By Dr. Mercola
If you grew up believing the best way to start your day was a bowl of cereal, a piece of whole wheat toast smeared with margarine, and a glass of orange juice, you're in good company.
If your health is ailing and you're reading this, chances are your lack of progress isn't due to apathy or poor willpower but instead, confusion over which foods are good for you and which are not.
Many foods considered "health foods" are doing exactly the opposite of what is claimed, thanks to massively successful corporate advertising campaigns. There are solid scientific reasons why America's waistline has continued to expand.
In an article by certified personal trainer and health enthusiast Kris Gunnars, 11 so-called health foods are discussed,1 and unlike most mainstream nutrition articles, I agree with all of them.
If you are stumped about why you aren't making progress toward your health or fitness goals, you might just be a victim of your "health food." It would help to take a look at those popular foods, starting with one of the most beloved beverages among children and adults alike: fruit juices.
In spite of beliefs to the contrary, there are several problems with fruit juice that make it a FAR cry from "health food." Consider orange juice, for example—particularly nearly all commercially prepared OJ.
Most all commercially prepared orange juices are actually highly processed into a liquid that bears little nutritional resemblance to fresh orange juice, as Alissa Hamilton, author of the book Squeezed: What You Don't Know About Orange Juice, explains in the interview below.
First of all, it is pasteurized which decimates its vitality. Then the juice is kept in giant tanks to ensure a year-round supply. In order to preserve it, all of the oxygen is removed, and therefore all of the natural compounds that give oranges their flavor are destroyed.
Some companies add artificial flavor packs, which are essentially chemical perfumes. A common one is ethyl butyrate. If the "Best Before" date is 60 days or more, you know you have a heavily processed juice. Fruit drinks are even worse, consisting mostly of high fructose corn syrup in a mélange of artificial ingredients. Many commercial orange juices are also contaminated with mold from damaged fruit.
Additionally, fruit juice is far worse than the whole fruit, especially if it is not freshly juiced and is stored in containers, as the methanol in the juice will dissociate from the pectin and actually increase your risk of M.S.
But even fresh, pure orange juice—even freshly squeezed—is very high in sugar that is separated from its beneficial fiber and therefore detrimental to your health. One eight-ounce glass contains about 8 teaspoons of sugar, compared to 10 teaspoons in a can of soda.
Habitually downing this much sugar can increase your risk for gout, hypertension, heart disease, kidney disease and a number of other serious health problems. And many commercial juices have been found to contain unacceptably high levels or arsenic.
Consuming the whole fruit causes less of a problem as the sugar is modulated by the fiber and antioxidants in the fruit, so you're better off eating fruit whole, but in moderation. If you want juice, making your own vegetable juice at home is an excellent option.
Whole Wheat and Other Grains
Contrary to what you've been hearing for years about the nutritional value of whole grains, there's a sizeable body of scientific evidence that they frequently do more harm to your body than good. Grains contain anti-nutrients and lectins that can damage your gut. And it's the fibrous portion of the grain—the bran—that actually contains most of the anti-nutrients. These components can cause inflammation, intestinal permeability and "leaky gut."
Wheat and other glutinous grains are the worst of the bunch. Wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) has been found to be inflammatory, immunotoxic, cardiotoxic, and neurotoxic, and can pass through your blood-brain barrier and interfere with neurotransmitter function.
Gluten intolerance may be at the root of many chronic diseases, including many neurological and psychiatric conditions such as depression, ADD/ADHD, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer's disease. Many people have gluten intolerance but are unaware of it, which makes it even more insidious. It's important to realize that ALL types of grain contribute to insulin and leptin resistance, which are the primary underlying causes for most, if not all, chronic diseases—from diabetes to cancer.
Don't be lured into believing that all products boasting the label "gluten free" or "low-carb" are good for you. Many of these items contain other grains that are highly processed, which make them no more nutritious than the average bag of chips as they will increase your insulin and leptin resistance. And many contain sophisticated combinations of ingredients specifically engineered to induce cravings.
Agave Syrup and Nectar
Agave still lines nutrition store shelves, as if you should be pouring it over everything. Most agave nectar or syrup is nothing more than a laboratory-generated super-condensed fructose syrup, devoid of virtually all nutrient value. Agave syrup is mostly fructose and is so highly processed and refined that it bears NO resemblance to the plant for which it's named. Depending on how it's processed, it may contain anywhere from 55 to 90 percent fructose. High fructose corn syrup is also about 55 percent fructose, so even in the best case, agave syrup offers no advantage.
The evidence is overwhelming that, when consumed in large quantities, fructose is the most damaging sugar you can eat. Fructose drives up uric acid, which is a direct pathway toward hypertension, insulin resistance, diabetes, kidney and liver disease. Better sweetener options are stevia (an herb), and raw organic honey, in small amounts. Honey is also a concentrated form of sugar, but at least it can offer some health benefits, provided it's high quality.
Sports Drinks and Energy Bars
For most average exercisers and athletes, sports drinks are not only a waste of your money but can actually make your health worse. Most sports drinks are loaded with things you DON'T want, like high fructose corn syrup, sodium, and artificial colors and flavors. Less than one percent of those who use sports drinks actually benefit from them.
