In the words of Jim Gaffigan, “I think your sweet tooth owes your fat a$@ an apology.” But really, does it? Who or what is responsible for you being unhappy with the shape of your body? Here’s something to think about, maybe it’s not as much your fault as you thought. There are hidden ingredients lurking in our everyday, “healthy” foods that are sabotaging your health.
First, we all know that eating too many sweets can lead to tooth decay, obesity, and a gamut of health problems. Yeah, yeah, we all know, put down the doughnuts and lose the weight. Turns out, this is only a piece of the puzzle. How many of us are aware of all the hidden sweeteners in what we consider “healthy” everyday foods? These sweeteners are in places you wouldn’t even THINK to look.
Let’s take a look at some breakfast examples – maybe you grab a healthy, fiber-filled, whole grain granola bar on the way out the door for breakfast. Or maybe you have a bit more time and make some whole grain toast or a bagel? Or perhaps you pour yourself some whole grain cereal? Wanting to keep the momentum going from your “healthy” breakfast you go for a salad. Good idea, right? WRONG, WRONG and WRONG !!! We’re not even going to touch snacks and dinner right now, there are enough hidden saboteurs in our breakfasts and lunches to keep us pissed off for weeks. So if you’re faithfully hitting the gym, training hard, and still not getting results, or the scale has been stuck at the same place for way too long, this could be one of the answers as to why you are literally a hamster on a treadmill. These hidden ingredients are more than likely sabotaging your weight loss efforts.
I did a little research on my own at the local “big chain” grocery store, and here is what I found out about what a lot of us are eating for breakfast:
I pulled EVERY single loaf of bread off the shelf and examined the ingredients. EVERY single one of them contained either sugar (refined) or high fructose corn syrup, or just corn syrup (which is still a processed/refined sugar). Good news though, this is slowly changing. Some stores now carry at least a brand or two that doesn’t contain processed sugar.
I looked at all of the granola bars, and guess what? Same story!
I looked at all of the bagels and English muffins and again, could not find one without sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or corn syrup.
I looked at ALL the cereal and did find one or two without added sweeteners, but they were few and far between. There is also processed sugar in your beans, in your peas and even some of your frozen vegetables. It’s just madness. If nothing else, this should teach us, ALWAYS READ THE INGREDIENTS!! Don’t fall for their big labeling on the outside. The truth is they will promote the good part of the products big and bold while the unhealthy part will be hidden in the ingredients list. Also, there are several sneaky ways to label sweeteners, (like calling table sugar sucrose, because that is its technical term). Turns out what we thought were “healthy,” whole grain foods were really not so healthy after all.
But, we all need a little sugar in our diets, right? Wrong again! At least, not the kind they’re feeding us; or you’re probably eating. Natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables are fine; and yes, our body does need those. But you have to remember these sugars are bound up in an amazingly brilliant package that contains fiber, enzymes, and vitamins that deliver and process the sugar throughout the body very differently than refined sugars.
The human body is designed to crave three things for survival: sugars, salts and fats. In very simplified terms, sugars are craved to indicate the ripeness of certain foods and are an energy source, salts are craved because they are required for essential bodily functions, and fats are craved because they are a great, dense source of energy. The food industry has figured this out and makes products that contain this salt-fat-sugar combination. In the Washington Post article, “Fat, Salt and Sugar Alter Brain Chemistry, Make Us Eat Junk Food,” David Kessler, the former head of the FDA who was instrumental in getting nutritional labeling put on food products, found that the salt-fat-sugar combinations found in many processed foods will actually stimulate the brain to crave more. The food industry manipulates this neurological response, designing foods to induce people to eat more than they should. Here are only a few ways refined sugars affect the human body:
- Refined sugar does not contain fiber, minerals, proteins, fats, or enzymes; only empty calories. Sooo, your body has to use vital nutrients from healthy cells to metabolize this incomplete food. Calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium are taken from various parts of the body to make use of the sugar.
- Refined sugar creates free radicals. Free radicals are what speed up the aging process. Who wants to look old?! The only people I know that want to look older are high school and college kids trying to buy booze. The rest of us? Not so much.
- Too much sugar upsets the body’s blood-sugar balance, which releases insulin that the body uses to keep blood sugar at a constant and safe level. Ok, fine, great, so what? Well, insulin promotes the storage of fat!
- Refined sugar feeds the bad bacteria in your gut, upsetting your gut microbiome. Gut health is responsible for a huge part of our overall health, so if your gut isn’t healthy, the rest of you isn’t going to be either. In fact, take a look at what they’re doing to help people dealing with things like obesity and irritable bowel – they’re transplanting feces so their guts can be populated with the good bacteria from healthy people’s gut. Crazy, right?
Ok, but what about the other stuff? Like high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)? Still crap. You should immediately drop that loaf of bread like it’s a hot potato and run away screaming. Ok, not really, but any way you look at it, your body does not NEED high fructose corn syrup (although now it is being called corn sugar, so watch out for tricky labeling). Some people (like the Corn Refiners Association, the ones making it) claim high fructose corn syrup is no different on the body than refined sugar; and if that is the truth, then it’s STILL TERRIBLE!! I tend to believe that HFCS is actually much worse for us, but I always encourage consumers to do their own research and draw their own conclusions. One study I found particularly interesting done by a Princeton research team demonstrated that rats fed high fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than rats fed table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same. I’m sure you can also find studies making claims that HFCS does not affect weight; so don’t trust me, check it out for yourself. Also, find out who paid for the study, motivation is always a factor when it comes to results.
