Sure, you know to limit the number of Karlie Kloss Kookies you snarf down and to only hit the Mexicue truck on Fridays, but despite your best efforts, you may be sabotaging your diet — and your overall health— by eating certain foods that you only think are healthy.
It’s not your fault if you’re confused. From high-calorie fruit smoothies labeled “no sugar added” to snack bars with "organic” printed all over the wrapper, it’s hard to know what is — and isn’t — actually good for you, even if you’re not a nutrition virgin.
“Over the past 50 years, certain foods, including wheat and soy, have been genetically modified, so foods that were once considered healthy aren’t as good for us any more,” says Jeffery Morrison, M.D., a nutrition specialist in New York. “Add to that creative marketing, and it’s natural that people are getting confused.”
Here, we sleuthed out the biggest health offenders in your fridge and kitchen cabinets. Read on to find out what to avoid to improve your weight, energy, and health.
Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh
Chances are, you've heard that soy is good for you. And then, that it is, in fact, terrible for you. It seems like there’s a new study released every week on the benefits or evils of soy. So, what’s the verdict?
“The problem with soy is that it is almost always genetically modified,” says Dr. Morrison. The reason soy was modified in the first place was to increase crop yield and make it resistant to pests, he explains. “As a result, many people are allergic to it, which results in bloating and gassiness.”
Another reason soy is on the not-so-good list is that it contains phytoestrogens, which can make you have irregular or extra crampy periods. “A small amount of soy can be beneficial, but if you’re a vegan and eating it two or three times a day, the negative effects start kicking in,” explains Dr. Morrison. These include blocking absorption of vitamin K and B12, zinc, calcium, and magnesium, according to an article in the Nutrition Digest.
Breathe easy sushi fans: Edamame is off the hook. “A serving of up to 20 bean pods once a week or so is fine,” Morrison says. If you’re a veggie and can’t give up soy, look for tempeh, made with fermented soy beans; the fermenting process negates the negative effects of soy. Read the labels of snack bars and pre-made smoothies to see if they contain soy.
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You may pat yourself on the back for being virtuous when you sweeten your morning coffee with agave nectar, but the truth is it’s not likely better for you than plain, old sugar. “To turn agave into syrup, it goes through the same process that corn does when it is transformed into high-fructose corn syrup,” says Dr. Morrison.
And any benefits that agave once had — lower fructose count and calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium content — get filtered out. “At the end of the day, agave syrup or nectar is a processed sweetener,” he says.
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Remember a few years back when pomegranate juice was all the rage? It was supposed to make us younger, prettier, and smarter — if you bought into the hype. Turns out, an eight-ounce glass has a calorie count equal to a full can of Coke.
“Pomegranates do have polyphenols and antioxidants, which are good for you, but it’s always better to eat the fruit than to drink the juice — no matter what fruit you’re talking about,” says Dr. Morrison. If you still want to drink pomegranate juice — the fruit is hard to eat, after all — cut it with seltzer to reduce the calories.
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Who can resist a mid-afternoon snack of buttery microwave popcorn? While the kind that is low in calories won’t derail your diet, eating it regularly may make it hard for you to have a baby (say what now?) and may increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Your baby-making ability may be damaged by perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a synthetic chemical used in the linings of microwave-popcorn bags, according to a study performed by UCLA.
The Alzheimers’ risk may be due to the presence of diacetyl, a chemical that gives popcorn that yummy butter smell. Many companies, including Orville Redenbacher, removed diacetyl from their products after workers and popcorn addicts developed respiratory diseases from exposure to the chemical. Be sure to check the ingredients on the box before popping up a batch.
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If the ageless Madonna and natural beauty Gwyneth Paltrow like it, it has to be good, right? Not necessarily. “If you are Madonna, and your chef is preparing homemade tofu (that is slow-cooked the traditional way and not overly processed) and fermented veggies and prepares food daily based on how you're feeling, then I can see a macrobiotic diet being somewhat beneficial,” says Aimee Raupp. M.S., L.A.C. and author of Chill Out & Get Healthy
However, it’s not likely you, a mere mortal, will have the time nor the resources to prepare macrobiotic meals in the way they need to be prepared for optimal nutrient absorption, she explains. And, because the diet is low on protein and healthy fats, you many ultimately wind up with a B12 deficiency and running on "empty," she says.
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What could be unhealthy about a steaming cup of oatmeal? If you’re gluten sensitive, turns out it can be a lot. Most oatmeals, including instant and those that you get at Starbucks and McDonald's, are likely to contain gluten, says Dr. Morrison.
Steel-cut oatmeal prepared the old-fashioned way on the stove is in the clear. Other seemingly healthy grains — barley, rye, and spelt — all contain gluten and can lead to bloating and constipation and make it harder for you to absorb all those vitamins and minerals from all those truly good foods you’re eating.
Photo: Via Kashi