June, 2015

Good Fiber, Bad Fiber – How The Different Types Affect You

Fiber can influence many aspects of health. From gut bacteria to weight loss, it is often considered a fundamental part of a healthy diet. Most people have a very basic understanding of fiber, and tend to lump it all into one category. However, the truth is that not all fiber is created equal. Some types are highly beneficial, while others can cause digestive problems in some people. This article explains everything you need to know about the different types of fiber.

What is Fiber and How is it Classified?

“Fiber” refers to a diverse group of carbohydrates that humans can not digest. We lack the digestive enzymes required to break them down, so they pass through most of the digestive system unchanged. The recommended intake is 38 grams for men, and 25 grams for women. However, most people are only eating around half of that, or 15-17 grams per day. Fiber is mostly found in plant foods, including vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. There is actually a huge variety of different fibers found in foods. The problem is that they are often classified in different ways, which can be highly confusing.

In 2001, fiber was formally classified into two main types:

  • Dietary fiber: Fiber found naturally in foods.

  • Functional fiber: Fiber that is extracted and isolated from whole foods, then added to processed foods.

However, there is a major problem with classifying fiber in this way. It tells us absolutely nothing about their health effects. A popular alternative method is to classify fiber based on its solubility (soluble vs insoluble), viscosity (viscous vs non-viscous) and fermentability (fermentable vs non-fermentable). Then there is yet another class of nutrients called resistant starches, which are often classified as dietary fibers.

Bottom Line: Fibers are indigestible carbohydrates found naturally in plant foods. They are often classified as either dietary (found naturally) or functional (added to foods).

Soluble vs Insoluble Fiber

The solubility of fiber refers to its ability to dissolve in water. Based on this, fiber has often been categorized as either soluble or insoluble:

  • Soluble fiber blends with water in the gut, forming a gel-like substance. It can reduce blood sugar spikes, and has various metabolic health benefits.

  • Insoluble fiber does not blend with the water and passes through the digestive system mostly intact. It functions mostly as a “bulking” agent, and may help speed the passage of food and waste through your gut.

Soluble fibers include gums, pectins, psyllium, beta-glucans and others. Insoluble fibers include lignin and cellulose. Different plant foods have varying proportions of soluble and insoluble fibers.

Bottom Line: Fiber is often categorized based on its ability to dissolve in water. Soluble fiber has various benefits for metabolic health, while insoluble fiber functions mostly as a bulking agent.

Fermentable Fiber

An estimated 100 trillion live bacteria reside in the human gut, mainly in the large intestine. These bacteria are actually crucial for optimal health of humans. They play various roles related to weight management, blood sugar control, immunity, brain function and mental health. They are so important that they are often referred to as the “forgotten organ”. Because humans can’t digest fiber, it ends up reaching the large intestine mostly unchanged.

This is where fermentable fiber comes into play. These are fibers that the friendly gut bacteria are able to digest (ferment) and use as fuel. This increases the number and balance of friendly gut bacteria, which also produce short-chain fatty acids with powerful health benefits. Most fermentable fibers are soluble, but there are also some insoluble fibers that can function in this way.

Fermentable fibers include pectins, beta-glucans, guar gum, inulin and oligofructose. The best whole food sources of fermentable fibers are beans and legumes. A 1-cup serving often provides up to half of the recommended daily intake of fiber. All that being said, one of the by-products of fiber fermentation is gas. This is why foods high in fermentable fiber can cause flatulence and stomach discomfort, especially in the beginning.

Bottom Line: Fermentable fiber is digested and used as fuel by the friendly bacteria in the gut. This can lead to various beneficial effects on health.

Viscous Fiber

Some types of soluble fibers form a thick gel when they blend with water. These are known as viscous fibers. Put simply, the viscosity of a fluid refers to its “thickness.” For example, honey is more viscous than water. When you eat viscous fiber, it forms a gel-like substance that “sits” in the gut. This slows down the digestion and absorption of nutrients, and results in a prolonged feeling of fullness and reduced appetite.

