Four foods you don't need

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(ARA) - The average super market offers some 45,000 food products, most of which are packaged, processed and a poor choice for someone who wants to eat healthy - even when the package says otherwise with claims of being natural, whole grain and even organic.

“People love the idea of convenience, especially with their food,” says registered dietitian Anika DeCoster, assistant program manager of LifeTime WeightLoss, a division of Life Time, The Healthy Way of Life Company. “Most of the convenience and processed foods on the market are barely recognizable to the human body. The body can’t properly digest, absorb or use nutrients in these modified foods effectively, which negatively impacts metabolism, weight and energy production.”

Of those 45,000 products, there are four DeCoster says you can stop buying now.

Breakfast cereal. Most Americans consume an over-abundance of sugar, not just in desserts but also via processed foods, like breakfast cereals that contain simple carbohydrates, which our bodies treat like sugar when they enter the bloodstream. Too much sugar in the diet can lead to obesity - which can be a cause for Type 2 diabetes - and also takes some blame for suppressing the immune system and playing a role in depression, even Alzheimer’s. Cereal is not the breakfast of champions. If you miss the crunch, start making your own granola packed with nuts and seeds, which provide healthy fats and protein, without the excess sugar and added trans-fats found in store-bought varieties.

Fruit juice and soda. One of the main culprits of the obesity epidemic, soda - even diet soda - has a negative impact on healthy eating. Fruit juice, while seemingly more healthy since it is made with fruit, contains so much sugar, it outweighs any benefits. Water is the only beverage a body truly needs. “If you need a flavor kick, try buying natural, carbonated water and add a little lime, lemon, or even flavored Stevia drops, which come in vanilla, toffee and other flavors,” recommended DeCoster.

Salad dressing. Eating a salad? Good for you. Top it with dressing loaded with sugar, additives and preservatives and you’ve just doused those healthy vegetables with an unhealthy dose of products your body doesn’t need. Making your own salad dressing is simple: whisk together oil – like olive, walnut, or sesame seed varieties – with acid, like red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar or lemon juice. Season with dry or fresh herbs and change the consistency with anything from peanut butter or mustard to sour cream or avocados. Homemade dressings are easy to prepare and keep in the fridge for a week or longer.

Non-fat flavored yogurt. “Instead, buy plain full-fat Greek yogurt and add your own flavorings such as nuts/seeds, a little organic honey or berries,” DeCoster says. That’s right, full-fat. “The fat in the yogurt helps your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin D, which is the most common vitamin deficiency.” Plus this natural fat is essential for fortifying brain and cell membranes, and because it is digested more slowly, you’re less likely to be hungry an hour later. DeCoster suggests comparing the ingredient list from a plain full-fat yogurt to a non-fat flavored yogurt. The first will have a few recognizable ingredients; the second will read like a chemistry textbook.

Because our busy lifestyles thrive on convenience, as well as good nutrition, DeCoster recommends that people make their own convenience foods via whole food preparation. 

“I encourage people to put most of their emphasis on choosing foods that don’t have labels or packaging, like meat, fruit, veggies, raw nuts and seeds. These foods are in their most natural form and are considered whole and unprocessed foods,” she says.

If a food does have a label or package, never choose to buy it based on the packaging claims. “The ingredient list should always be your first glance in determining if that food is healthy or not. If the ingredients don’t hold up to your nutrition plan or you don’t recognize them, put the food back on the shelf.”

If you need help deciphering food labels, a Life Time Fitness Nutrition and Weight Loss Coach leads a grocery store tour from most facilities every month.