The only fructose you need to eat is what is found in nature; but if you just can’t resist, remember, everything in moderation. Moderation might be less than you think, this stuff is in practically everything; mayonnaise, ketchup, salad dressings (remember that “healthy” salad you were planning on having for lunch?), barbecue sauces, processed meats, coffee creamers, even some popular weight loss drinks. Seems like they are less worried about making you slim and more worried about making their wallets fat.
The other processed carbohydrate we should talk about is refined grains: Unlike whole grains that contain at least part of their bran and germ layers, processed and refined grains, which are found in our donuts, bagels, bread, pasta, and most desserts, basically everything we as runners love to double down on, have both the bran and germ removed during processing; therefore all of the nutrients in these layers are also removed. Uh-oh. Hence the reason for “enriched” grains. Nutrients that were lost during food processing are added back. Unfortunately several nutrients are lost and only a few are added back in. And, even after enrichment, refined grains often do not contain nearly as many nutrients and much less fiber than their whole grain counterparts. With around 80% of the fiber removed you end up with rapid-release carbs that creates a blood sugar spike, telling the body to store fat. Not to mention the bulk needed to sweep the gut of debris and keep things “moving along” is no longer there. This bulk is needed to support the body’s natural elimination and detoxification process, without it things get a little stagnant if you know what I mean.
So, let’s review –
- Sugars/sweeteners are everywhere in common food items, even ones that don’t need it (like bean, peas and some frozen veggies)
- Read the ingredients on EVERYTHING!!! Even after all this, you will be shocked to see where else they put these ingredients (including some multi-vitamins!!).
- Do your own research and draw your own conclusions because the food industry is only going to tell you what they want you to hear.
Just for the fun of it, let’s take a look at your “healthy” lunch:
Your lunch might consist of several things, the two main parts being turkey on whole wheat bread and a yogurt. We made our turkey sandwich with whole wheat bread (bought from the big chain store), mayonnaise (fat free, since at this point we think that’s healthier), turkey lunch meat, cheese, lettuce, and tomato. We chose a low calorie whole wheat bread that on some programs has a very low point value so it’s considered “good,” i.e., 1 point for two slices. This bread still included brown sugar in the ingredients (so sugar with molasses added to it). Next, we add mayonnaise. The first four ingredients in our fat-free mayo are: water, modified food starch, sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Ingredients are listed in order from the most ingredients to the least. The three main ingredients of our mayonnaise contained some sort of processed food. Now we add the meat, the first six ingredients in our oven roasted turkey breast lunch meat are: turkey breast, water, modified corn starch, sodium lactate, salt, and sugar. So now we have sugar in our bread, sugar and high fructose corn syrup in our mayonnaise, and sugar in our lunch meat. Our lettuce, cheese and tomato are okay. Oh wait, maybe not. If we are eating fat-free or some other fake cheese, then we should read the ingredients. The first three ingredients in our fat-free cheese are: water, casein, and corn syrup. So, again one more item in our “healthy” lunch that is not so healthy. Now let’s look at our yogurt. First, we’ll look at one with actual sugar in the ingredients list, and then we’ll look at a diet yogurt because honestly, a lot of yogurts these days use sugar substitutes instead of sugar. The first five ingredients in our “regular” yogurt are as follows: cultured, pasteurized, grade A, low-fat milk; sugar; strawberries; modified corn starch; and high fructose corn syrup. So we are eating more sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Other than our veggies everything we have eaten so far contained fat-inducing, unnatural ingredients. If we opted for diet yogurt instead of “regular” yogurt the first four ingredients are: cultured, pasteurized, grade A, nonfat milk; high fructose corn syrup; corn starch; and modified cornstarch. Many yogurts will use aspartame or sucralose in place of sugar. Either way, you are eating a bunch of stuff that is doing your body more harm than good.
SOLUTION: You can buy bread, breakfast bars, English muffins, etc. that do not contain these things, but you will have to go on an Easter egg hunt to find them. I recommend buying sprouted grain bread, but anything made with whole grain and no sugars is acceptable. Some places to look for these:
- The health food section of your grocery store, if it has one. There is a good chance the bread will probably be in the freezer as it will lack all the chemicals and preservatives that commercial breads contain to prolong shelf life.
- Your local farmers’ market.
- Your local health food store.
- Order online. I personally order bread online and then store it in the deep freeze.
- Bake your own. Turns out there are some very easy bread recipes that won’t take you all day to make, and you’ll know exactly what the ingredients are.
One of the most powerful things you can do to take control of your own health is to be an informed consumer. Often this means taking the time to read the ingredients on everything you’re putting in your cart and deciding what foods you choose to nourish yourself with. Armed with the right knowledge you have the ability to take charge of your health, your training and ultimately your goals.