It can be hard to find nutritious, wholesome foods in a world where supermarket shelves are lined with ultra-processed, sugar-laden products – but the real struggle comes when these foods are deceptively marketed as health foods. Here are 3 of the biggest culprits to watch out for when you’re hitting the shops.
Muesli bars and cereal
Even the muesli, granola and cereal brands labelled as “all natural”, “healthy” and “nutritious” can be harbouring added sugars and preservatives. Ignore the enticing packaging with pictures of whole grains and fresh fruit – look to the ingredients list and nutrition panel instead. If you see added sugars, artificial flavours and other preservatives, you’ll know the marketing has been a ruse. It’s so-called health foods like these that are driving up rates of obesity as the sneaky added sugars add up fast – and we don’t even know we’re eating them. Here’s the problem: rates of obesity have more than tripled since 1975, affecting 1.9 billion people around the globe. Studies have found a direct link between obesity and excessive added sugar consumption, as the fructose promotes the development of visceral fat. This is the dangerous kind of fat which wraps around the abdominal organs – including your liver – leaving you vulnerable to a number of health conditions, like non-alcoholic fatty liver. This deadly disease affects 25% of the population, and it’s showing no sign of slowing its spread. But the good part is that we have some sway over our risk for developing this condition – and it starts with what we put in our bowls. While you might be able to reduce the preservative count in your cereals and muesli bars by picking the healthiest, most pared-back option in store, a truly added sugar-free product is hard to find. That’s why it’s safer – and cheaper – to make your own. Simply mix together some of the following ingredients to get a gut-boosting, heart healthy alternative to the plethora of disappointing supermarket cereals:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Flax seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Chia seeds
- Coconut flakes
- Puffed quinoa or brown rice
- Serve with fresh fruit like strawberries or banana
If you’re making muesli bars, simply mix these ingredients in with some coconut oil and peanut butter, then shape them into bars to enjoy at your leisure. But that’s just one idea – there’s an endless list of ingredients you can use to make your own muesli bars or cereals, so you don’t have to rely on overpriced, unhealthy options from the shops.
We know what you’re thinking – yes, yoghurt is healthy, after all, it’s loaded with probiotics, calcium and vitamin A, but when you pick fruit and other flavoured varieties you often end up with added sugars, colours and preservatives. For instance, Gippsland’s Blueberry Twist yoghurt packs a whopping 25.4 grams of sugar in one 160-gram serve – that shoots you past the daily added sugar limit for women in just one snack! We know the dangers of eating too much added sugar, but artificial colours that often feature in flavoured yoghurts also pose a scary risk – recent research revealed that they may play a role in triggering the onset of inflammatory bowel disease, which is a group of conditions defined by chronic inflammation. They often include bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. Red and yellow dyes were found most likely to create inflammation, though most other artificial dyes are similarly unhealthy.
Some flavoured yoghurts are loaded with preservatives like emulsifiers, which are used to maintain freshness, but these additives have also been linked with chronic inflammation, obesity and gut dysbiosis as they trigger chemical changes in the body. Your best bet is to go for a plain, natural yoghurt with no added sugars or preservatives – Greek yoghurt works well for texture, taste and health properties. If you’re looking to add a little flavour to your yoghurt, add some fresh fruit, nuts or nut butters, and seeds – or even use it in your savoury dishes like soups and tacos. You’ll be surprised at how well it matches the tang and creaminess of sour cream!
Processed gluten-free snacks
You might think that the deceptively-marketed gluten-free section in the supermarket is made up of healthy ingredients, but you’d be surprised to see that some of these snacks actually outmatch their gluten-based alternatives for sugar content by a long shot. While it’s understandable that gluten-free snacks aren’t necessarily healthy by default, but the misconception lives on that these products are healthier – and you’d be forgiven for thinking so when considering the marketing labels and rustic, earthy-looking packaging – and it doesn’t help that this section is often positioned close to the so-called “health food” section, which as we mentioned earlier, is not so healthy!
But even simple gluten-free range products like breads and wraps can be teeming with preservatives and sugar. Research shows that many gluten-free processed snacks are not only higher in sugar, but drastically lower in fibre and protein than their counterparts. You’d be better off opting for gluten-free whole food snacks like nuts, gluten-free whole grains, fruit, plain yoghurt, or some crunchy veggies with hummus.
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