A review of 44 studies on fiber treatments found that only viscous fibers reduced food intake and caused weight loss. Viscous fibers include glucomannan, beta-glucans, pectins, guar gum and psyllium. Good whole food sources include legumes, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, oats and flax seeds.

Bottom Line: Viscous fibers form a gel-like substance that sits in the gut, leading to enhanced feelings of fullness, reduced appetite and weight loss.

Resistant Starch

Starches are the main types of carbohydrates in the diet. They are long chains of glucose molecules, found in potatoes, grains and many other foods. Some starch is actually resistant to digestion, so that it passes through the digestive system unchanged. This type of starch is called resistant starch, and it functions like soluble, fermentable fiber in the gut. Resistant starch has numerous powerful health benefits. It improves digestive health, enhances insulin sensitivity, lowers blood sugar levels and significantly reduces appetite. There are several good food sources of resistant starch, including green bananas, various legumes, cashews and raw oats.

Additionally, certain starchy foods tend to form large amounts of resistant starch if they are cooled down after cooking. This includes white potatoes and white rice. Raw potato starch is also very high in resistant starch, and some people eat it as a supplement.

Bottom Line: Resistant starch is a type of starch that escapes digestion. It functions like soluble, fermentable fiber, and has numerous health benefits.

Unique Fibers That Are Worth Highlighting

Several fibers have specific health implications, and are worthy of highlighting.

Fructans

A fructan is the term used to describe a small chain of fructose molecules. Oligofructose and inulin are the two main fructan varieties in the diet. They can feed the friendly bacteria in the gut, and have been shown to help treat certain types of diarrhea. However, fructans are also classified as FODMAPs, types of carbohydrates known to cause digestive issues in many people. In fact, fructans and other FODMAPs trigger adverse symptoms in 3 out of 4 people with irritable bowel syndrome, a common digestive disorder. The biggest source of fructans in the modern diet is wheat.

Beta-Glucan

The health benefits of beta-glucans have been extensively documented. These fibers have a specific molecular structure that makes them highly viscous in the gut. Beta-glucans can improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels. They can also significantly reduce cholesterol levels and increase feelings of fullness. The main food sources of beta-glucans are oats and barley.

Glucomannan

Glucomannan is a viscous fiber that is commonly marketed as a weight loss supplement. Numerous studies have shown that glucomannan can cause modest weight loss, fight constipation and improve risk factors for heart disease.

Bottom Line: Fructans are fibers that can cause adverse digestive symptoms in some people. Beta-glucans and glucomannan are soluble, viscous fibers with potent health benefits.

Take Home Message

Fibers that are soluble, viscous and fermentable seem to be the healthiest, by far. Resistant starches are also incredibly healthy. Good sources of healthy fibers include vegetables, fruits, oats, legumes, nuts, dark chocolate, avocados, chia seeds and various other foods. However, there is probably no need to obsess over the details here. As long as you are eating plenty of whole plant foods, then your fiber intake should take care of itself.

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Food Addiction – A Serious Problem With a Simple Solution

This article contains detailed information on addiction to food. It explains exactly what it is, how it works and what you can do to overcome it.

Eating healthy and losing weight seems downright impossible for many people. Despite their best intentions, they repeatedly find themselves eating large amounts of unhealthy foods, despite knowing that it is causing them harm. The truth is… the effects of certain foods on the brain can lead to downright addiction. Food addiction is a very serious problem and one of the main reasons some people just can’t control themselves around certain foods, no matter how hard they try.

What is Food Addiction?

Food addiction is, quite simply, being addicted to junk food in the same way as drug addicts are addicted to drugs. It involves the same areas in the brain, the same neurotransmitters and many of the symptoms are identical. Food addiction is a relatively new (and controversial) term and there are no good statistics available on how common it is. This is very similar to several other eating disorders, including binge eating disorder, bulimia, compulsive overeating and having an “unhealthy” relationship with food.

How This Works

Processed junk foods have a powerful effect on the “reward” centers in the brain, involving brain neurotransmitters like dopamine. The foods that seem to be the most problematic include typical “junk foods,” as well as foods that contain either sugar or wheat, or both. Food addiction is not about a lack of willpower or anything like that, it is caused by the intense dopamine signal “hijacking” the biochemistry of the brain. There are many studies that support the fact that food addiction is a real problem.

