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By Jess Ainscough, MindBodyGreen

Between the mainstream media, the Food Pyramid, the gazillions of blogs about health foods out there, and the premise that you can just walk into an organic store and anything you pull off the shelves will be healthy, it’s not hard to see why so many of us are confused as to what is actually healthy and what isn’t.

Being a wellness warrior is tricky business, and I don’t think anyone is exempt from falling into the trap of thinking something is healthy, only to find out later that it totally isn’t. Here are just some of the food items commonly confused as health foods thanks to clever marketing, along with some suggested healthier whole-food alternatives.

  1. Agave Syrup

This is one I myself fell for. So many vegans and raw foodists rave about agave as a whole food that I didn’t really stop and think it could be too good to be true. Agave is a super sweet liquid that is often touted as the “healthy” or “low GI” alternative to sugar. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, it’s hardly any better than high fructose corn syrup. It’s highly processed, and super high in fructose.

What should we eat instead?

Raw organic honey! 

Here is a list of natural sweeteners.

Introducing the non-toxic, non-antibiotic line of personal essentials.


2. Soy

Soy milk and tofu are often considered healthy food alternatives to meat and dairy. I’m not advocating meat or dairy, but in my opinion, soy is just as bad, if not worse. Organic fermented soy products are OK in small amounts, but the majority of the Western world is under the idea that processed products like soy milk and tofu (which are also generally genetically modified) are good for us. Hundreds of epidemiological, clinical and laboratory studies link soy to malnutrition, digestive distress, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders, infertility, birth defects, immune system breakdown, heart disease and cancer. Don’t believe me? Read The Whole Soy Story by Dr. Kaayla T. Daniel.

What should we eat instead?

If you’re after vegan protein, some healthy alternatives to soy  I recommend  are: lentils, beans, chickpeas, quinoa, spirulina, and leafy greens.

3. Fish

When taken from the right source, fish is an ultimate health food. Fish falls into two main categories: farmed and wild. Farmed fish are raised in much the same environment as factory farmed animals. They are crammed into confined spaces and forced to survive in atrocious conditions. The enormous amount of feces in their enclosures leads to rampant outbreaks of parasites and disease. In order to keep the fish alive in such unhealthy conditions, large quantities of antibiotics and other chemicals are poured into the water. Farmed fish are fed a tasty diet of junk grains, soy meal, corn gluten meal, chemicals, and neurotoxins. Everything the fish endures is consumed by you when you eat it!

Wild-caught fish is a little better, but still not great. Most of it is full of mercury (with the exception of the odd sardine), which is the second most toxic element on Earth next to radiation.

What should we eat instead?

If you don’t want to give up fish, here is an Australian list of the most and least contaminated fish, and here is one for the United States.

4. Fruit Juice

I have one word for you: sugar. That’s all fruit juice is to your body. Because the fruit has been stripped of its fiber, it’s not a whole food; it’s converted straight into sugar as soon as it hits your mouth and sends your blood sugar levels all woo-hoo. Of course the bottles of fruit juice you buy at the store are rubbish. Most people know that. But fruit juice you make yourself is also not that great because of the whole sugar thing.

What should we drink instead?

Vegetable juice! You can juice an apple with veggies to make the juice sweeter. Or, if you want more fruit, try a smoothie. With all of the fiber still intact, smoothies are better than fruit juices.

5. Subway

It’s criminal that Subway is allowed to be marketed as a healthy option when it comes to food choices. The meat is processed, the sauces are full of sugar and other preservatives, and they sell junk food cookies and soft drinks as add-ons. There’s nothing healthy about Subway. Don’t believe me? Click here to see a list of what is actually in Subway’s food.

What should we eat instead?

How about a fresh sandwich?

6. Cooking With Olive Oil

When used at room temperature, olive oil is healthy. As soon as you introduce high heat, it becomes rancid and turns into a carcinogen (a.k.a. cancer promoter). It pains me to see top TV chefs splashing their pans with olive oil. Coconut oil is the best oil to cook with as it’s extremely stable against heat.

