Who doesn’t love Life Savers, those hard candies shaped like the rings that cradled us as children learning to swim? That comforting message — sweet and safe — is the secret of many consumer products.
Too bad the message is a lie. As we all know, sugar is shortening lives, not saving them, but somehow that’s not how it feels. Americans are running enormous health risks that worry us, though not quite enough to change our ways, and marketers tap into that worry when they sell products touted as a solution. We’ve gathered just fifteen of many seemingly health-enhancing products you might as well skip.
1. Bottled water. When you know that you need more sleep, exercise, and salad, you’re tempted to buy a bottled water with a label that summons up an enchanted land of health. But there’s no evidence that bottled water is better for you than American tap water, which is also filtered for contaminants and must meet regulatory standards. If you opt for flavored water, you’ll also have to watch out for sugar generally in the form of corn syrup.
2. Granola and protein bars. Trust the food industry to create a health buzz around snacks that contain as many calories and sugar as old-fashioned candy bars. Look for brands that contain only seeds and nuts — or just buy the seeds and nuts.
3. Light beer. Many light-beers have a lower alcohol content but not necessarily fewer calories, and you could easily just drink more to get your edge of inebriation. Low-carb beers may have just as many calories as ordinary beer. Any potential antioxidant benefits from beer are more likely in lagers and dark ales.
4. Low-fat or reduced-fat commercial foods. You actually want to eat foods that naturally contain healthy fats rather than load up on products that often contain added sugars and may well leave you hungry. A prime example is reduced-fat peanut butter, which substitutes sugar for the fat.
5. Diet soda. Artificial sweeteners may actually lead to weight gain. In one study, 10-week-old mice ate a daily dose of aspartame, sucralose, or saccharin. Another group of mice drank water laced with either glucose or sucrose, two forms of ordinary sugar. After less than three months, the mice on the artificial sweeteners were showing signs of high blood sugar, a precursor to diabetes.
6. Bran muffins. Sure, the fiber is good for you, but a large muffin can contain more calories and fat than a donut.
7. Multi-grain bread products. The label doesn’t mean the product contains whole grains. If you see “bleached” or “unbleached enriched wheat flour" high up on the ingredients label, you’re eating food designed to make you crave more.
8. Microwave diet meals. The best argument for packaged dinners is that they provide portion control and may be healthier than the fast food you might pick up instead. But unless they’re identified as low-salt or heart-healthy, they could contain from 700 to 1,800 milligrams (mg) of sodium, which is a big chunk of the daily maximum. You’ll also probably get too little veggies. Try making a large batch of your favorite healthy meal and freezing individual portions.
9. Sushi. It’s fish and veggies, right? Actually, sushi contains large amounts of white rice, which isn’t especially good for you, and few vegetables. Opt for brown-rice or get sashimi, without the rice.
10. Rice crackers. High in salt and carbohydrates, and low in fiber, these airy nothings fool you into thinking you’re not snacking.
11. Spinach wraps and pasta. Add actual spinach to your wrap or dinner if you actually want to eat a green — there’s a tiny amount of spinach in these green-hued carbs.
12. Bottled iced tea. Brew your own if you seek the antioxidant properties of tea. Commercial brands tend to be mostly sugar.
13. Veggie burgers. Check the label carefully to find out if you’re getting vegetables or mainly grains and fillers designed to make the product chewy like a hamburger.
14. Antibacterial soap. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there is no evidence that these soaps do a better job than regular soap and water.
15. Disinfectant cleaners. Chemicals in these cleansers could aggravate asthma, and it is not necessarily good for your children to shelter them from exposure to all germs. In countries that haven’t widely adopted disinfectants, people are chronically infected by parasites in dirt — but rarely suffer from allergies and other immune disorders. More sanitary countries have seen surges in childhood asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, and juvenile (type 1) diabetes.
August 25, 2015
Janet O’Dell, RN