8 Symptoms of Food Addiction

There is no blood test available to diagnose food addiction. Just like with other addictions, it is based on behavioral symptoms. Here are 8 common symptoms that are typical of food addicts:

  1. You frequently get cravings for certain foods, despite feeling full and having just finished a nutritious meal.
  2. When you give in and start eating a food you were craving, you often find yourself eating much more than you intended to.
  3. When you eat a food you were craving, you sometimes eat to the point of feeling excessively “stuffed.”
  4. You often feel guilty after eating particular foods, yet find yourself eating them again soon after.
  5. You sometimes make excuses in your head about why you should eat something that you are craving.
  6. You have repeatedly tried to quit eating or setting rules (includes cheat meals/days) about certain foods, but been unsuccessful.
  7. You often hide your consumption of unhealthy foods from others.
  8. You feel unable to control your consumption of unhealthy foods, despite knowing that they are causing you physical harm (includes weight gain).

If you can relate to 4-5 of these, then you probably do have a serious problem with food. If you can relate to 6 or more, then you are most likely a food addict.

Food Addiction is a Serious Problem

Although the term “addiction” is often thrown around lightly, having true addiction is serious business. I’m a recovering alcoholic, smoker and drug addict with a history of many rehabs, jail more often than I can count and several trips to the emergency room due to overdose. After I had been sober for several years, I started to develop an addiction to unhealthy foods. Full-blown addiction. Nothing more, nothing less.

The reason I’m telling you this is to demonstrate that I know how addiction works. I’m here to tell you that food addiction is the same as addiction to drugs… exactly the same. The symptoms and thought processes are completely identical. It’s just a different substance and the social consequences aren’t as severe. Food addiction can cause physical harm. It can lead serious diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, arthritis and depression, to name a few. But you have even bigger reasons to quit than some unfamiliar disease in your distant future. Food addiction is also ruining your life… today.

It breaks your self-esteem, makes you unhappy with your body and can make your life a living hell (like it did for me). The seriousness of being a food addict can not be overstated. This is a problem that ruins lives and kills people. Literally.

The Law of Addiction – Why You May Never be Able to Eat “Normally” Again

The most important lesson I have ever learned is called the law of addiction:

“Administration of a drug to an addict will cause reestablishment of chemical dependence upon the addictive substance.”

A former smoker who has a puff of a cigarette will become addicted again… instantly. An alcoholic who has a sip of beer will relapse, with all the horrible consequences that follow. There is no way of getting around it. This is simply how addiction works. I am personally convinced that food addiction is no different. One bite of cake, one sip of coke, one “cheat” – that’s all it takes. Of course, we all need to eat something. Otherwise we’ll die of starvation. But no one needs to eat sugar, refined wheat flour or any of the modern junk foods that people tend to lose control over.

Most food addicts will never be able to eat junk food like “regular” people again. That’s the cold, hard truth. But if they manage to avoid the “trigger foods,” then they should be able to eat healthy and lose weight without problems. The truth is… complete abstinence is the only thing that reliably works against addiction. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you will recover.

Although the “everything in moderation” message may work for some people, this advice is a complete disaster for food addicts. When it comes to addiction, moderation fails. Every time.

This is the simple (but not easy) solution to addiction. Avoiding the addictive substance at all times.

How to Know if This is Worth The Sacrifice

Completely avoiding junk foods may seem impossible. These foods are everywhere and are a major part of our culture. But believe me… once you’ve made the decision to never eat them again, avoiding them actually becomes easier. When you’ve made a firm decision to avoid them completely, then there’s no need for you to justify anything in your head and the cravings may not even show up.

Many people who have done this (including myself) don’t even get cravings anymore, not after they’ve made a profound decision to simply avoid this stuff… permanently. But if you’re still in doubt and are unsure if this is worth the sacrifice, then write down a list of pros and cons.

