While not equivalent to soda and trans fat-laden fast food, they are nevertheless not the nutrition all-stars we have been made to believe. The time for an objective analysis has come.
In no particular order:
100% FRUIT JUICE
The Fantasy We’ve Been Sold: “It counts as a fruit serving!”. “A great way for kids to get their fruit”. “Nutrition in a glass!”. “Pediatrician-approved” (Mott’s desperate attempt to healthwash its Motts for Tots product, which is essentially watered-down apple juice).
Wake-Up Call: Fruit juice is empty calories. The only reason why so many commercial apple juices contain vitamin C, by the way, is because of fortification (that’s nutrition-speak for “added during processing”). The only nutrient inherently found in apple juice is — of all things — iron.
In its defense, orange juice intrinsically contains vitamin C, potassium, and folate, but the bottom line remains that fruit juice contributes calories, but no satiety.
The juicing process removes all the fiber in fruit, and significantly decreases its phytonutrient, antioxidant, and vitamin content. Apples, for example, contain a heart-healthy antioxidant known as quercetin. One important detail: 100% of it is in the peel.
I remain flabbergasted at the USDA’s decision that 100% fruit juice and a piece of fruit equally count as a serving. Fruit juice should be a treat, not a staple.
One caveat: it’s one thing to make yourself a green juice (think: celery, cucumber, kale, lemon, and ginger) at home and sweeten it with half an apple, or a small pear. Most of that juice consists of vegetables, and the ginger and lemon add a powerful anti-inflammatory punch.
Despite the ‘fresh’ and ‘natural’ claims on commercial juices, the reality is also quite different. As this Gizmodo article explains, “100% orange juice” has artificial underpinnings:
“In order to have OJ actually taste like oranges, drink companies hire flavor and fragrance companies, the same ones that make perfumes for Dior, to create these “flavor packs” to make juice taste like, well, juice again.”
Also, keep in mind that it takes three to four oranges to make one glass of orange juice . While that glass of OJ can be guzzled in a handful of seconds, eating three or four whole oranges takes more time. The presence of fiber in those oranges also means you’ll feel more satiated consuming those 120 calories from whole oranges instead of juice.
A Better Choice: Whole fruit. It can be eaten a variety of ways: on its own, dipped in some nut or seed butter, added to a salad (chopped apples go great with kale), or as a topping on a pilaf (raisins, currants, or chopped dates are a great addition to a quinoa and toasted almond pilaf).
Considering that the average American only consumes 15 of the 25 recommended grams of daily fiber, giving fruit juice the green light and passing it off as a health food is the ultimate deception. Sure, orange juice is a great source of vitamin C. But so is a whole orange — which offers a lot more nutrition.
The Fantasy We’ve Been Sold: “A healthy start to the day!”. “A low-fat, cholesterol-free food”. “Contains 23 vitamins and minerals!”
I refer to it as “the breakfast scam”. I am sure you’ve come across it — commercials where “a healthy and complete breakfast” is illustrated as a bowl of cereal, a glass of orange juice, and a few slices of white toast. Recently, some companies have wised up and now show an actual piece of fruit in place of a glass of juice. Sugar, refined grains, and minimal fiber — sounds like a snapshot of the standard American diet.
Wake-Up Call: While there are exceptions, the cereal aisle mainly offers minimally nutritious options. Most cereals (and this goes for both “kid cereals” and “adult cereals”) are high in sugar and low in three key nutrients that are important to have at every meal: fat, fiber, and protein.
A serving of Froot Loops and Apple Jacks each offer a tablespoon of added sugar per serving. A cup of Kellogg’s “adult” Smart Start cereal, which is incredibly billed as heart-healthy, contains the sugar of 3 Oreo cookies.
Many commercial cereals also contain partially hydrogenated oils, artificial dyes, and petroleum-derived ingredients like BHT (banned in many countries).
A Better Choice: If you are a cereal fiend, then look for ones with a 3:1 or 4:1 fiber-to-sugar ratio per serving. To give you an idea, Cap’n Crunch “Oops! All Berries” cereal has a fiber-to-sugar ratio of 1:15. “Oops!”, indeed.
The Food for Life brand is a good choice, as are some varieties of Uncle Sam. A cereal that offers no more than two grams of sugar per serving (even if its only at 1:1 ratio with fiber) is key; you can always add fiber (via ground flax, chia seeds, whole fruit), but can not take back sugar that has been added during processing.
If you enjoy grains in the morning, plain oatmeal, quinoa porridge, a 10-grain hot cereal, or 100% whole grain toast (all of those topped with some nut/seed butter and accompanied with whole fruit) are better alternative to most cereals.
The Fantasy We’ve Been Sold: What haven’t we been sold? From “nature’s perfect beverage” to PMS-remedy, the dairy industry has relentlessly pushed milk as a magical elixir. We have also been fear-mongered about the fact that, if children don’t have chocolate milk at school, their milk consumption decreases (we are, of course, supposed to then conclude that without chocolate milk, children’s bones will atrophy).
Wake-Up Call: Ever wonder why people are so willing to drink a glass of cow’s milk but would consider you out of your mind if you offered them a glass of possum or raccoon milk? That’s propaganda for you. It’s amazing how all other adult mammals manage to have strong bones without the need to drink the milk of another species as adults.
Humans “need” cow’s milk as much as cats “need” dog’s milk. The dairy industry has simply succeeded in convincing Americans that “calcium” is a synonym for “dairy”. Instead of a “have three servings of calcium-rich foods a day” public health message, we have been brainwashed for decades about the importance of “three servings of dairy” a day.
The truth is, calcium is plentiful in the food supply, and one can have good bone health and proper nutrition without ever drinking a glass of cow’s milk. The dairy industry conveniently forgets to add that some non-dairy sources of calcium (i.e.: green leafy vegetables) offer other nutrients that are vital for bone health — such as Vitamin K and manganese — that are absent from milk.
A Better Choice: I recognize that, from a nutritional standpoint, not all cow’s milk is the same. If one chooses to consume dairy, organic and grass-fed are paramount. I also don’t think that the occasional intake of fermented organic dairy (i.e.: kefir, plain yogurt) is harmful.
However, as I often remind my omnivore clientss, depending exclusively on milk for bone health is terribly misguided, and fails to take into account that there is much more to bone health than calcium and vitamin D. And, as I often like to remind some of my colleagues, it is irresponsible (and dangerously narrow-minded) to allude that a dairy-free lifestyle can lead to insufficient calcium intakes.
The Fantasy We’ve Been Sold: At this point, I’ve lost count of the number of TV shows and magazines that highlight a recipe with ground turkey as “heart-healthy”, and the number of restaurants that place turkey bacon in the “light and fit” section of their menus.
Wake-Up Call: Ground turkey, like all other animal proteins, doesn’t offer the very nutrients most Americans don’t consume enough of – fiber and magnesium.
In the case of turkey bacon, it is still a processed meat product low in nutrients, and relatively high in sodium, that contains troublesome preservatives, like sodium nitrite. The evidence linking frequent consumption of processed meats with increased risk of stomach, colon, and prostate cancers makes the discussion about the leanness of turkey bacon absolutely banal.
A Better Choice: As I explain in this recent Grist piece, lower your consumption of animal protein and eat more whole, plant-based foods.
Now, for the fun part: keep track of how often you see advertisements for these four foods and beverages; pay particular attention to the way they are billed as healthful and wholesome. The healthiest thing about most of these is the advertising budget that continues to perpetuate their unwarranted health halos.