I will say straight up that can’t bear a ‘holier than thou’ approach to diet. There is definitely an argument that all foods are OK in moderation. This is largely because ‘being healthy’ should never become something that feels a chore or that means you miss out on things you really enjoy. But as a nutritionist, there are some things that I just don’t want to eat…
1. Low fat/reduced fat foods/diet foods
These foods are, by definition, very highly processed. Where fat is taken out of a food, what nearly always goes in instead is either sugar or artificial sweeteners. The idea that fat is bad or leads to weight gain has now been acknowledged as being entirely wrong. We now know that sugars (and excess starchy carbs) are what mostly leads to weight gain and keep you craving sweet things. Many artificial sweeteners aren’t great for gut health either. I’d far rather stick to the natural, full fat version.
2. Margarine and butter substitutes
Margarine and vegetable spreads are the nutritionally poorer relations of real butter, coconut oil and other healthy fats like olive oil. Again, they are heavily processed – I’m told they are grey in colour before being dyed yellow. Often what draws people to them is the thought that they are somehow healthier because of their lower levels of saturated fats. Given that we now know that saturated fat is not the enemy, while artificially hardened vegetable oils (think trans-fats) are, it’s far better to stick to unadulterated fats, using ghee (clarified butter) and coconut oil, or olive oil for cooking at lower temperatures.
3. Sugar free fizzy drinks, diet drinks and energy drinks
Sometimes I see clients ‘filling up’ on diet drinks, which (although they contain no actual calories) are doing their body no favours. They still condition the body to expect sweet ‘treats’, and studies are now showing that artificial sweeteners are damaging to health. Energy drinks often provide a dual hit of very large amounts of caffeine accompanied by either a lot of sugar or artificial sweeteners. Understanding what is the cause of the underlying fatigue, and working to improve that, has a far greater and longer-lasting result than a can of Red Bull ever can.
4. Hotdogs and processed meat
It is quite shocking how little actual meat goes into hotdogs. Sadly processed deli-style meats are no better. They are often pumped with water, sugar (even if it’s not actually called sugar, look out for anything ending in ‘-ose’ – like dextrose) and preservatives. In addition, some of the additives in processed meats have been linked to increased risk of colon cancer. If ham is something that you and your family enjoy, maybe try buying a small ham joint and cook it yourself to avoid any nasty extras.
5. Shop-bought cereals
Most supermarket cereals are filled with sugar and are very high in starchy carbs, which can lead to your energy levels crashing by mid-morning. Better options include home-made granola (an easy weekend job that can be made in large batches); porridge or overnight oats; omelettes or poached/scrambled/boiled eggs on wholemeal toast with a few slices of avocado.
6. Rice cakes
These are often a go-to food for anyone counting calories. Unfortunately, they too will send your blood sugar levels rocketing. A better choice would be a couple of oat cakes topped with a little hummus or slices of apple spread with unsweetened nut butter.
7. Agave syrup/nectar
Agave syrup comes from a cactus, the syrup made from the pulp of the leaf. It’s very highly processed and is mainly fructose, which needs to be processed by the liver, causing more stress for an already over-worked organ. Agave syrup (or nectar) is very similar to the (deservedly) much-demonised high fructose corn syrup that has contributed greatly to the obesity epidemic in the US. My advice? Steer clear!
8. Mycoprotein such as Quorn
Quorn is a very processed food that comes from a fungus Fusarium venenatum. It has a lot of other ingredients added – flavourings, yeast, starches and colouring – as well as gluten to give it the texture and flavour of meat. Lentils, pulses and tofu are a much healthier alternative if you’re looking for vegetarian choices.
9. Fruit juice
The easiest way to get lots of sugar into your system in a short space of time is by drinking it. And since it’s a liquid, the body doesn’t register it as ‘eaten’, so it slips past any detectors that might otherwise signal satiety or satisfaction. Fruit juice – particularly when freshly squeezed – certainly contains lots of lovely vitamins and minerals, but it contains just as much sugar as a can of Coke. If you want fruit, eat fruit. Don’t drink it.
So there you have it, the nine things that I just don’t want to eat. The good news? That leaves loads of foods to enjoy on a regular basis!