Pros might include:

  • I’ll lose weight
  • I’ll live longer
  • I’ll have more energy and feel better every day, etc.

Cons might include:

  • I won’t be able to eat ice cream with my family
  • No cookies on Christmas
  • I might have to explain my food choices… (Most of these social dilemmas can be solved easily).

Write everything down, no matter how peculiar or vain. Then put your two lists side by side and ask yourself: Is it worth it? If the answer is a resounding “yes” – then you can rest assured that you are doing the right thing.

Prepare Yourself and Set a Date

There are a few things you can do to prepare yourself and make the transition as easy as possible:

  • Trigger Foods: Write down a list of the foods you tend to crave and/or binge on. These are the “trigger foods” you need to avoid completely.
  • Fast Food Places: Write down a list of fast food places that serve healthy foods. This is important and can prevent a relapse when you find yourself hungry and not in the mood to cook.
  • What to Eat: Think about what foods you’re going to eat. Preferably healthy foods that you like and are already eating regularly.
  • Pros and Cons: Consider making several copies of your “pros and cons” list. Keep a copy in your kitchen, glove compartment and purse/wallet. Sometimes you will need a reminder about why you’re doing this.
  • It’s important to NOT go on a “diet.” Put weight loss on hold for at least 1-3 months.

Overcoming food addiction is hard enough as it is, by adding hunger and additional restrictions to the mix you will just make things even harder and set yourself up for failure.

Now… set a date, some time in the near future (maybe this weekend or next week). From this day and onward, you will never touch the addictive foods again. Not a single bite, ever. Period.

When All Else Fails… Seek Help

If you end up relapsing and losing control over your consumption again, then you’re not alone. Relapses are the rule when it comes to addiction, not the exception. Most people have a history of several failed attempts before they manage to succeed in the long run. That’s how it was for me and most recovering food addicts I know. But if you relapse often, then there really is no point in trying to do it on your own again. If you’ve failed a hundred times, then the chances of you succeeding when you try it for the 101th time are almost nonexistent.

Luckily, help is not far off…

There are health professionals and support groups that can help you overcome this serious problem. You can seek professional help… for example from a psychologist or psychiatrist. Try to find someone who has actual experience in dealing with food addiction. But there are several free options available as well, including 12 step programs like Overeaters Anonymous (OA), GreySheeters Anonymous (GSA), Food Addicts Anonymous (FAA) and Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA). Just go to their websites, find a meeting (they also have online Skype meetings) and go to it.

Or you can use google to find treatment options in your area. Look for something like “food addiction treatment [name of city]” – chances are that you will find something that suits you. I’ve also listed a number of options in this article on where to find help.

Whatever You Do, Do Something!

Food addiction is a problem that will rarely resolve on its own. Unless you deal with it, chances are that it will just get worse over time. If you have this problem, then you have to do something about it now, or it will end up ruining your life. If you’re interested in my full story and a much more detailed version of the instructions above, then go to this page to read my free e-book on food addiction.

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12 Proven Benefits of Pomegranate (No. 8 is Impressive)

Pomegranates are among the healthiest fruits on earth. They contain a range of beneficial plant compounds, unrivaled by other foods. Many studies have shown that they have incredible benefits for your body, and may lower the risk of all sorts of diseases. Here are 12 health benefits of pomegranates, that are supported by modern scientific research.

1. Pomegranates Are Loaded With Important Nutrients

The pomegranate, or Punica granatum, is a fruit-bearing shrub that produces a red fruit. Categorized as a berry, the pomegranate fruit is about 5-12 cm (2-5 inches) in diameter. It is red, round and looks kind of like a red apple with a flower-shaped stem. The skin of the pomegranate is thick and inedible, but there are hundreds of edible seeds called arils within. The arils are what people eat, either raw or processed into pomegranate juice. This is what pomegranates look like:

Pomegranates have a an impressive nutrient profile: One cup of arils (174 grams) contains:

  • Fiber: 7 grams.

  • Protein: 3 grams.

  • Vitamin C: 30% of the RDA.

  • Vitamin K: 36% of the RDA.