Sports drinks are up to 30 times more erosive to your teeth than water. And brushing your teeth won't help because the citric acid in the sports drink will soften your tooth enamel so much it could be damaged simply by brushing. A far better alternative is coconut water, sporting a long list of beneficial nutritional compounds including natural electrolytes, enzymes, trace elements, amino acids, and antioxidants.
Coconut water also has anti-inflammatory and blood pressure-lowering properties, making it the perfect "sports drink." But even coconut water is loaded with sugar and ideally should be limited to when you need to replace minerals and fluid, like after a sauna or long duration cardio. Energy bars are no better than sports drinks—essentially just overpriced junk food. Most commercial energy bars are comprised of cheap soy protein, high fructose corn syrup, synthetic vitamins, and waste products from industrial food production.
Vegetable Oils and Fake Butter
Americans' massive over consumption of vegetable oils is largely due to the demonization of saturated fats that's been going on for decades. As the push to avoid animal fats rages on, people are consuming unhealthy quantities of highly refined vegetable oils—corn, soy, canola, and safflower oil. Unfortunately, all of these are highly processed and have virtually no nutritional value. And they have turned the average American's omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratios upside down, which is a major driver of chronic inflammation.
Soybean oil is one of the worst vegetable oils, and processed foods are positively loaded with it. Whether partially hydrogenated, organic, or made from newer soybean varieties modified in such a way as to not require hydrogenation, soybean oil can cause dysfunction and chaos in your body at a cellular level. More than 90 percent of the soybeans grown in the US are genetically engineered, and as a result contaminated with dangerous levels of the herbicide glyphosate, which compounds their toxicity.
Margarine is basically a heart attack in a tub, loaded with trans fats (from hydrogenation, the process of turning liquid vegetable oils into a solid). Trans fats contribute to heart disease, cancer, bone problems, hormone imbalance and infertility, as well as low birth weight, growth problems and learning disabilities in children. Butter, on the other hand, is the real health food—it's loaded with vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, CLA (if the cows are limited to eating grass and not grains), and many other nutrients your body needs.
Low-Fat and Fat-Free Foods
The low-fat craze has been one of the most damaging dietary fads in history, leaving many tens of millions with chronic illness in its wake. The idea that all fat (especially animal-derived fat) is bad for you is nothing more than a mistaken interpretation of science—one that has become "stuck" in Western culture. Of course, you want to avoid the previously touted "healthy" vegetable oils as not only are they highly processed but they have far too much omega-6 fats.
A healthier fat alternative that is not promoted by the media or most nutritionists, are saturated fats from animals and vegetables. They provide a source of a number of important health benefits. In fact, your body cannot function without saturated fats! They are needed for the proper function of your cell membranes, immune system, heart, brain and other organs. In fact, a recent "landmark" study provides compelling evidence that the type of fat you consume, not the amount, is what imparts the cardiovascular benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
When fats are removed from foods, it leaves them tasteless and unappealing. So manufacturers load them up with sugar and sodium and chemicals, in massive quantities. So stick with unaltered whole foods, including full-fat unpasteurized dairy. They're much better for you—and they taste much better too!
Breakfast cereals are a favorite way to start the day for many, but they are rife with toxic ingredients and misleading advertising. Of course, the first problem is that they are grain-based, which I've already covered. But even many of the so-called "natural" varieties are contaminated with toxic pesticides, carcinogenic fumigants and solvents, and genetically modified ingredients. The only label that can give you any peace of mind is the "USDA Certified 100% Organic" label.
In 2011, independent testing by the Cornucopia Institute had shown that several breakfast cereals marketed as "natural"—even some that claim to avoid genetically engineered ingredients contain high levels of genetically engineered ingredients. Typical American breakfast staples, such as cereal, muffins, and the like, are popular because of wildly successful corporate PR. You might even consider skipping breakfast altogether.
But wait—isn't that the most important meal of your day? Compelling new research indicates differently. Skipping breakfast may reduce your hunger, stimulate your metabolism, level out your blood sugar, and stabilize your insulin levels throughout the day. Properly done intermittent fasting will actually help eliminate most food cravings and help you achieve your ideal body weight.
Choose Real Food Instead!
When considering food—regardless of whether it's organic, local, from a supermarket or from a farmer's market, make sure you keep the following criteria in mind. Most often, the best place to find high-quality foods is from a sustainable agricultural group in your area. If you're unsure of what foods you should be eating and in what proportions, or you just need some help getting started, please refer to my free nutrition plan. Make sure that your food is:
Grown/raised without pesticides and chemical fertilizers (organic foods fit this description, but so do some non-organic foods)
||Is fresh (if you have to choose between wilted organic produce or fresh conventional produce, the latter may still be the better option as freshness is important for optimal nutrient content)
|Not genetically engineered
||Not grown/raised in a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO)
|Contains no added growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs
||Grown/raised with the laws of nature in mind (meaning animals are fed their native diets, not a mix of grains and animal byproducts, and have free access to the outdoors)
|Contains no preservatives, artificial sweeteners, or artificial anything
||Grown/raised sustainably (using minimal amounts of water, protecting the soil from burnout, and turning animal wastes into natural fertilizers instead of environmental pollutants)