Transitioning into a healthier lifestyle can become overwhelming with the amount of conflicting advice thrown around, not to mention the number of fad diets and trendy eating habits constantly gaining then losing traction.. gluten-free, dairy free, paleo, low carb, keto, atkins, grain free, the list is a mindfield and it’s endless.
Eating healthy does not mean going cold turkey on the foods you love, and I would seriously question a diet that advocated cutting out an entire food group. Most of the time healthy eating just requires making small adjustments to ensure that you’re getting a good source of nutrients from a range of foods.
I see a lot of re-occurring misconceptions and ‘healthy’ habits that are actually naively misguided, so despite efforts to eat healthily they can sometimes be a little in vain.
These are 5 of the worst offenders I commonly see!
We all know that sugar is unhealthy, addictive and provides zero nutritional benefit, but it unfortunately hides in so many foods without you realising. Cereals, condiments and fruit juices all contain hidden sugar bombs. Unfortunately the worst offenders are products marketed as healthy or low-calorie, so whilst throwing out that junk food and instead opting for granola, fruit bars or trail mix in a bid to be healthier, the effort is unfortunately redundant.
Where else does sugar lurk? Basically anything pre-packaged is a potential for hidden sugar. That’s not to say all packaged food is bad, it just means that reading labels is a must if opting for something pre-made. Sauces (think pasta sauces, sweet chilli, tomato ketchup), granola and muesli, dried fruit, tinned fruit and trail mix are all high in sugar, and be especially careful of low-fat or low-calorie products. For example a lot of fruit juice has as much if not more sugar than a mars bar! And granola or muesli can contain as much sugar as a bowl of sugary cereal. Whilst the effort to go for healthy options is there, unfortunately the sugar bombs are too.
Another terrible offender is artificial sources of sugars hidden under several monikers such as aspartame or sorbitol. Whilst sugar can be processed by your body, artificial sugars are alien. If you think back to cave men days, sweeteners were not around but as time has gone on companies have started to use them in their products for two reasons: because they’re cheap and they make the food taste good whilst limiting the calories. It’s all a marketing ploy, they can sell you a product that both tastes good but is low in calories. They can pump the sugar in without you noticing because there are so many names for artificial sugars. My motto is if you cannot understand the ingredient or require a dictionary to decipher the label, then it probably is hiding something.
So what about fruit? Yes fruit contains sugar and eating too much of any type of sugar will result in extra weight around the waistline. The bigger picture is that it also contains fibre which is essential as part of a healthy diet. Sugar without the fibre is highly addictive. I bet you wouldn’t eat 5 apples in a row, but a whole bag of sweets? There is where the problem lies. Because the fibre in fruit fills you up it prevents overeating and helps to keep your digestive system ticking over. Fruit is best consumed in raw form rather than dried or in a juice.
When the fat is removed from a product it’s replaced with sugar (or sweeteners more often than not) to make it taste better. A common misconception is that eating fat makes you fat, but that is completely untrue. Eating too much of anything increases weight gain. Fat is a macronutrient that your body needs to survive. It’s the primary source of energy and essential for absorbing vitamins and regulating the body’s core temperature.
The fat in the food is satsiating meaning it fills you up. Low fat and diet options aren’t satisfying. The fat is replaced with sugar which is not filling, highly addictive and induces cravings for more. A lot of ‘diet’ or low-fat options include yoghurt, diet drinks and snack bars.
If you’ve ever noticed eating more of these foods that is why. Often sugar cravings are a sign of needing more fat. Next time you’re craving something sweet, eat a handful of nuts and see how you feel after.
Just have the full fat and enjoy in moderation.
Cutting all carbs
Why are carbs demonized? They contain glucose which are the body’s main source of energy! All organs in the body (including the heart and brain) needs carbs to survive. Cutting carbs is detrimental on so many levels, resulting in low energy, decreased brain functioning and problems with digestion.
Refined carbs absolutely need to be cut as they consist of high fat, high sugar and other addictive substances. These are the typical fast food offenders that aren’t natural, come pre-packaged and provide no nutritional benefit. Junk food.
However lately it seems to be trendy to cut all carbs or replacing with alternatives such as courgette pasta, cauliflower rice or naked noodles instead of potato, rice and pasta. It has also become trendy to go gluten-free. Gluten itself is not bad for you, it’s the extra crap and additives in those products that contain gluten that have caused the food to become problematic. Gluten should only be avoided by celiacs (effecting approximately 1% of the population). Cutting carbs too low can result in decreased energy and increased chance of later overeating because the body and brain needs energy so will turn to foods high in quick sources such as high sugar. Eating wholesome, whole-wheat products is healthy and a good source of energy and fibre. They also taste good and make you feel good because your brain needs energy! Unless you have a specific health reason to cut carbs there is no legitimate reason to do so.
Focusing on calories
A calorie is a calorie, whether it comes from sugar, starch or natural food. But focusing food choices around calorie content misses the bigger picture. A calorie from natural sources of food will provide the body with additional benefits beyond the number on the kcal count. The chocolate bar might have the same calories as an apple, or less than an avocado but what you’ll be missing from that chocolate bar is the additional minerals and vitamins. Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients, which provide benefits for sleep, skin, hair and nails, as well as digestion, helping your body to fight injections and prevent diseases.
Unless you are on a calorie controlled diet requested by a health professional, you do not need to count calories. Focus on eating the rainbow! Count colours, not calories. If your diet mainly comprises of real, whole and colourful foods, then you’ll not need to worry about overeating.
The flip side of going too healthy.
Restriction does not work. Think back to being a child and being told no; it only leads to wanting whatever it is that you were being denied. Cutting something out completely, or changing your lifestyle to everything being absolutely healthy by being so constrained and restrictive about food can cause unhealthy obsessions. You can enjoy foods you like but in more healthy ways, for example by substituting dark chocolate for chocolate, sorbet for ice cream or making healthy snack bars. There are tons of recipes out there.
Or just have those foods you cannot live without in moderation. Moderation not deprivation. Think of filling your diet with a majority of real foods (i.e. one’s that do not need a dictionary to decipher the label) and then allow a few not so good foods in here and there so you are not craving and later bingeing on them. Any changes to a lifestyle should be maintainable and enjoyable that are in no way restrictive. When you fill the majority of your diet with wholesome real food you might start to notice cravings for junk food tend to dwindle anyway.
Are you guilty of making these mistakes?