To Your Health
February, 2009 (Vol. 03, Issue 02)
Breads, Bagels, croissants...
Most commercial breads are made with enriched wheat, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and refined sweeteners such as high-fructose corn syrup. The lengthy list of ingredients includes the isolated synthetic ingredients also found in breakfast cereals. When examining the many bread choices available, bread that provides superior nutrition can be hard to find, but with some effort and label-reading, it can be done.
Bagels, English muffins and croissants also contain enriched wheat, refined sugars and in some products, trans fats. Many people believe these types of breads are healthier than "regular" bread, but in far too many cases, inspection of the ingredients list does not support this perception.
Try Instead: As with cereals, look for bread products made primarily with whole grains and a few other ingredients (water, yeast, honey and perhaps a touch of salt).
Health Food Bars
The name suggests that they offer good nutrition, but in many cases, closer examination shows enriched wheat, trans fats and refined sugars. Most of these contain the same non-nutritious ingredients found in breakfast cereals, just in the form of a bar.
Try Instead: Look for whole-food bars containing natural sources of protein, complex carbohydrates and nutrients: whole grains, nuts and seeds, and fruits and vegetables.
Flavored and Vitamin-Enriched Water
These products are much more popular today than five years ago. They are flavored with a multitude of different types of refined sugars. (Hint: The flavor is sugar.) The vitamins are the synthetic isolated vitamins that in most cases are made from coal tar (petroleum) from China.
Try Instead: When did good old water lose its appeal? You can always mix three or four parts water to one part 100 percent fruit juice; you'll get a little flavor without any of the negatives except a little added natural sugar.
Crackers, Pretzels and Popcorn
Crackers are viewed as healthier than cookies, but a closer look at the labels often reveals enriched wheat, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and refined sugars such as high-fructose corn syrup. Pretzels and popcorn are both considered healthy snacks, but pretzels often contain enriched wheat and partially hydrogenated fats (trans fats), and most microwave popcorn contains trans fats.
Try Instead: Pop your own popcorn (it's less expensive and better for you - just use canola or olive oil and salt sparingly), or look for natural prepackaged options. When shopping for crackers and pretzels, think whole grain and all-natural.
A number of salad dressings contain high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. The low-fat dressings are often higher in refined sugar.
Try Instead: Many conventional markets are now joining health-food stores in offering organic and all-natural salad dressings. And then there's the old standby: oil and vinegar.
Pasta comes in many shapes and sizes. It is most often made out of enriched wheat. The vegetable pastas are made out of durum semolina, which is not whole wheat.
Try Instead: Whole-wheat pasta isn't difficult to get used to, taste-wise, especially when you're topping it with a rich (natural) tomato sauce. The health benefits are far superior to standard durum pasta.
What Have We Learned?
All of these foods can contain superior nutrition if they include whole grains, healthy fats and non-refined sugars, but unfortunately, most don't. Truly superior nutrition requires returning to a diet that excludes prepackaged foods and convenience or fast foods. It requires taking the time to read through a list of ingredients to know what you are eating, and choosing whole foods. Talk to your doctor for more information about the hidden dangers in common foods and how you can avoid them.
Nancy Irven, DC, is an anti-aging specialist who practices in Crystal River, Fla.