10 of the Most Overrated Health Foods
Thanks to good marketing and mainstream media, certain foods often become glorified for their health benefits whether they warrant it or not. That is not to say that these foods aren’t healthy, they most certainly are, but they are not necessarily the magic pill, silver bullet, or best of the bunch they are made out to be. So, here are the details on 10 of the most overrated health foods in the business, so you can make an informed decision on whether you need to include them in your diet or not.
10 Overrated Health Foods
From green juice to egg whites, here are some of the most overrated health foods and food trends on the market.
1. Egg Whites
Egg whites are one of the most overrated health foods out there. Sure, eggs whites are a source of protein, but it is important to remember that your body doesn’t only function on macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats), it actually functions on micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) which in the case of the eggs are mostly found in the yolk. The idea that dietary cholesterol and saturated fats from foods like egg yolk are problematic is a food myth that is perpetuated by mainstream media and needs to end. You are much better off eating the whole egg as a source of protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Not only is it more nutritious, but by only eating the whites you are contributing to more food waste as you are discarding the yolks.
2. Turkey Bacon
Turkey bacon rose in popularity as the myth of saturated fat gained momentum. Yes, turkey bacon might be lower in saturated fat than traditional pork bacon, but that does not necessarily make it any better. Regular bacon comes from the belly of the big that is cured, smoked, and sliced. Turkey bacon the other hand is made by layering ground-up turkey and then flavoring it to taste like real bacon. While turkey bacon might technically shave a few calories off of your meal, the difference is actually negligible, and you are often adding additional sodium and preservatives. You can certainly include turkey bacon in a balanced diet, but you can also include traditional bacon as well. Regardless of what type of bacon you chose the most important factor is the quality of the bacon itself; opt for higher-welfare meat and bacon with minimal additional ingredients. Try to buy local from a farmers market, butcher, or specialty shop, and always be sure to compare and read the ingredients list.
3. Protein Powder
This one might ruffle some feathers, but it needs to be said. The health and fitness industry promotes protein powders as the be-all and end-all of the health community, but the reality is that very few people actually need them. As someone who played competitive sports, and consumed protein powders for years, it was a big shift in mindset even for myself to consider that protein powder might actually be one of the most overrated health foods. But think about it, in the grand scheme of whole foods, protein powder is one of the furthest things from whole food, and one of the most processed products out there. Most brands are loaded with fillers, binders, and sweeteners, and their sources of protein are heavily refined and processed. In fact, depending on the type and source, protein powders can be very difficult to digest, absorb and assimilate, causing them to be difficult for many people to digest. There are certainly some versions that are better than others, however, they are few and far between. If you need to add protein to your diet, you might as well just eat protein-containing whole foods (meat, seafood, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds). Although specific people in specific situations might benefit from using a high-quality protein powder, the average person likely has no use for it.
4. Nut Milk
Ok, let’s get something straight, I use almond milk, coconut milk, and cashew milk from time to time myself, but I don’t think they are the prized health food they are made out to be. Can they be included in a healthy diet? Yes. Are they a must-have magical health food? No. Nut milk was designed and marketed as an alternative to dairy milk for those who are intolerant or following a plant-based diet, however, store-bought versions are considered processed food. Store-bought nut milk often contains added sweeteners, and unsweetened versions still contain thickeners and preservatives. It is also important to understand that much of the nutritional value in nut milk is present due to the addition of added vitamins and minerals. Look at any nutrition label of nut milk and you will see it contains vitamins and minerals, however, look at the ingredients list you will see that they have all been added in as they are not naturally occurring in the food. You can certainly use nut milk from time to time, and if you want the best quality you can make simple homemade almond milk for a lot less money.
5. Agave Nectar
Food manufacturers will often brag about using agave nectar in their products, and although it is technically a whole food, the sweetener commonly sold on grocery store shelves is more of a syrup than a traditional agave nectar. Traditional Mexican agave nectar has been used for thousands of years and is made by boiling the sap from the leaves of the agave plant. However, the versions sold in supermarkets today is boiled and refined further into a syrup that has lost most of its nutritional benefits. In fact, it’s processed so much that is said to be 150 times sweeter and higher in sugar than actual table sugar. There is certainly nothing wrong with using a sweetener from time to time, however, you would be much better off using a natural sweetener like raw honey or maple syrup, or actual agave nectar if you can find some.
