4 'health foods' that have more sugar than good stuff (and how to work around this)
Everyone loves a good dose of anti-oxidants don't they? Well, you would think so given the amount of death dodging, life elongating, super foods wrapped up in nice brown paper packing and string that are on the market.
But what happens when the health foods, have more sugar than the trace elements of the ancient grain quinoa protein fraction that they use to reel us in with?
Well, and this is really awkward to say, but I really don't think they are healthy any more.
The irony riddled truth is that that product you have spend pretty pennies on, is probably more likely to lead you down the path of inflammation, insulin resistance and diabetes than a piece of devilishly good white bread.
As a quick reminder, a diet with a high gylemic load, aka a diet high in refined carbohydrates, aka eating lots of packaged crap, is highly conducive to inflammation which is the hypothesised starting point for disease such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. And we are talking about what we call 'free sugars', which encompasses monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods in the food manufacturing process AND the sugars which are 'natural' like honey, fruit juices, syrups etc. Pointing out that just because a sugar is a 'natural source', doesn't mean that if you are downing 8 date based 'protein' balls, you aren't getting a huge whack of sugar and only a small amount of the advertised 'trace vitamins and minerals' that are supposed to make it ok to have. (If you are sensing a bit of frustration, you would be correct).
So here we go, and this is by no means an exhaustive list, but perhaps the most SHOCKING (and because no one wants to be disappointed more that 4 times in one sitting):
The first three ingredients on most of these matcha latte products, which are widely available in cafes and supermarkets now and espouse saintly anti-oxidant properties, can be up to 3 different sugar types. There is lots of great research to say that this green tea type drink can be really good for you, but when bound up with sugar, I dare say the benefits are negated. To get around this, if you are dying for a green latte, you can buy your own matcha tea powder (checked the label for added ingredients) and try making your own at home and only using a small amount of honey for sweetness.
Flavoured 'quick' oats
Oats a to'oat'ally good for you. They are high in soluble fibre, and are warming on a cold winter day. However, when we move up the aisle from the big bags of whole rolled or steel cut oats, we losing health benefits and entering sugar-ville. The un-flavoured ones can be ok as a last ditched attempt at getting breakfast in if you are running out the door, but the fruit/honey flavoured ones usually contain another holy trinity of sugar- honey powder, glucose, regular sugar- and are likely to land you starving by 9.45am. The GI of slow cooked whole oats is around 41, which give us slow burning energy, however, because quick oats are processed further so they cook in under a minute, there GI goes up to 81, which means you are getting a big spike in blood sugar.
Go for the rolled and steel cut versions, or at the very least, have only is case of emergency and add some nuts and whole milk to keep you feeling fuller for longer.
I am almost 100% positive that every fitspo out there has filled at least 1/2 the Insta feed with pictures of bright purple bowls with neatly lined up bit of fruit, chia, goji and, I don't know, tumeric or something. And while this Amazonian berry does pack an anti-oxidant punch when its flying solo, it's the large amount of fruit and juice that is can be tied up with, which means that you are cuing an insulin surge post consumption! Many recipes have it mixed with 200ml of fruit juice, plus a banana and topped with more fruit! Fruit is not bad, juice is not bad, Acai is not bad, but all in one sitting its a glycemic mess. Pretty yes, but just eat the berries and you'll be right.
And last and least healthy
Where do I start with these? There are legitimate green juices with a good amount of actual green stuff and that are low in sugar/kilojoules and then there are supermarket frauds which are fruit juice dressed up as super foods. The price tag is usually a good indicator of just how much green there is compared to the apple/pear juice filler. The more expensive ones (think around teh $10 mark) are likely to have a heath inducing amount of greens, anything drastically less than that, RUN. Some are up to 90% apple juice with a bit of some slightly more expensive veg, like beetroot, and then declare just decimal point amounts of the green goddess kale and watercress that made you want to give it a go. I am going to guess that downing 500ml of juice, containing about 10-12 tsp sugar, is probably not what you were looking to do. It's not fair that the misleading language and packing used is leading people to believe they are doing the right thing, and it's deception that unfortunately almost always comes with a big price tag! eat the greens in their whole form or go for a 3 part veg 1 part fruit ratio as a rule of thumb.
A little bit of these products every now and then, if you want to give it a go, is not going to do you harm. Give them a try, take the pic, add it to your Instagram account (#nourish). But take a second look at labels if you are thinking about making them a central feature in your diet, and be on the look out for super foods baring more added sugar than mysterious super food.
Harriet walker is a Dietitian based in Canberra who loves a good nutrition myth bust on a Sunday evening and lifting heavy objects.