Your body, like a bank account, requires regular deposits of healthy, nutritious, disease-fighting foods. Your body can tolerate a few withdrawals here and there. A little junk food now and again never killed anyone. But too many withdrawals will lead to health problems.
However, I firmly believe food is to be enjoyed. We just have to pick and choose which foods are worth a withdrawal on our health and which are not. Nothing is truly off limits. But to avoid a major hit to your health bank account, limit or avoid the following five foods.
Super-Sized Fast and Restaurant Food Meals
The main problem with restaurant meals these days is the obnoxious serving sizes. Consider the evolution of pizza. From a reasonably healthy, vegetable-rich, thin-crust pie of decades past, we’ve arrived at the Pizza Hut Double Deep Pizza. Have a couple of slices and you’ll be blowing the fat and calorie budget.1
Be sure to enjoy your Double Deep Pizza, because you’ll have to pay for it with more than your wallet. At 1,200 calories, it will take you two solid hours of jogging to burn it off 2. And there’s nothing you can do to burn off the day and a half’s worth of saturated fat and the nearly two days’ worth of sodium from that meal.
The other problem with restaurant meals is that most of us are notoriously bad at estimating how many calories are in the foods we eat. Naturally, we underestimate. Add in the fact that most of us are notoriously bad at not eating everything in front of us. It’s a recipe for dietary disaster.
Unless you have iron discipline or train like an iron man tri-athlete, eating in restaurants more than once or twice a week is simply incompatible with good health and a healthy body weight.
1. “Fluffy” Coffee Drinks
I call it the Starbucks effect. Our morning coffee has gone from a calorie-free pick-me-up, to a whip-creamed, chocolate-drizzled, fat and calorie extravaganza. Most people hold up the large (venti) Double Chocolate Chip Frappuccino Blended CrÃ¨me as the example of coffee gone wild. It’s true. This drink will set you back 670 calories and 22 grams of fat, or nearly a third of your daily intake.3
But how many people drink these as their morning coffee drink? Even if you don’t splurge on the Double Chocolate Chip Frappuccino, you’re probably doing more damage than you realize. Even a medium CaffÃ¨ Vanilla Frappuccino Light Blended Beverage clocks in at 170 calories. Nearly all of them are sugar. It’s funny that the word “light” appears in the name of this drink.
You may recall from last week’s newsletter that drinking our calories creates a major disconnect between brain and body. Our bodies do not register liquid calories very effectively. This means that we don’t eat less to compensate for those calories. Just as with soda, if you take in extra calories in a fluffy coffee drink, your body doesn’t even know it!
I’d be willing to bet that at least some of the blame for our national obesity epidemic can be placed on our habit of indulging in high calorie coffee “drinks.”
2. Donuts, Muffins, and “Super” Bagels
As with restaurant food and coffee drinks, donuts, muffins, and bagels pack a wallop. Portions have become huge. These items provide far more calories and fat than most people realize.
The typical bagel today is six ounces. Before portion sizes blew up, bagels weighed in at two ounces.4 If you enjoy that six ounce bagel, you can take in up to 500 calories. And that’s before the butter or cream cheese.
Muffins are worse yet. In addition to increasing from three to six and a half ounces in recent years, they often contain trans fats. Trans fats truly are as bad as they’ve been made out to be. For every 2% increase in energy intake from trans fat there is a 23% increase in cardiovascular risk.5
If you love a muffin, consider it dessert. If you enjoy a morning bagel, go for whole grain. Make a mental note of how many calories you really are eating too. Just acknowledging how much you’re truly taking in can go a long way toward making better choices through the rest of the day. And skip the coffee drink. Why double the damage?
3. White Pasta Sauce Dishes (Think Fettuccine Alfredo)
Yes, the much-maligned fettuccine alfredo and similar, creamy pasta dishes make the list again. As with the previous three worst foods listed, the sheer number of calories and fat packed into these foods make them dietary disaster zones.
A typical restaurant serving of fettuccine alfredo serves up about 1,200 calories and 75 grams of fat. Sixty-three percent of those fat grams come as saturated fat.6
The other problem with fettuccine alfredo and similar pasta dishes are the company they keep. Throw in a couple of bread sticks. Add in a glass of wine or a mixed drink. Enjoy dessert. At this point you’ll have to fast for the entire next day to balance out the calories you ate in that one meal.
4. “Diet” Anything
The reason diet foods come under my scrutiny has nothing to do with what is in them. It’s about what they don’t have. Diet foods aren’t the calorie and fat menace that most processed foods are. Other than sodium, most diet foods aren’t big offenders. But they aren’t much of anything else either.
Diet foods are missing more than just calories and fat. They simply cannot give your body what it needs to function optimally. This is where we come back to a core message that everyone who cares about health must hear.
Whole, unprocessed plant foods must form the base of our diet. If we want to avoid cancer, heart disease, obesity, chronic pain, and more, plant foods should cover three-quarters of our plate. This includes meals and snacks.
Diet foods are OK in a pinch, but they aren’t the disease-fighting nutrient source that whole plant foods are. They don’t contain the thousands of nutrients that only vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and legumes (beans) can offer.
Not surprisingly, people who eat mostly plants don’t need diet foods. They are, on average, much thinner than their non-plant eating counterparts (7). You simply can’t overdo it on calories and fat when most of what goes into your mouth comes directly from a tree, a vine, a stalk, a bush, or out of the ground!
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