Sandwich wraps are seen as a lighter choice for lunch but in reality that isn’t always the case. Wraps became increasingly popular as bread was vilified as the source of weight gain, however, it is important to understand that, in the case of both wraps and bread, not all types are created equal. Whether you are opting for a wrap or a slice of bread the most important thing to look at is the ingredients list. Many store-bought wraps are made with refined flour, vegetable oil, added sugar, and upwards of 15 ingredients. Additionally, they are not always the “lighter” option as many wraps actually contain more calories (not that they matter) and carbohydrates than two slices of bread. In many cases, you are better off opting for high-quality bread, such as sourdough or sprouted-grain bread, as they contain minimal ingredients, and in the best cases only flour, water, and salt. That is not to say you can’t use wraps, you most certainly can, just be sure to opt for the ones with minimal added ingredients.
7. Greek Yogurt
Yogurt is one of the most confusing aisles at grocery stores, and with good reason. Walk into any supermarket and there are about 100 different types of yogurt available touting various health claims. If you’ve been reading my blog for some time, I think it goes without saying that buying plain yogurt, whether it is traditional or Greek, is always a better option than buying a flavored version to help limit the amount of added sugar. However, the difference between regular yogurt and Greek yogurt, is not necessarily as broad as it might seem. In order to make yogurt, you only need two ingredients; whole milk and bacterial cultures. The mixture is then left to ferment until the bacteria grows, produces lactic acid, and gels the milk proteins to produce regular yogurt. The difference between regular yogurt and Greek yogurt is merely the next step in the preparation process; Greek yogurt is strained extensively to remove any excess liquid and lactose (milk’s natural sugar), to create a thicker yogurt. The removal of the excess liquid and natural sugars creates a yogurt with higher protein content, higher fat, and slightly fewer carbohydrates. However that does not mean it is necessarily better than regular yogurt, it’s simply a different production process. Comparing traditional yogurt to Greek yogurt is like comparing a baked potato to a boiled potato – they are both fine. What is more important is to focus on the quality of the dairy you are purchasing, and opt for plain, full-fat versions to ensure you are getting the most nutrition from your yogurt.
8. Green Smoothies
Before anyone flies off the handle, I don’t have a problem with green smoothies, I just don’t think they are worth the hype. Of course, eating greens is beneficial for a healthy diet, but just because you are drinking them in your smoothie does not mean you are doing it any better. What many people don’t realize is that, depending on your ingredients, many green smoothies contain more sugar than a candy bar. In order to compensate for the flavor of the greens, many people will add excess amounts of fruit which can spike blood sugar, and doing this regularly is not beneficial. The benefit to a green smoothie is the actual greens themselves, so you can also just eat greens at your meal. If you want to add them to your smoothie, you can certainly do that too, just make sure you aren’t making the common smoothie mistakes so you can the most out of those leafy greens.
9. Brown Rice
Brown rice has long been touted as superior to white rice but without good reason. Contrary to popular belief, white rice is not necessarily less nutritious for you and can still be a very healthy choice when the best types are selected. The difference between brown and white rice is that brown rice is a whole grain, as it contains the bran and germ, while white rice has had the bran and germ removed from the grain. The bran and the germ contain most of the essential nutrients in the grain, so technically brown rice contains more fiber and nutrition than its counterpart white rice. However, because the bran and germ have not been removed, brown rice also contains many anti-nutrients, such as phytic acid, which make it harder for your body to break down and absorb the nutrients. These anti-nutrients are a natural part of the grain, as they protect the vital reproductive tools of the grain, however, they can cause digestive distress for many people who have trouble breaking down the bran and germ, so white rice is still a great option.
10. Fruit Juice
I do enjoy a good glass of juice from time to time, but I don’t think it is essential to a healthy diet. Whole foods come packaged the way they are for a reason. Fruit is a source of natural sugars, fibers, and nutrients, and they are packaged together in their most nutritious form. Pressing fruit into a juice not only removes the beneficial fiber but concentrates the sugars into a liquid format that is more quickly absorbed and can therefore spike your blood sugar faster. Additionally, once pressed fruit juices can oxidize and lose their nutritional value very quickly. Most fruit juices found on grocery store shelves have actually been pasteurized in order to stay shelf-stable for a longer period of time, which diminishes the availability of many of the nutrients that were previously present. Of course, fruit juice can be consumed as part of a healthy diet, but eating an actual piece of fruit is often just as healthy if not more.
The Bottom Line
Remember, all of the foods on this list can most certainly be included in a healthy diet, however in most cases so can the foods they were designed to replace. When it comes to eating well it is important to think critically, and regardless of what type of diet you follow, opt for the least processed foods possible.