  • Folate: 16% of the RDA.

  • Potassium: 12% of the RDA.

The pomegranate arils (seeds) are also very sweet, with one cup containing 24 grams of sugar, and 144 calories. However, where pomegranates really shine is in their content of powerful plant compounds, some of which have potent medicinal properties.

Bottom Line: The pomegranate is a fruit that contains hundreds of edible seeds called arils. They are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and bioactive plant compounds, but they also contain some sugar.

2. Pomegranates Contain Two Plant Compounds With Powerful Medicinal Properties

There are two unique substances in pomegranates that are responsible for most of their health benefits.

Punicalagins

Punicalagins are extremely powerful antioxidants found in the juice and peel of a pomegranate. They are so powerful that pomegranate juice has been found to have three times the antioxidant activity of red wine and green tea. Pomegranate extract and powder is typically made from the peel, due to its high antioxidant and punicalagin content.

Punicic Acid

Punicic acid, also known as pomegranate seed oil, is the main fatty acid in the arils. It is a type of conjugated linoleic acid with potent biological effects.

Bottom Line: Pomegranates contain punicalagins and punicic acid, unique substances that are responsible for most of their health benefits.

3. Pomegranate Has Impressive Anti-Inflammatory Effects

Chronic inflammation is among the leading drivers of many killer diseases. This includes heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and even obesity. Pomegranate has potent anti-inflammatory properties, which is largely mediated by the antioxidant properties of the punicalagins. Test tube studies have shown that it can reduce inflammatory activity in the digestive tract, as well as in breast cancer and colon cancer cells. One study in diabetics found that 250 ml of pomegranate juice per day for 12 weeks lowered the inflammatory markers CRP and interleukin-6 by 32% and 30%, respectively.

Bottom Line: The punicalagins in pomegranate juice have been shown to reduce inflammation, one of the leading drivers of many killer diseases.

4. Pomegranate May Help Fight Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men. Laboratory studies have shown that pomegranate extract can slow down cancer cell reproduction, and even induce apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells. The PSA (prostate specific antigen) is a blood marker for prostate cancer. Men whose PSA levels double in a short period of time are at increased risk of death from prostate cancer. Interestingly, a human study found that 237 ml (8 oz) of pomegranate juice per day increased the PSA doubling time from 15 months to 54 months, which is huge. A follow-up study found similar improvements using a type of pomegranate extract called POMx.

Bottom Line: There is preliminary evidence that pomegranate juice can be useful in men with prostate cancer, potentially inhibiting cancer growth and lowering the risk of death.

5. Pomegranate May Also be Useful Against Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women. Pomegranate extract has been shown to inhibit reproduction of breast cancer cells, and may even kill some of them. However, this is currently limited to laboratory studies. More research is needed.

Bottom Line: Laboratory studies have shown that pomegranate extract can help fight breast cancer cells, but human studies are needed to confirm this.

6. Pomegranate May Lower Blood Pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) is one of the leading drivers of heart attacks and strokes. In one study, people with high blood pressure had a significant reduction after consuming 150 ml (5 oz) of pomegranate juice daily for 2 weeks. Other studies have found similar effects, especially for systolic blood pressure (the higher number in a blood pressure reading).

Bottom Line: Regular intake of pomegranate juice has been shown to lower blood pressure levels in as little as 2 weeks.

7. Pomegranate May Help Fight Arthritis and Joint Pain

Arthritis is a common problem in Western countries. There are many different types, but most of them involve some form of inflammation in the joints. Given that the plant compounds in pomegranate have anti-inflammatory effects, it makes sense that they could help treat arthritis. Interestingly, laboratory studies have shown that pomegranate extract can block enzymes that are known to damage joints in people with osteoarthritis. It has also been shown to be beneficial against arthritis in mice, but there is very little evidence in humans so far.

Bottom Line: Studies in animals and isolated cells have shown that pomegranate extract may be beneficial against several forms of arthritis, but human research is needed.

