8 Health Foods That Are Bad For Your Health
Healthy foods, like reality show stars, tend to be both high-maintenance and tasteless. As lazy and spoiled people, we try to find any shortcuts we can to eating healthy without having to prepare fresh food or eat tofu.
Unfortunately, as we all learned from watching children's cartoons, taking shortcuts can lead to a hilarious comedy of errors. And diabetes.
The two biggest players in the "vitamin water" game are the original Vitamin Water, owned by Coke, and Sobe Life Water, owned by Pepsi, which should start to raise the red flags right there.
There are a bunch of other drinks playing the same game, with their light to clear colors and healthy sounding names that make it sound like they are plain old water with some nutrients added. Which is true, if you consider eight teaspoons of sugar a nutrient.
Al Pacino takes his daily vitamin supplement.
Vitamin Water and Life Water both contain 32.5 grams of sugar per bottle, so you might as well hydrate after a workout by drinking a bottle of water and tossing a full sized Snickers (30 grams of sugar) down your throat. But hey, at least that's half a Snickers less than a can of Coke, so really it might as well be water.
There are low calorie versions out there, like Vitamin Water 10, but it still has to appeal to their customer base: people who refuse to drink anything that isn't sweet, even their daily vitamins.
"Man, if only these came in doughnut form."
That means you're trading sugar for artificial sweeteners, and experts say that's a bad idea from multiple angles. Those sweeteners have some possible long-term side effects and might even trick your body into slowing down its metabolism, causing you to actually gain more weight than if you were on the regular stuff. But maybe your particular brand uses stevia, the trendy natural sugar substitute. Well, you should know it might even be more controversial than artificial sweeteners and has been banned in the EU.
Basically, you name a sugar substitute, and we'll name you an organ failure or type of cancer.
Which, coincidentally, is a fun party game at Weight Watchers meetings.
Bran tastes terrible, and therefore must be good for you. One of the easier ways to stuff that sawdust-like substance down your reluctant gullet is with a bran muffin. Unfortunately, like Mary Poppins's medicine, any type of muffin you use is sending the good stuff down with a spoonful of sugar and enough fat to choke a Japanese Whaler.
The main ingredient in muffins is cake, and the main ingredient in cake is fat. If you noticed that muffin wrappers tend to be grease soaked to the point of translucence, you might have put this together already. But you might not know that a medium-sized blueberry muffin has more calories than a McDonald's Sausage McMuffin that's the same size. Almost half of those calories are from fat. Specifically, a third of the fat you are supposed to eat in an entire day.
Damn you, you delicious, puffy pastry ... aw, we can't stay mad at you.
Switching to bran doesn't stop the muffin from being worth its weight in sausage, egg and heart attacks. Assuming bran muffins are any better for you is like switching out the chocolate chips in chocolate chip cookies for raisins and declaring it health food. Structurally, it's still mostly cookie. Switching to a bran muffin gets you down to a just under the calorie count of a Sausage McMuffin, which is not the kind of breakfast that will get your body on the cover of Shapely Ass magazine.
Or even the soon-to-be-launched ASS! Magazine.
Trendy places like Starbucks are already on top of this with low fat muffins. As you can see, they brought the fat calories down to a much smaller percentage of the whole, but the overall calorie count is still very much in the McMuffin range. Also, taking the fat out of a muffin steals its soul. It's like a damned scone or some shit.
Granola and Cereal Bars
Granola bars have to be good for you, right? Well, if they taste awful, then yes. If they taste good, it's probably the same ingredients that make candy bars taste good: sugar, fat and chocolate.
Sure, these bars all look really similar, with white or green boxes sporting pictures of lumpy beige bars and smiling women in yoga clothes, but they run the gamut from healthy sawdust bricks to Snickers bars in eco-themed wrappers.
"If this wasn't healthy, would I be eating it during yoga?"
The Quaker Oats True Delights Bar contains raspberries and chocolate and allegedly tastes pretty good, and it had better, because pound for pound, it's pretty much got the same amount of fat and calories as a Snickers bar. It's also this big.
Are your mouths watering, readers?
If you've got gigantic hands and therefore think that looks pretty big, basically it's only half the size of a Snickers (1.2 ounces versus 2.0 ounces) so there's a good chance you'll wind up eating two--or eating something else when you get hungry again. Either way you might as well have eaten the candy bar, for all the good it's doing you.
Plus, Mr. T endorses Snickers. So, there's that.
Sure, there are granola bars out there that are actually good for you and not made of candy, but they taste like freaking granola. If you want to be healthy, you gotta pay the price. Your body won't like doing without fat because through most of the history of our species, fat meant quick energy we could use to run away from a woolly mammoth. You can't trick your body into not wanting it--you just have to suffer through.
Chewable Vitamin Tablets
Vitamin C has been touted as a cure-all for everything from preventing colds to curing cancer. The latter claim was popularized by Linus Pauling and eaten up by people who forgot that he got a Nobel Prize in chemistry and not medicine. The movement was dealt a bit of a setback when he died of cancer in 1994.
Anyway, Vitamin C may not cure cancer or AIDS (that's been claimed too) but it is good for you. And for people who hate oranges or pills, the only solution is chewable Vitamin C tablets.
Or maybe people just really want to devour Barney Rubble.
However, with some chewable tablets, while you are eating the tablets, the tablets are also eating you. The scientific name for Vitamin C is ascorbic acid, which gives you a hint as to the problem.
Studies have shown that in some cases, chewable Vitamin C tablets can cause people's teeth to erode.
