Set down your fruit juice, fat free milk and all those “fake” healthy foods. In this feature Nick Ludlow tells you why 6 popular food choices might not be all that healthy.
Let me preface this article with the following disclaimer: You may disagree with me because your body can tolerate the foods discussed below without issue. Additionally, you may have successfully incorporated these foods in to a “healthy” diet.
With this in mind, you should know that the purpose of this article isn’t to persuade you to eliminate these foods from your diet. Rather, it is to examine common “health” foods that aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. If you’ve been eating some of these foods and wondering why you haven’t been feeling so good after trying to “clean up” your diet, then consider this article food for thought.
Along with the title of “not so good for you”, the foods discussed here encapsulate certain characteristics including, but not limited to;
a.) Lack of nutritional value.
b.) Gastrointestinal (GI) tract issues.
c.) Interference with vitamin and mineral absorption.
For each food I will discuss these “not so good” properties and provide alternative food options that mitigate the drawbacks of the food items under examination.
It’s safe to say that if you consume dairy, consider full-fat dairy or at the very least moderate-fat dairy to optimize vitamin absorption.
Fat Free Dairy Hinders Vitamin Absorption
You can’t turn a corner these days without nutritionists, fitness enthusiasts, and your mother touting the benefits of dairy. Dairy is an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D (if it’s added), and protein. Liquid dairy products such as milk are also a convenient way to increase your caloric intake and provide hydration.
However, fat free dairy is not always your best dairy option. Firstly, fat free dairy lacks…wait for it… Fat! The presence of fat, a 9 calorie per gram macronutrient, is crucial for absorbing key fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, E, and K.
Although the fat quantity required for optimal absorption of Vitamin E is unknown, α-tocopherol concentration (aka vitamin E absorption) was significantly greater with higher fat meal (17.5g fat) compared to the low fat meal (2.7g fat) and water-only meal (0g fat).  Vitamin K levels, measured by menaquinone-4 concentrations, were higher when study participants consumed supplements with a fat source (e.g. butter) compared to consumption with no fat source. 
Based on the two studies mentioned above, one can safely extrapolate that the overall absorption of vitamin A and K improves with the presence of a fat source. However, the minimum fat quantity required to optimally absorb these key vitamins does not appear to follow an known formula or trend.
Following this logic, it’s safe to say that if you consume dairy, consider full-fat dairy or at the very least moderate-fat dairy to optimize vitamin absorption. If you absolutely refuse to consume full- or moderate-fat dairy, consume your fat free dairy with a fat source such as nuts, olive oil, fatty fish, or avocado.
I’m sure we’ve all had one too many scoops of whey protein only to find ourselves with farts that could clear out a room. Through firsthand accounts, chatting with fitness enthusiasts, and accidentally reading forum stories with way too much detail on this topic, a majority of the population finds dairy to be hard on the gastrointestinal tract (GI), especially as consumption increases.
According to the National Institute of Health’s Genetics Home Reference website, “Approximately 65 percent of the human population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy. Lactose intolerance in adulthood is most prevalent in people of East Asian descent, affecting more than 90 percent of adults in some of these communities. Lactose intolerance is also very common in people of West African, Arab, Jewish, Greek, and Italian descent”. 
A reduced ability to digest lactose may result in issues such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, and acne. If you find yourself encountering any of those issues, consider slowly reducing dairy consumption until these symptoms disappear or completely eliminating dairy consumption for a week and then slowly re-introducing dairy until you find the point just before these symptoms occur. You won’t know the point just-before the symptoms appear until you slightly overshoot it, but once you find that point, just dial back so you’re behind that line.
If legumes are still giving you troubles from the gastrointestinal and bloodwork standpoint, I would use meat and full-fat dairy as primary protein sources.
Legumes Inhibit Mineral Aborption
Legumes are a popular option for fitness enthusiasts to increase their protein, fiber, and iron consumption. For vegetarian fitness enthusiasts, legumes are a crucial element of their diet as they’re often paired with rice to create a “complete” protein source. Before your consume boatloads of legumes during your next meal, let’s discuss their phytates and phytic acid content.