8. Pomegranate Juice May Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease

Heart disease is currently the world’s most common cause of premature death. It is a complicated disease, driven by many different factors. Punicic acid, the main fatty acid in pomegranate, may help protect against several steps in the heart disease process. In a study in 51 people with high cholesterol and triglycerides, 800 milligrams of pomegranate seed oil per day was shown to significantly lower triglycerides and improve the triglyceride:HDL ratio, after 4 weeks. Another study looked at the effects of pomegranate juice in people with type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. They noted significant reductions in LDL cholesterol, as well as other improvements. Pomegranate juice has also been shown, in both animal and human studies, to protect the LDL cholesterol particles from oxidation, one of the key steps in the pathway towards heart disease.

Bottom Line: Several human studies have shown that pomegranate can have benefits against heart disease. It improves the cholesterol profile and protects LDL cholesterol from oxidative damage.

9. Pomegranate Juice May Help Treat Erectile Dysfunction

Oxidative damage can impair blood flow in all areas of the body, including erectile tissue. Pomegranate juice has been shown to be beneficial in increasing blood flow and erectile response in rabbits. In a study of 53 men with erectile dysfunction, pomegranate appeared to have some benefit, but it was not statistically significant.

Bottom Line: Pomegranate juice has been linked to reduced symptoms of erectile dysfunction, but more research is needed.

10. Pomegranate Can Help Fight Bacterial and Fungal Infections

The plant compounds in pomegranate can help fight harmful microorganisms.

For example, they have been shown to be beneficial against some types of bacteria, as well as the yeast Candida albicans. The anti-bacterial and anti-fungal effects may also be protective against infections and inflammation in the mouth. This includes conditions like gingivitis, periodontitis and denture stomatitis.

Bottom Line: Pomegranate has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties, which may be useful against common diseases of the gums.

11. Pomegranate May Help Improve Memory

There is some evidence that pomegranate can improve memory. In one study in surgical patients, 2 grams of pomegranate extract prevented deficits in memory after the surgery. Another study in 28 elderly individuals with memory complaints found that 237 ml (8 oz) of pomegranate juice per day significantly improved markers of verbal and visual memory. There is also some evidence from studies in mice that pomegranate can help fight Alzheimer’s disease.

Bottom Line: Some evidence shows that pomegranate can improve memory in the elderly and post-surgery, and studies in mice suggest that it can protect against Alzheimer’s disease.

12. Pomegranate May Improve Exercise Performance

Pomegranate is rich in dietary nitrates, which have been shown to improve exercise performance. In a study of 19 athletes running on a treadmill, 1 gram of pomegranate extract 30 minutes before exercise significantly enhanced blood flow. This led to a delay in the onset of fatigue, and an increase in exercise efficiency. More studies are needed, but it seems like pomegranate may be beneficial for physical performance, similar to beetroot juice.

13. Anything Else?

If you want to enjoy the health benefits outlined in the article, then you can either eat the pomegranate arils directly, or drink pomegranate juice. There is also a good selection of pomegranate extract supplements on Amazon. At the end of the day, pomegranates are among the healthiest fruits on the planet.They have wide-ranging benefits, and may help reduce the risk of all sorts of serious diseases.

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15 “Health Foods” That Are Really Junk Foods in Disguise

Unhealthy foods are the main reason the world is fatter and sicker than ever before. Surprisingly, some of these foods are considered healthy by many people. Here are 15 “health foods” that are really junk foods in disguise.

1. Processed “Low-Fat” and “Fat-Free” Foods

The “war” on saturated fat is the biggest mistake in the history of nutrition. It was based on weak evidence, which has now been completely debunked. When this started, processed food manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and started removing the fat from foods. But there’s a huge problem… food tastes horrible when the fat has been removed. That’s why they added a whole bunch of sugar to compensate.

Saturated fat is harmless, but added sugar is incredibly harmful when consumed in excess. The words “low-fat” or “fat-free” on a packaging usually mean that it is a highly processed product that is loaded with sugar.

2. Most Commercial Salad Dressings

Vegetables are incredibly healthy. The problem is that they often don’t taste very good on their own. That’s why many people use dressings to add flavour to their salads, turning these bland meals into delicious treats. But many salad dressings are actually loaded with unhealthy ingredients like sugar, vegetable oils and trans fats, along with a bunch of artificial chemicals.