Dentists suggest you brush your teeth afterwards (although dentists suggest you brush your teeth after everything) and try to buy a brand that has Vitamin C in its non-acidic form. Or man up and swallow the pill.
Unless you're some kind of pussy.
Fish has always been pushed as something good for you, by doctors, health nuts and the Japanese, opposed only by people who don't like fish, and of course, fish.
And occasionally, Don Knotts.
However, in recent years, a lot of people have been jumping on the fish-are-poison bandwagon, which is alarmist and inaccurate. Fish aren't poison. They're merely filled with poisons.
Fish are similar to Brisk Iced Tea in that way.
The good news is you have a choice of what kind of poison you want to eat in your fish.
Do you prefer mercury? Try ocean fish. Apparently, the oceans are full of mercury, mostly thanks to coal-burning power plants and chemical processing plants and people dumping their defective T-1000 Terminators. And almost all fish contain at least some trace amounts of mercury.
And it's not the good or "Freddie" variety.
According to the EPA, children, pregnant women and women who think they might possibly get pregnant someday should completely avoid four species of fish that seem to be mercury superstars, while not eating more than one moderate serving of even a low-mercury fish a week.
You can avoid mercury by eating farmed fish, that have grown up nice and safe in a little fish farm, eating, uh, pesticide runoff. One expert suggests the safe limit on farmed salmon is one dinner every five months. Holy crap! Is that right? We're pretty sure doctors want you to smoke cigars more often than that.
"No. That's not true."
Fast Food Salads
In the recent crusade against unhealthy foods, fast food chains like McDonald's have been the first against the wall. Their clever (and mildly diabolical) two-pronged defense aims at targeting communities where the healthy eating trend hasn't spread yet and where the residents are currently the highest-risk demographic for heart disease and other diet-related issues (witness this official McDonald's-sponsored website, 365black.com). Meanwhile, they aim to hold onto the health nuts by promoting "healthy" items to the menu, like yogurts and salads.
Bacon salad bowls would satisfy both demographics.
The reason that "healthy" is in quotes is that fast food restaurants' salads are often even worse for you than their burgers. The Wendy's Mandarin Chicken Salad, for example, beats the quarter pound Wendy's Double Stack cheeseburger in fat, sugar, carbs and total calories.
Not as healthy as a Wendy's cheeseburger. Seemingly impossible, but true.
Fortunately, most fast food restaurants have nutrition information brochures stuffed somewhere out of view that you can use to research menu items before diving in. The new health care bill actually requires them to put the info somewhere visible but that takes all the challenge out of it. So let's just say if the salad has lots of dressing, meat, cheese or bits of fried food on it, the addition of lettuce does not negate the damage.
People associate protein with muscle, because that's what muscles are mostly made of. However, muscles going into your stomach doesn't translate to muscles coming out of your biceps. Your body breaks down what you eat into tiny components, and rebuilds these components into whatever it thinks it needs.
So if you needed a second set of Goro-like arms, protein shakes could provide that. Probably.
And to most Americans' annoyance, what it thinks it needs is usually fat.
Again, you have to take a look back at evolution. Your body doesn't know we haven't moved out of the Stone Age. And the only way to convince your body that all this extra protein is supposed to be for making new muscle, and not fat, is to work out like a mofo.
If you are sitting on the couch or in a desk chair all day, your body doesn't give a shit about whether you are giving it carbs or protein, it's going to make what it wants to make out of them. Except that in making protein into carbs (or fat) it dumps the protein's nitrogen and makes it into urea or uric acid which, in large amounts, can screw up your kidneys.
According to one expert, even a heavy exerciser would only need to double their protein intake at most. Most people need about 50 to 70 grams a day, depending on how much they weigh, and the average American eats about 100 grams a day as part of their normal diet. If you need more, you can easily get 30 to 60 gram from just a chicken breast.
If you want to lose weight, it might help to replace meals with protein shakes (not add protein shakes to your meals, as some people do) but then you're missing out on the vitamins and nutrients you get from real food, and could run into some trouble in the long term. Ever wondered exactly what scurvy was? Try complete meal replacement and you just might find out.
"No. For the love of all that's holy, please don't."
So whether you're a bodybuilder looking to buff up with minimal effort, or a fatty looking for a magic food substance that doesn't make you any fatter, protein shakes aren't really the answer.
Herbal supplements are not only a creative euphemism for marijuana, but also a booming market of remedies ranging from old school to New Age. None of them are regulated by the FDA, so your bottle of Ancient Chinese Vitality Root could be powdered dog shit for all you know. It could also cure cancer. It's a crapshoot.
Consumer organizations do their best to keep an eye on these things, however, and Consumer Reports made a list in 2004 of herbal supplements that are downright dangerous. Number one on that list is a Chinese remedy for eczema. This FDA alert tells of two people who took it hoping to clear up some skin problems and ended up needing kidney transplants.
One of the more well-known supplements on that list is kava, which is supposed to be a kind of herbal Prozac.
It is rather cheerful looking, as roots go.
Unfortunately, evidence started to appear indicating that, while it might make you feel good, it also destroys your liver. Kava advocates theorize this might have been caused by companies looking to cut costs by grinding up the entire kava plant, including leaves and stems, which may contain toxins, in addition to the traditionally used root.
Which brings us back to the beginning: There's no FDA to ask manufacturers, "Hey, what are you guys doing with the leaves and stems over there?" So they'll just throw any old thing right in. They could be grinding up used condoms and bear fur in there.
Remember: People still sell snake oil. They just put pictures of leaves on the bottle now.
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And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 05.24.10) to see Bucholz eats with his daily dose of Castor oil.