What should we use instead?

Coconut oil, grapeseed oil, and safflower oil all have a high smoke point.

Related Product: Nutiva Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil

7. Bragg’s Liquid Aminos

Another favorite in the health community, Bragg’s is splashed through many dishes and loved for its salty flavor. However, Bragg’s is an unfermented soy product. Soy, as we covered above, is not a health food.

What should we use instead?

Either coconut aminos, or I would suggest leaving it out. If you want a slightly salty flavor, use a small amount of Himalayan salt. But once you start leaving salt out of your dishes, your taste buds will adjust to no longer needing it.

8. Dairy

The argument in favor of dairy is usually around the idea that it is a good source of calcium. I’m here to tell you that it isn’t. Because dairy is an animal protein, it has an acidic affect on your body. To balance out the pH, your body turns to its own alkaline mineral reserves and leeches calcium from your bones. So therefore, dairy actually takes calcium from your body rather than introduces it. Shocking, I know. Then there’s the fact that pasteurized dairy is full of antibiotics, comes from a cow that is usually less than healthy, and is full of pus cells. Yep, pus. According to research by the USDA, the average content of pus in milk is 316 million pus cells! If you want to learn more about the detriments of dairy, click here or pick up a copy of The China Study by T. Colin Campbell.

What should we have instead?

Try cheese made from nuts (like cashew or Brazil nut cheese) and milk made from either almonds, coconut, oats, hemp, or rice.

This article was written by Jess Ainscough and published in MindBodyGreen on May 8, 2013. Photo by cathou_cathare/Flickr.

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6 thoughts on “8 Foods People Think Are Healthy (But Aren’t)”

  1. There is a lot of false information in this article. Olive oil does not turn rancid and carcinogenic when heated. Milk is not acidic and it does not leech calcium from your bones, it is certainly not full of pus and antibiotics. Stop spreading this nonsense around. Fish is very healthy and only certain types have high levels of mercury, and even those can still be eaten occasionally.

  2. Perhaps some research should be done before making inflammatory comments. . .

    Milk is not full of “pus cells.” Pus is yellow/white cheesy material made of dead white blood cells – think an abscess. The counts that you are referencing are Somatic Cell Counts – aka white blood cells that are not dead and are part of a normal healthy immune system. Indeed elevated counts of white blood cells (WBCs) can be indicative of an inflammatory process (such as mastitis). These levels are carefully monitored, and numbers greater than 200,000/mL could potentially indicate a problem (though not necessarily mastitis) and there are regulations and financial penalties for farmers who try to sell milk like this. Numbers less than 200,000/mL are not dangerous, they are normally present in milk and do not indicate an inflammatory process. Just as you would have WBCs in your own breast milk that you feed to your newborn. WBCs are naturally present as “protectors” of the body.

    Second, milk is not FULL of antibiotics. There are rules and regulations of what antibiotics can be given to food producing animals. These antibiotics also have “withdrawal periods.” This is the minimum amount of time that milk can not be collected for sale after finishing an antibiotic series. This time is calculated for individual drugs based on the amount of time they could potentially remain present in milk. Violating this rule results in financial penalties and serious reprimands from the food production governing bodies.

    I’m all for researching what you eat and learning more about what you put into your body, but please use reputable sources. not being one of them. Perhaps you should interview someone who studies the science behind this for a living.

    A veterinary professional
    (Yes, we do have to learn this in school)

  3. My pediatrician screams at me when I tell her that I don’t give my kids milk or dairy products! So I agree with you about the dairy – the whole USDA is feeding us misinformation about the health of our food. Save our children from these dangers! Thank you – I love The Hive!

  4. I agree with the reader above, it’s a little surprising about olive oil. Thanks!

  5. I did not know this about olive oil! Wow! I’ve started using coconut oil, and I have seen grape seed oil too, but we opted for olive oil instead! Now I will most certainly be purchasing grape seed oil from here on in! Thank you for this info!

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