Trying to be healthy can be overwhelming, if not outright maddening. There’s a ton of conflicting information out there, and recommendations seem to change faster than Usain Bolt can run 100 meters. Every week seems to bring new research claiming that what was considered to be bad for us is actually good — and that what was considered good is, in fact, not good at all.
It can be crazy-making, and for those of us who aren’t professional nutritionists, it’s hard to get a good sense of what’s genuinely healthy, what’s just hype, and what we should avoid. Luckily, there are some excellent resources and research are out there to help all of us — in the words of Jamie Lee Curtis’ character in Freaky Friday — make good choices.
100% fruit juice
When health mavens began extolling the virtues of freshly-pressed juice, lots of people began jumping on the juicing bandwagon. However, according to an article published in The Washington Post that was written by three nutrition experts, “the truth is that fruit juice, even if is freshly pressed, 100 percent juice, is little more than sugar water.” This is particularly frustrating when, as The Washington Post notes, “we are inundated with the message that juice is healthy.”
How does this happen, when whole fruit is healthy on its own? The authors of the article explain that by stripping fruits of their skin, connective membranes, and seeds, juicing also removes the fiber that helps slow absorption of the naturally-occurring sugars in whole fruit. This leads to insulin spikes, which can eventually lead to Type 2 diabetes.
Adding to which, fruit juice can be high in calories — and drinking your calories, as opposed to eating them, tends to keep your stomach from sending the “Hey, I’m full!” signal to your brain. This leads to overeating, which can contribute to weight gain. So, how can you drink juice and stay healthy? According to WebMD, it’s important to emphasize vegetables in your juice blends. This helps limit the calories and sugar in the juice. An even better alternative is to skip the juice and go for a smoothie — you can add protein and almond milk, and blend full fruits and veggies so you’ll consume the pulp that was removed during the juicing process.
Popcorn is a fabulous low-calorie, high-fiber, healthy snack — unless it comes from the microwave. For everyone who relies on a bag of microwave popcorn to get them through the 2 p.m. slump at work: I feel your pain.
In May 2015, a group of environmental scientists released The Madrid Statement — published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives with the support of the National Institutes of Health — expressing their concerns about a group of substances known as perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs, also called PFSAs). PFCs, which are “man-made and found everywhere,” according to The Madrid Statement, are also highly toxic and degrade very slowly.
Used to make products waterproof and greaseproof, the inside of microwave popcorn bags are also usually coated with PFCs. As a result, according to an article published in Today Healthy Living, the environmental advocacy group EWG suggests it’s best to “pop popcorn the old-fashioned way, on the stovetop.”
Diet sodas and artificial sweeteners
For many people, trying to lose weight often involves switching from regular soda to its zero-calorie, diet version. Sadly for those of us who like Diet Coke, this isn’t such a great idea: according to a study published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine (YJBM), artificial sweeteners in diet sodas can be problematic. “Intuitively, people choose non-caloric artificial sweeteners over sugar to lose or maintain weight,” notes the YJBM. “Whether due to a successful marketing effort on the part of the diet beverage industry or not, the weight-conscious public often consider artificial sweeteners ‘health food.'”
However, evidence is starting to show that artificial sweeteners may be correlated with weight gain and obesity in both children and adults. In fact, according to a meta analysis of research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, consumption of artificial sweeteners was associated with an increase in health indicators like waist circumference, obesity, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
As the YJBM notes, research suggests that this is because artificial sweeteners don’t activate the brain’s food reward pathways — the processes that help us feel satisfied after eating something sweet — the way natural sweeteners do. This can lead to increased appetite and sugar cravings, and you can see where this goes: straight to the ice-cream sandwiches. So, while consuming a lot of sugar isn’t a great idea, it’s best to cut out the diet foods and rely on natural sweeteners (like honey and maple syrup) in smaller amounts.
Read more: http://www.thelist.com/88439/unhealthy-foods-people-think-healthy/