Phytic acid has antioxidant properties but also binds to vital minerals. Phytic acid inhibits iron absorption of both native-iron and fortified-iron foods, which can cause iron deficiencies over time if large amounts of legumes are consumed.  Although study in question failed to provide a formula on what constitutes a “large amount” of legumes, one can generally classify one can of legumes per day for 6-12 months to be a large amount.
Minerals whose absorption are hindered by the presence of phytates, in order of most to decreasing impact, are zinc, calcium, iron, copper, and magnesium.  It is worth reiterating that for the absorption of those minerals to be negatively affected you must be consuming large quantities of legumes over a period of time – simply consuming legumes with zinc rich foods like oysters will not completely negate zinc absorption.
In addition to their phytates and phytic acid content, legumes have such a notorious impact on your gastrointestinal tract that children sing the tune, “Beans, beans they’re good for your heart; beans, beans they make you fart; the more your fart, the better you feel; so beans, Beans, for every meal!” Needless to say, overconsumption of legumes equates to a high fiber intake in a very short period of time, which puts your GI tract on high-alert.
I’m not going to cite some study claiming that the fiber in legumes is dangerous, but c’mon folks, please be mindful if you’re eating large quantities of legumes and intend to be in a public and/or confined space. No one wants to hear or smell what you ate earlier in the day. If you’re not looking to completely remove legumes from your diet, there are a few methods to decrease phytate quantities, phytic acid levels, and gastrointestinal side effects – cooking, germination, fermentation, soaking, and autolysis/self-digestion. 
If legumes are still giving you troubles from the gastrointestinal and bloodwork standpoint, I would use meat and full-fat dairy as primary protein sources (with soy in moderation) and fruits, vegetables, and cereals (e.g. oats, quinoa, wheat germ) for as primary fiber sources.
(Most) Rice Cakes Are Highly Processed
Ah rice cakes – the “clean” carbohydrate choice for bro-bodybuilders everywhere. Over the years, many bros have touted rice cakes as an excellent way to “spike the insulin” levels. Many articles claim that the main reason for avoiding rice cakes is due to their relatively high glycemic index value (82 +/- 11) and insulin index (73 +/- 12). 
Let me introduce a different perspective for why you should avoid rice cakes – they’re overly-processed and nutritionally lacking. Yes, I understand they’re portion controlled, but why not just eat the real thing? One cup of cooked long grain brown rice contains 88% of your daily value of manganese, 34.7% of selenium, 23.1% of phosphorus, 21.1% of copper, 20.9% of magnesium, and 3.5 grams of fiber.  Sure, you might be able to obtain those nutrients from rice cakes, but I’m willing to bet it won’t be as concentrated or kind to your wallet.
For example, Quaker® lightly salted rice cakes only contain two ingredients – whole grain brown rice and salt, but let’s be honest; most people select the flavored varieties. The caramel corn variety contains 8 ingredients, the chocolate crunch variety contains 14 ingredients, and the white cheddar variety contains a whopping 20 ingredients! 
If you’re looking to cut down on processed foods, consume the rice in its original form or select another minimally processed carbohydrate such as potatoes, oatmeal, or quinoa. If you refuse to eliminate rice cakes from your diet, consider switching to the salt-free or lightly salted variety and adding your toppings such as peanut butter or parmesan cheese or a cinnamon/cocoa powder mixture.
“Health Halo” Snack Foods Are Not Really Healthy
It’s amazing how marketing can completely alter the general public’s opinion of what makes a food healthy. Apparently, someone decided that an unhealthy food could become healthy if the new product (e.g. crisps instead of cookies) could deliver the same flavor in fewer calories.
Common perpetrators include 100 calorie packs, snacks that have a “light” version via fat removal, and foods that advertise being made with 100% real fruit. These foods are almost always low in fiber, protein, and healthy fats but high in processed carbohydrates, artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. These foods provide little satiety and increase the consumers’ potentially to overeat because of the “health halo” associated with the snack.
I always laugh when someone feels less guilty about eating five packs of 100 calorie pack Oreo® crisps than actually eating one serving of the real deal. For those with a higher level of self-control and the ability to only consume one pack, I ask, “why bother”? For another 70 calories you can have a full serving of the Oreos® you’re probably going to eat later that day anyways and at least you won’t be trying to fool yourself.
