Our eating habits are shaped by a number of things; many of our likes and dislikes are developed during childhood when what we eat is entirely in the hands of someone else.
As we get older and more aware of the pleasures of food, most of us start to evolve our own taste, sometimes as a reaction to or an affirmation of our early experiences of home cooking.
Less obvious, but perhaps even more influential on our culinary decision making, are the commercial messages and prevalence on the supermarket shelves of foods which we are led to believe are ‘normal’ to eat every day.
In fact some of these have little or no nutritional value and have no place in a healthy diet.
Here are five general food types that producers and retailers would have us believe are good and wholesome when the opposite is actually true.
If you are struggling with your weight you may find that a few of these have already found their way into your regular shopping basket and cutting down on them or avoiding them altogether will help put you back in control of your body.
1. White bread
We have all been brought up to think of ‘our daily bread’ as the very minimum requirement for any diet.
Manufacturers vie with each other to tell us how full of ‘goodness’ and ‘natural energy’ their loaves are, but white bread is utterly useless when it comes to nutrition.
All the natural properties of wheat and grain have been processed out of the end product and replaced with additives, preservatives and sugar.
There is even so little fibre left in a white loaf, that it is unlikely to satisfy your hunger and make you feel ‘full’, encouraging you to eat even more and take extra calories on board.
If you can you should substitute whole wheat or whole grain breads which are proven to be good for you.
2. Fried Foods
It seems a little obvious to say fried foods are fattening and unhealthy, but perfectly reasonable people who would never think of eating fast food or buying a bag of chips outside the home will blithely whip out the frying pan or deep fat fryer to prepare a meal at home.
Frying is a quick and convenient way to cook, and if we start with ‘healthy’ ingredients and use something like extra virgin olive oil we might think there’s little harm to be done.
But the very process of frying causes food to break down into chemicals and compounds which can have an adverse effect on your health.
It is not, as you might expect, the residual oil or fat left on the food after frying, but the ultra-high temperatures over 200 degrees that create the problem.
Any food that is fried, even a vegetable, will break down and produce trans-fat along with a chemical called acrylamide which comes from starch and is classed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) as a ‘genotoxic carcinogen’ which means it can cause cancer by messing with your DNA.
The FSA doesn’t go so far as to recommend avoiding fried food completely, but it does advise that food be fried as lightly as possible.
3. Ready-made Salad / Salad Dressing
We all know salads are good news for the body and an excellent way to control calorie intake if you are trying to lose weight, but not all salads are the same and you need to be wary of the salad dressing, especially when buying pre-prepared salads from a supermarket.
Most of the more popular salads come with a cream based dressing which can completely erase any calorific benefit.
Even when making up your own salad at home, very few of us have the time or convenience to make the dressing to go with it which means buying products off the shelf.
The single serving nutritional values of most of these products is surprisingly high in calories and sodium:
An internationally known brand of Italian dressing contains 130 calories and 360mg of sodium.
A well-known Thousand Island dressing (also known as Remoulade and Russian Dressing) offers 140 calories with 300mg of sodium per serving.
A leading Blue Cheese dressing adds 160 calories and 160mg of sodium per serving.
A household name Ranch dressing per serving contains 180 calories with 280mg of sodium.
Any one of these, especially if you like a liberal helping of dressing to add flavour to your salad, would put a serious dent in your daily calorie count.
Try and stick to oil-based dressings or buy low fat or fat free alternatives.
Either way, be careful to check the nutritional information even on salads, you may be surprised at what you find.
4. White Rice
When looking for an alternative to potatoes or pasta as that essential ‘filler’ companion to the main protein and vegetable ingredients in a balanced meal, most people regard rice as the healthy option.
But here, as in most nutritional matters, things are not always as they seem; not all rices are created equal and the hugely popular standard processed white rice, like white bread, is not the right choice if you are watching your weight.
It’s not that rice has a particularly high calorie value, though it is high in starch; it’s that, like white bread, it offers virtually no nutritional value whatsoever.
The old jokes about having a Chinese meal and, two hours later wanting another one, do reflect some truth.
White rice will not fill you up and may leave you susceptible to snacking between meals which is the death knell for any diet or calorie control.
Brown rice provides a much healthier and nutritious alternative and really does the job you want it to do.
5. High Fructose Corn Syrup (and other sugars)
One of the most controversial food additives continues to be the sugar substitute derived from processing corn starch known variously as High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), glucose-fructose or (in Europe) isoglucose.
It is easier to transport and handle than processed sugar cane (white table sugar) which is called sucrose and even helps to guarantee an even bake in goods like cakes, biscuits and cereals.
It’s most common use is in flavoured drinks, particularly carbonated sodas and has been singled out by some health experts as at least partly responsible for the growing number of obese children and the sharp rise in diabetes in recent years.
HFCS made its first appearance in the early 1970’s after a Japanese researchers discovered the enzyme that converts the glucose in corn starch into fructose.
Its production and commercial use reached a peak in the 1990’s, particularly in the USA where a combination of import tariffs, farm subsidies and global commodities trading made it a much cheaper and more readily available alternative to sucrose (sugar).
At its peak in 1999 it is estimated that the average American consumed 17kg (37.5lbs) of HFCS annually, a figure that had declined to 12.3kg (27.1lbs) by 2012.
Greater sugar production and more liberal import tariffs meant that HFCS was historically less prevalent in Europe and has, in any case, been subject to relatively low production quotas.
It is still used in some very popular UK products such as McVities Hobnobs and Jaffa Cakes, Carte D’Or ice cream and Mr Kipling Bakewell Tarts.
‘But even if we are low consumers of this additive the UK still ranks high in the world table of sugar consumers at a staggering 40kg (over 88lbs) per person, per year.
Nearly all processed foods contain some sugar or sugar additives, check food labelling for sucrose, glucose, fructose or isoglucose, the earlier in the list the ingredient appears, the larger the proportion of that ingredient is contained in the product.
Or simply look at the Carbohydrate value which will include an “of which sugars” value; 5g or less per 100g (5%) would be low, 5 – 10% would be medium and anything more than 15g per 100g (15%) should be regarded as high.
Controlling and reducing your sugar intake will go a long way toward giving you control over your diet and our weight.
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