These days it is rare to find two dietitians, nutritionists or food fanatics who agree on the same thing – particularly when it comes to what to eat for optimising health.
Social media has fostered an eruption of contradicting messages leaving the public (and many health professionals) confused and frustrated. However, there are some foods that we can all agree should be limited when it comes to building healthier, happier lifestyles…
Here are 5 foods to limit that we can all agree on…
Soft drinks basically have a whole supermarket aisle to themselves and you can buy a litre of the stuff for sixty cents! Just one regular soft drink (600 mL) has 16 teaspoons of sugar in it. Australians are consuming 22 kg of sugar every year and with drinks like these being the go-to thirst quenchers, it is not a difficult statistic to comprehend.
Based on the 2011-12 Australian Health Survey, sugar-sweetened beverages (including soft drink) were revealed as the greatest source of added sugar in the Australian diet, with young adults (18-35 yo) having the highest consumption. In response to such alarming trends, many public health groups (including the George Institute) are advocating for sugar-sweetened beverages to be phased out in specific locations, such as universities.
Soft drinks are not only bad for our waistlines, they are damaging to our teeth and bones due to their high phosphoric acid content (this goes for diet varieties too!). Approximately half of Australia’s 12 year olds have tooth decay in their adult teeth.
So, if it seems like a cheap and easy option now, you might want to take a deep breath and consider the health and dental expenses it could cost you later. Check out www.sugarbyhalf.com for extra reading and tips on how to reduce your sugar intake.
Highly-processed meat products
Processed meat products tend to be treated in a way that changes their taste or extends their shelf life and include hot dogs, corned beef, beef jerky, canned meat, sausage rolls and some meat-based sauces. Methods of processing may include smoking, curing or adding salt and other preservatives. Many of these products are also bathing in sugary marinades or wrapped in flakey pastry, such as the humble sausage roll. Mechanically processed meat products that do not change the nutritive value of the meat, such as mincing, should not be regarded as processed meat.
A high consumption of processed meat has been linked to cancer due to the carcinogenic chemicals that can be formed during their processing and high-temperature cooking.
Another, potentially less recognised, risk with highly-processed meat products is that we tend not to know their source. Did you check how and where the cattle were raised to produce the beef in that beef pie from the corner store Highly processed meat products tend to use the cheapest methods of farming where animals are treated poorly and endure highly stressful environments. As a result, these animals are likely to have higher levels of toxins and omega-6 fatty acids (pro-inflammatory) stored in their fat (which then goes into your body…).
Next time you’re at the supermarket or butcher, ask for 100% grass-fed meat and choose varieties that don’t contain any (or have minimal) additives. Grass-fed red meat contains up to five times as much omega-3 fat (anti-inflammatory) than grain-fed meat, as well as a higher content of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A and E. You can also sleep well at night knowing that you are supporting a more sustainable farming industry that allows their cattle to roam freely in the pastures and improve the nutritional quality of the soil.
Deep fried foods
Deep. Fried. Foods. That’s enough to make most mouths water! However, these foods are by far some of the biggest problems in our food supply that often get overlooked because of how common they are, but they are foods to avoid.
Frying oils used in take-away outlets are often cheap vegetable oils that are re-used over and over again… Yep – those crispy hot chips you ate yesterday might have been fried in the exact same oil that your friend’s hot chips were fried in a week ago!
These practices create what we all know to be bad for us, trans and hydrogenated fats. Once inside your body, these highly reactive fats contribute to oxidative stress and inflammation. As a result, your precious cells may become more vulnerable to damage and less efficient at carrying out their usual functions – leaving you more susceptible to illness and disease. In a society where our bodies are already under so much external stress, it is important for us to keep the internal stressors (that we mostly can control!) to a minimum.
The words ‘breakfast cereal’ are often interpreted as something that is automatically healthy. I mean, it’s breakfast – the most important meal of the day, and cereal – packed full of fibre and wholegrains, right? Wrong. Breakfast cereals, particularly those targeted at young children, tend to contain more sugar, artificial colours, flavourings and preservatives than they do of actual cereal. Just check the ‘best before’ date and consider whether you think a so-called ‘health food’ should last that long?
Unfortunately, sugary cereals are not real food. But how do you classify something as ‘sugary’? Flip the box over and read the ingredients list. Sugar, malt, nectar, honey, syrup and fruit juice concentrate are some of the many names for sugar. The closer the ingredient is to the top of the list, the more of it is in that product relative to the other ingredients. See this article by Hungry for Change for a more extensive list of names for sugar.
So, what could you have instead? Let’s move away from the idea that we can only have cereal for breakfast and put our thinking caps on. Here are some simple breakfast suggestions:
- 2 slices of the Protein Bread Co. low carb bread with avocado and a poached egg
- Natural (no added sugar) yoghurt with a handful of raw nuts and fresh berries (mix it up by going for fruit that is in season)
- Green smoothie made with banana, shredded coconut, cucumber, spinach, mint, a good dollop of natural yoghurt and milk of your choice
- Roasted sweet potato with avocado, crushed walnuts, fresh tomato and crumbled feta
- Whole-egg omelette filled with just about any veggies you like (try this combo: onion, mushroom, zucchini, capsicum) and shredded cheese
- Last night’s leftovers (because why not?)
Whether it is freshly squeezed or out of a bottle, juice is not the healthy choice that many consider it to be. Unfortunately, fruit juice is just the water and sugar from the fruit. The fibre and most of the vitamins have been left behind in the juicer. Not only is it a huge waste of good nutrition, but juice can also cause unfavourable spikes in your blood sugar (glucose), which can send your energy levels crashing down an hour or two later, leaving you hungry, irritable and searching for your next high.
Just 200 mL (less than 1 cup) of fruit juice has around 5 teaspoons of sugar! Considering that the World Health Organisation recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day for optimal health, this is almost your whole budget blown in a few mindless sips!
So, what could you have instead that is going to satisfy and nourish you, while also quenching your thirst for something fruity? Fruit smoothies are a much better option because the whole fruit is blended up into the beverage and the good stuff isn’t wasted. Smoothies also tend to include some good quality fat and protein (e.g., from the milk, yoghurt, nuts, seeds, etc.) which along with fibre, can help to improve digestion and prevent blood-sugar spikes. Why not try this low-sugar smoothie made with creamy avocado.
At the end of the day, it’s about being kind to your body and finding the right balance of foods and flavours that suit your appetite and health goals! Empower yourself by reading more food labels, checking the ingredients lists of packaged food products, and don’t be afraid to contact food manufacturers to learn more about the food products that you are choosing (or not choosing) to fuel your body with. Eat yourself to a brighter future!
- AUSNUT 2011–13 Food Nutrient Database [Internet]. Food Standards Australia New Zealand. 2014 [cited 2016 Apr 06].
- Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results – Food and Nutrients, 2011-12 [Internet]. Canberra 2014 [cited 2016 Apr 17].
- Amanda Grech. Nutritional and Food Science: Beverages Overview. Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics; University of Sydney 2016.
- AIHW & Dental Statistics & Research Unit, Australian Reasearch Centre for Population Oral Health, University Of Adelaide.
- Gunnars K. Is Red Meat Bad For You, or Good? An Objective Look 2016.
- Kresser C. Why Grass-Fed Trumps Grain-Fed 2013.