Although vegetables are good for you, eating them with a dressing high in harmful ingredients will totally negate any health benefit you get from the salad. Make sure to check the ingredients list before you use a salad dressing… or make your own using healthy ingredients.

3. Fruit Juices… Which Are Basically Just Liquid Sugar

A lot of people believe fruit juices to be healthy. They must be… because they come from fruit, right? But a lot of the fruit juice you find in the supermarket isn’t really fruit juice. Sometimes there isn’t even any actual fruit in there, just chemicals that taste like fruit. What you’re drinking is basically just fruit-flavored sugar water. That being said, even if you’re drinking 100% quality fruit juice, it is still a bad idea. Fruit juice is like fruit, except with all the good stuff (like the fiber) taken out… the main thing left of the actual fruit is the sugar. If you didn’t know, fruit juice actually contains a similar amount of sugar as a sugar-sweetened beverage.

4. “Heart Healthy” Whole Wheat

Most “whole wheat” products aren’t really made from whole wheat. The grains have been pulverized into very fine flour, making them raise blood sugar just as fast as their refined counterparts.

In fact, whole wheat bread can have a similar glycemic index as white bread. But even true whole wheat may be a bad idea… because modern wheat is unhealthy compared to the wheat our grandparents ate. Around the year 1960, scientists tampered with the genes in wheat to increase the yield. Modern wheat is less nutritious and has some properties that make it much worse for people who are intolerant to gluten.

There are also studies showing that modern wheat may cause inflammation and increased cholesterol levels, at least when compared to the older varieties. Whereas wheat may have been a relatively healthy grain back in the day, the stuff most people are eating today is best avoided.

5. Cholesterol Lowering Phytosterols

There are certain nutrients called phytosterols, which are basically like plant versions of cholesterol. Some studies have shown that they can lower blood cholesterol in humans. For this reason, they are often added to processed foods that are then marketed as “cholesterol lowering” and claimed to help prevent heart disease. However, studies have shown that despite lowering cholesterol levels, phytosterols have adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and may even increase the risk of heart disease and death.

6. Margarine

Butter was demonized back in the day, due to the high saturated fat content. Various health experts started promoting margarine instead. Back in the day, margarine used to be high in trans fats. These days, it has less trans fats than before but is still loaded with refined vegetable oils.

Margarine is not food… it is an assembly of chemicals and refined oils that have been made to look and taste like food. Not surprisingly, the Framingham Heart Study showed that people who replace butter with margarine are actually more likely to die from heart disease. If you want to improve your health, eat real butter (preferably grass-fed) but avoid processed margarine and other fake foods like the plague. Recommending trans fat laden margarine instead of natural butter may just be the worst nutrition advice in history.

7. Sports Drinks

Sports drinks were designed with athletes in mind. These drinks contain electrolytes (salts) and sugar, which can be useful for athletes in many cases. However… most regular people don’t need any additional salts, and they certainly have no need for liquid sugar. Although often considered “less bad” than sugary soft drinks, there really is no fundamental difference except that the sugar content is sometimes slightly lower. It is important to stay hydrated, especially around workouts, but most people will be better off sticking to plain water.

8. Low-Carb Junk Foods

Low carb diets have been incredibly popular for many decades now. In the past 12 years, study after study has confirmed that these diets are an effective way to lose weight and improve health. However… food manufacturers have caught up on the trend and brought various low-carb “friendly” processed foods to the market. This includes highly processed junk foods like the Atkins bars. If you take a look at the ingredients list, you see that there is NO real food in there, just chemicals and highly refined ingredients. These products can be consumed occasionally without compromising the metabolic adaptation that comes with low-carb eating. But they don’t really nourish your body… even though they’re technically low-carb, they’re still unhealthy.

