteners.
It’s better to eat unprocessed foods than processed light or diet food alternatives. For example, mix regular plain yogurt and fresh fruit rather than eating a diet fruit yogurt.