Mark Schatzker is an award-winning writer based in Toronto. He is a radio columnist for the Canadian Broadcast Corporation and a frequent contributor to the Globe and Mail, Condé Nast Traveler, and Bloomberg Pursuits. He is the author of The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food And Flavor, out now from sister company Simon & Schuster and available wherever books are sold.
If you still think standard junk food like soda and potato chips are the major dietary danger, it's time to take a closer look at what you're eating. Junk food has gone undercover. Today's supermarket aisles are lined with high-calorie, low-nutrient treats that pretend to be healthy. The formula is simple: Fool people's brains with a label that sounds healthy, then fool their taste buds with "flavorings"—chemicals that mimic nature's language of nutrition without delivering actual nutrition. Here are five fake health foods you might not want to put in your shopping cart.
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Your daily recommended intake of vitamins like b6, b12, niacin and panthotenic acid sure sounds healthy, and flavors like "tropical citrus" and "raspberry-apple" make this stuff taste like it's straight from the forest. But now it's time for the facts, the vast majority of Americans are getting all the vitamins they need, and more won't make them any healthier. What Americans don't need, is sugar and there's 33 grams in a single serving. The best way to get your vitamins is still the old fashioned way, by eating fruits and vegetables. You'll also get minerals, fiber and antioxidants. And less sugar.
Fruit Flavored Yogurt
That yogurt in your fridge features pictures of fruit, and it tastes just like fruit, but there probably isn't much fruit in it. In fact, there might not be any fruit in it. The illusion is courtesy of two harmless-sounding words you'll find on the ingredient panel: "natural flavors." And make no mistake, there's nothing "natural" about them. These highly refined chemicals are designed by experts to perfectly mimic the sensation of fruit—without the fruit. And once again, too bad about all that sugar.
Flavored Soy Milk
First, the bad news, soy milk tastes like tofu water. And now, the even worse news, soy milk manufacturers sweet talk your taste buds by, you guessed it, adding sugar and flavorings (vanilla, chocolate, etc.). When it comes to calories per fluid ounce, some flavored soy milks are worse than soft drinks. Still think it's healthy?
Chocolate Milk With DHA
Do growing brains need DHA, the omega-3 fat found in salmon and mackerel? They sure do. But before you reach for the DHA-fortified chocolate milk, keep in mind there's zero evidence kids aren't getting enough DHA. And there's lots of alarming evidence kids are eating too much sugar. Evidence in the form of skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes. If it sounds like DHA-fortified chocolate milk is just a cynical way of playing on parents' anxieties to get them to feed their children a high-calorie, high-sugar drink they don't need, it is. Eat real fish instead.
Unless you're a pro athlete, the whole point of exercise for most people is to lose calories, not gain them. So why are you sabotaging all that hard work by chugging what basically amounts to sugar-carb water with some flavor chemicals thrown in to make it taste good? Here's some advice: When you feel the urge to "hydrate," i.e. you're thirsty, drink water. And if you're still worried about your electrolyte levels, eat fruit.
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