9. Agave Nectar

Given the known harmful effects of sugar, people have been looking for alternatives. One of the more popular “natural” sweeteners is Agave nectar, also called agave syrup. You will find this sweetener in all sorts of “health foods,” often with attractive claims on the packaging. The problem with Agave is that it is no better than sugar. In fact, it is much, much worse… One of the main problems with sugar is that it has excessive amounts of fructose, which can cause severe metabolic problems when consumed in excess. Whereas sugar is about 50% fructose and High Fructose Corn Syrup about 55%, Agave contains even more… up to 70-90%. Therefore, gram for gram, Agave is even worse than regular sugar. See, “natural” doesn’t always equal healthy… and whether Agave should even be considered natural is debatable.

10. Vegan Junk Foods

Vegan diets are very popular these days, often due to ethical and environmental reasons. However… many people promote vegan diets for the purpose of improving health (which is questionable). There are many processed vegan foods on the market, often sold as convenient replacements for non-vegan foods. Vegan bacon is one example. But it’s important to keep in mind that these are usually highly processed, factory made products that are bad for just about anyone, including vegans.

11. Brown Rice Syrup

Brown rice syrup (also known as rice malt syrup) is a sweetener that is mistakenly assumed to be healthy. This sweetener is made by exposing cooked rice to enzymes that break down the starch into simple sugars. Brown rice syrup contains no refined fructose, just glucose. The absence of refined fructose is good… but rice syrup has a glycemic index of 98, which means that the glucose in it will spike blood sugar extremely fast. Rice syrup is also highly refined and contains almost no essential nutrients. In other words, it is “empty” calories. Some concerns have been raised about arsenic contamination in this syrup, another reason to be extra careful with this sweetener.

There are other better sweeteners out there… including low-calorie sweeteners like stevia, erythritol and xylitol, which actually have some health benefits.

12. Processed Organic Foods

Unfortunately, the word “organic” has become just like any other marketing buzzword. Food manufacturers have found all sorts of ways to make the same junk, except with ingredients that happen to be organic. This includes ingredients like organic raw cane sugar, which is basically 100% identical to regular sugar. It’s still just glucose and fructose, with little to no nutrients. In many cases, the difference between an ingredient and its organic counterpart is next to none. Processed foods that happen to be labelled organic are not necessarily healthy. Always check the label to see what’s inside.

13. Vegetable Oils

We are often advised to eat seed- and vegetable oils. This includes soybean oil, canola oil, grapeseed oil and numerous others. This is based on the fact that these oils have been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels, at least in the short term. However… it’s important to keep in mind that blood cholesterol is a risk factor, NOT a disease in itself. Even though vegetable oils can improve a risk factor, there is no guarantee that they will help prevent actual hard end points like heart attacks or death, which is what really counts. In fact, several controlled trials have shown that despite lowering cholesterol, these oils can increase the risk of death… from both heart disease and cancer. So eat healthy, natural fats like butter, coconut oil and olive oil, but avoid processed vegetable oils as if your life depended on it (it does).

14. Gluten-Free Junk Foods

According to a 2013 survey, about a third of people in the U.S. are actively trying to avoid gluten. A lot of experts think this is unnecessary… but the truth is that gluten, especially from modern wheat, can be problematic for a lot of people. Not surprisingly, the food manufacturers have brought all sorts of gluten-free foods to the market. The problem with these foods, is that they are usually just as bad as their gluten-containing counterparts, if not worse. These are highly processed foods that are very low in nutrients and often made with refined starches that lead to very rapid spikes in blood sugar. So… choose foods that are naturally gluten free, like plants and animals, NOT gluten free processed foods. Gluten-free junk food is still junk food.

15. Most Processed Breakfast Cereals

The way some breakfast cereals are marketed is a disgrace. Many of them, including those that are marketed towards children, have all sorts of health claims plastered on the box. This includes misleading things like “whole grain” or “low fat.” But… when you actually look at the ingredients list, you see that it’s almost nothing but refined grains, sugar and artificial chemicals. The truth is, if the packaging of a food says that it is healthy, then it probably isn’t. The truly healthy foods are those that don’t need any health claims… whole, single ingredient foods. Real food doesn’t even need an ingredients list, because real food IS the ingredient.

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