I must admit the title of this article is perhaps a bit misleading, as it is highly unlikely that any food will kill you unless you have a specific allergy to that food, you choke on that food or, you have a tendency to wander about in the woods eating poisonous mushrooms. There are however a plethora or trendy healthy foods out there that perhaps aren’t quite as healthy as you think. Don’t get me wrong, as a curious nutrition student I’ve felt the illustrious lure of the miracle health foods; acai, cacao, spirulina… how could you not? With all that gorgeous packaging and the beautifully curated instagram accounts touting their benefits… but is the health industry and its Super-foods doing more harm than good? Let’s have a look at some of the downfalls of the most popular health foods…
…because that is a true indicator of how healthy a food really is
1. Almond milk
Traditionally, those who avoided cow’s milk due to allergy or personal beliefs had very few alternatives to choose from, most notably soy milk. However, now it seems every long-life milk manufacturer worth their salt has a line of almond milk. What is so great about this nut-based beverage you may ask? Sure almond milk is low in fat and calories, offering as low as 70kj per 100ml (compared to skim milk which has around 150kj per 100ml). The downfall however, is that it’s pretty low in everything else as well, with only around two thirds the calcium and less than 20% of the protein of skim milk, two of the main nutrients gained by drinking milk in the first place! Upon closer inspection of the ingredients in a popular brand of Australian almond milk, this is likely due to the fact that almonds only constitute about 2.5% of the milk, thus perhaps a more appropriate name for these products would be “almond flavoured water” (although I admit this doesn’t have quite the same ring to it). Of course some people don’t get much of a choice in whether or not they can tolerate dairy, hence it’s important those people that do choose to have almond milk over cow’s milk to be conscious of these key nutrients that they may be missing out on.
2. Agave Syrup
After travelling to Mexico last year, the humble, spikey agave plant holds tender memories for me (mostly due to one of its by-products being tequila, of which I drank copious amounts while there). However, in Australia agave is more commonly known for its sweet syrup, which is used as a “natural” sweetener. Agave syrup has been promoted as a healthy alternative to the traditional white sugar in recent years as it has a lower glycaemic index than white sugar. However, it is mostly composed of fructose,Low NH, Willems JL. Major Carbohydrate, polyol, and oligosaccharide profiles of agave syrup. Application of this data to aunthenticity analysis. Journal of Agricultural and food chemistry. 2012 Aug 21;60(35): 8745–8754. DOI:10.1021/jf3027342 making it similar to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that has been banned from sale in Australia and often stars as the villain in American obesity documentaries. Excess dietary fructose is thought to be linked to negative metabolic effects.Basciano H, Federico L, Adeli K. Fructose, insulin resistance, and metabolic dyslipidemia. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2005 Feb 21;2(5) DOI: 10.1186/1743-7075-2-5 Thus, highly refined syrups mostly made up of this particular monosaccharide aren’t necessarily the best thing to be dousing your porridge in.
3. Coconut Oil
We have all heard of the ever-popular coconut oil, but what exactly is it? Well, its pretty much mashed up coconut, minus the fibre, carbs and protein. Despite the health and wellness scene singing coconut oil’s praises, it is still and oil i.e. pure fat. So we still want to be having pretty minimal amounts of it in our food preparation. I recently came across an article on a popular activewear brand’s blog stating that coconut oil is “full of around 90% saturated fat [and that] this saturated fat is completely nourishing.” Hmm… now I love a hot pink sports bra as much as the next girl, but this statement is not entirely true. According to the Dietitian’s Association of Australia (DAA) and The New Zealand Heart Foundation, there is no concrete evidence to prove that coconut oil is better for health than other heart-healthy, plant oils such as olive oil. What we can agree on however, is that coconut oil is very high in saturated fat, a fat which has proven detriments on heart health when consumed in excess (as if often recommended by such health blogs) and which the DAA recommends minimising in the diet.
4. Raw Chocolate
Another new-age product to grace the shelves of health food stores in recent years is raw chocolate. Typically made with ingredients such as cacao butter, cacao solids, plus the aforementioned “health” foods (coconut oil and agave nectar), raw chocolate is the new, allegedly “healthy” alternative to conventional milk chocolate. While these new chocolatey products provide a great alternative for people following a vegan diet or dairy free, they are not necessarily any “healthier” than other popular chocolates. In fact, when comparing the nutrition panels of Cadbury Dairy Milk with the popular brand of raw chocolate, here’s how they stack up…
|Cadbury Dairy Milk, 100g||Loving Earth Creamy Coconut Mylk, 100g|
|Energy||2144 kJ||2610 kJ|
|Fat – Total||28.2g||50g|
|Fat – Saturated||17.9g||33.6g|
|Carbohydrates – Total||59g||42.8g|
|Carbs – Sugars||56.4g||31.6g|
The raw chocolate actually contains more kilojoules, fat and saturated fat per 100g than conventional dairy milk, meaning the key thing with raw chocolate, as with all discretionary foods, is portion size. While raw chocolate provides a new, interesting and tasty option for people on both special and standard diets, it still needs to be treated as a sometimes food and consumed in small amounts.
5. Frozen Berries
Gotcha. Most Australians will have heard of the frozen berries scandal late last year, which saw China-sourced berries recalled from supermarket freezers due to an outbreak of Hepatitis A- an example of a truly healthy food that could kill you.
The point I am trying to make with each of these foods is that they all have their place (in moderate amounts) within a balanced diet. In the end, any food can kill you if you eat enough of it and just because something is marketed as “healthy” doesn’t mean that you can eat it all day long without consequence. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends eating a wide range of foods from the 5 food groups and incorporating small servings of discretionary foods on occasion if you wish. So next time you reach for a box of “refined sugar-, gluten- & dairy-free, all natural” whatever, perhaps look at the ingredients and see if you can place those ingredients into the five food groups (dairy, whole grains, fruit and vegetables and meat/fish/poultry), because that is a true indicator of how healthy a food really is, not whether its ingredients are vilified by ancient civilisations and harvested from pristine streams in the farthest corners of the earth.
References [ + ]
|1.||⇪||Low NH, Willems JL. Major Carbohydrate, polyol, and oligosaccharide profiles of agave syrup. Application of this data to aunthenticity analysis. Journal of Agricultural and food chemistry. 2012 Aug 21;60(35): 8745–8754. DOI:10.1021/jf3027342|
|2.||⇪||Basciano H, Federico L, Adeli K. Fructose, insulin resistance, and metabolic dyslipidemia. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2005 Feb 21;2(5) DOI: 10.1186/1743-7075-2-5|