In addition to the processed and unsatisfying nature of these snack foods, I also urge you to consider the implication of consuming the large amount of artificial ingredients contained within these foods over time. Sure, one or two packs every week or so won’t kill you, but if I have researched half of the ingredients to determine what they are, then it’s probably not the best food to consume on a regular basis.
My top three snack foods that don’t fall under the “health halo” snack food category are almonds, beef jerky and whole fruits. Almonds and beef jerky are great sources of healthy fats and protein. Fruit is an excellent source of fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. All three snack options do not contain added or processed carbohydrates, fiber, and contain no processed carbohydrates. However, you’ll rarely see these products in flashy packaging as they don’t need marketing gimmicks and buzzwords to prove that they’re healthy snack options.
Fruit Juice Is Concentrated Sugar That Lacks Nutrition
It should come as no surprise that fruit juice made this list – fruit juice is unnecessarily processed, lacks nutrition, and ruins the integrity of the perfect delivery system nature provides when fruit grows naturally. Fruit juice lacks the natural fiber content of fruit but contains the natural fruit sugars in concentrated form which can cause blood sugar swings that may otherwise be stabilized by the fruit fiber.
The liquid delivery system of fruit juice also doesn’t provide as much satiety as solid foods and, as a result, one may quickly over consume this calorie dense product which could hinder fat loss on a calorie-restricted diet or lead to unnecessary fat gain on a mass-gaining diet.
Fruits such as oranges and grapes provide significantly more satiety immediately, 60 minutes, and 120 minutes post consumption compared to their fruit juice counterparts.  One can likely attribute to this difference in satiety to the presence of dietary fiber and the fruit being in solid rather than liquid form. Consuming the fruit in its solid form delays the speed at which the fruit can be digested and lowers the overall energy density – it’s much easier to blend an apple, banana, mango, and blueberries and consume in one sitting than it is to eat a serving of all those fruits in their solid form in one sitting.
If you refuse to eliminate fruit from your diet, which is understandable, consider consuming whole fruits a majority of the time with the occasion substitution of dehydrated fruits. If you’re still worried that you might over consume fruit, I’ve found that vegetables provide similar if not higher quantities of the same crucial vitamins and minerals for fewer calories and higher levels of satiety.
Heavy Seaweed Consumption Can Mess With Your Thyroid
Seaweeds such as kelp, chlorella, spirulina, and wakame are touted as popular “superfoods” as the general population increases its collective knowledge on exercise and nutrition. Seaweeds contain high levels of iodine, a crucial element for growth, development, and metabolism.
If iodine intake is too low, then metabolism may decrease due to an underactive thyroid, but more isn’t always better – excessive seaweed consumption can cause serious side effects in some individuals. “In the normal, healthy thyroid, high levels of iodine intake have little lasting effect even when in large doses (1,000-2,000 µg/day).” 
When iodine consumption is high, the body’s production of the thyroid hormone is down-regulated or temporarily shut off to compensate. “Excessive iodine intake has also been associated with the increased incidence of autoimmune thyroiditis or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the primary cause of hypothyroidism”.  Hypothyroidism can vastly diminish quality of life and is difficult to reverse without medication.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism may include, but not be limited to – fatigue, increased sensitivity to cold, constipation, dry skin, unexplained weight gain, puffy face, hoarseness, muscle weakness, elevated blood cholesterol level, muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness, pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints, heavier than normal or irregular menstrual periods, thinning hair, slowed heart rate, depression, impaired memory. 
Please understand that I’m not trying to scare away from seaweed. I simply encourage you to avoid mega-loading seaweed in an effort to increase your metabolism via thyroid activity. If you are an otherwise healthy individual, simply using iodized table salt and occasionally consuming seaweed should have your thyroid functioning within the normal range.
Although this list is by no means comprehensive and absolute, if you’ve been struggling toreach your fitness goals and have been liberally consuming these foods and food products, consider decreasing or eliminating them from your diet until you feel that you can safely incorporate them without derailing your progress.