What’s in Your Food?

If we all ate the perfect diet, packaged foods simply wouldn’t exist – there would be no call for them. However, we don’t and they do. There can actually be very few people in the western world who do not eat some form of packaged food. How many of us though, have any idea of what’s in that packet, box or tin?

For those of us who don’t, and would like too, the authorities now compel food companies to list the ingredients, and also some nutritional information, on a label somewhere on the product’s packaging. This is invariably placed at the rear or side. That leaves the front clear for the manufacturer’s marketing spiel.

Nutrition Information 
The nutrition information label shows the amount of calories, fat, sugar, salt, protein and carbohydrates. This is straightforward and so we won’t dwell on it. However, we will mention the calorie and sugar counts.

Specified first on the label is the food’s calorie count. For millions of overweight people this is probably the most important figure to be aware of. If this includes you, you may be interested to know that the current recommended daily calorie intake is 2,200 – 2,500 calories for men and 1,800 – 2,200 for women.

By using the nutrition info, you can keep your calorie intake within these limits. This should definitely help in preventing weight gain. The other value everyone should look at is the food’s sugar content – quite simply, the lower it is, the better.

Ingredient Information
The ingredients in a food are listed in order by their weight. So, in most cases, the first two or three ingredients constitute the bulk of it. The ingredients at the bottom of the list weigh the least and so are negligible.

A good tip is to put foods with a long list of ingredients back on the shelf – inevitably, these will contain many additives that you really shouldn’t be eating.

You should be aware the manufacturers try and hide the fact that a food contains sugar by the simple expedient of calling it something else. Names commonly used for this purpose include glucose, sucrose, dextrose, fructose, lactose, corn sweetener, sorbitol, high fructose corn syrup, sorghum and maltose. They may not sound it but these are all sugars!

It’s the same with salt. Commonly used names include monosodium glutamate, sodium nitrite, disodium phosphate and sodium benzoate. In fact, any ingredient with ‘sodium’ in its name is basically salt.

Health Claims
Another trick the food companies use is to try and convince us a product is more nutritious than it actually is. They do this by putting various health claims on the front of the packaging. Two common examples of this are ‘enriched flour’ and ‘fortified wheat flour’.

Anyone falling for this blurb would assume nutrients of some type have been added to the flour. And they’d be right – the company really has added some vitamins and minerals. Typically, these are calcium, iron, thiamine, niacin, vitamin D and riboflavin. But what they don’t tell you is that these are synthetic minerals and vitamins that have been created in a laboratory. The ‘nutrients’ are not a patch on the real thing, and several studies have shown our bodies struggle to even absorb them, never mind actually use them.

Trans-Fats
Finally, keep a sharp lookout for the presence of trans-fats – these will be listed as either ‘hydrogenated oil’ or ‘partially hydrogenated oil’. Trans-fats are bad news as we explain in more detail here. While the food manufacturers are gradually phasing out the use of these fats, they are still putting them in foods such as savory snacks (crackers, biscuits, etc), pies, pizza and margarine. They will be around for a long while yet.

Consumers in the USA should be aware that if a product contains less than one gram of trans-fats per serving, the manufacturer does not have to mention it on the ingredient list. While you may think that such a minute amount cannot possibly be dangerous, if it’s a food you eat every day, it can add up to a substantial amount over time. More examples of how the food companies use labels to misinform and deceive can be seen here.

Bottom Line
If you have to eat processed food (and this is basically anything that comes in a can, box, tube, packet or protective wrapping), it’s very much in your interests to investigate the contents of that box. Take no notice of the advertizing on the front label – you’ll get nothing useful from that.

Instead, read the food information label at the back. Here, you will see what’s actually in the food. Remember though, you’ll have to read between the lines because the food companies hate having to give this information and use every trick in the book to obfuscate and deceive.

Superfoods

Superfoods are foods that are considered to be unusually rich in nutrients and so extremely good for our health. However, there are no set criteria for determining what is and what isn’t a superfood. Also, as there is no legal regulation of the term, it can be attributed to practically anything, by anyone. This leaves it open to exploitation.

And exploited it is! One reason for this is the fact that increasing numbers of people are now opting to live a healthy life – a crucial element of which is diet. The processed food companies are well aware of this trend and are keen to cash in.

To this end, many of the claims made for these foods are vastly exaggerated or even deliberately deceptive. While a food may well be healthy in its natural state, the processing it goes through invariably renders it much less so.

Green tea is a case in question. When this is sold unadulterated, as it should be, it contains a range of antioxidants. But it is quite common for it to be mixed with inferior teas, which make it a much less healthy product. Needless to say, this fact is kept quiet. What may have started out as a superfood, is no longer so by the time it hits the stores.

The takeaway therefore, is that you must take all claims regarding the supposed benefits of a superfood with a healthy dose of scepticism. There’s a lot of truth in the saying – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Also, never underestimate the capacity of big business to hype ordinary products as being something out of the ordinary.

So, with that out of the way, let’s take a look at the most popular of these so-called superfoods. Some actually are super and have a place in any eating plan. Others, however, are less so as we’ll see.

Eggs

This shouldn’t come as a surprise – there are enough nutrients in an egg to turn a single fertilized cell into a baby chicken! Really, what else do you need to know? The protein in eggs is of the highest quality to be found in any food.

Eggs are also a veritable powerhouse of other nutrients – lutein and zeaxanthin being two good examples. These are carotenoids that lower the risk of age-related macular degeneration – one of the main causes of blindness. Another is choline – a nutrient known to enhance brain development and memory.

One medium sized egg provides approximately 75 calories, 7 grams of protein and 6.5 grams of fat (1.5 grams of which is saturated). It also contains iron, vitamins, minerals and the carotenoids. Overall, eggs are the most nutritious food on the planet.

Despite all this, many people are concerned about eating them because of their cholesterol content. This fear dates back many years and was sparked by the high incidence of heart disease associated with the high-fat western diet. However, while eggs do have quite a high amount of cholesterol (213 mg in a large egg), this isn’t, and never has been, a cause of heart disease. It is a fact that foods high in cholesterol are actually very good for our health.

The real culprit is the foods eaten along with eggs – processed meats such as sausage and bacon, bagels, cream cheese and highly sugared coffee, etc. All highly refined stuff loaded with unhealthy chemicals, carbohydrates and trans-fats. The egg itself actually has very little to do with it! Even if it did, the incredible amount of high quality nutrition it provides would far outweigh any negative effects. A related fact here is that eggs contain high levels of omega-3 fats that are known to be heart-protective.

The message to take from this is that eggs are perfectly safe to eat. Their cholesterol content is only an issue for people who already have a high level of it – if this is the case with you, it may be sensible to restrict the number of eggs you eat. Everyone else can eat as many as they like.

Quite apart from the nutrition they provide, eggs are also extremely satiating. For example, a three-egg omelette for breakfast is, by itself, sufficient to keep the average person going until midday. Furthermore, they are relatively low in calories so can definitely be incorporated into any weight-loss plan.

You do need to take a bit of care when buying eggs though. They are not all made equal and the major egg producers can be trusted about as far as you can throw them. This is clearly demonstrated by the labels they attach to their eggs – free-range, organic, cage-free and free-roaming are the classic examples. These are actually largely meaningless.

Take the free-range label; this can be legally applied to eggs laid by birds that are allowed to forage outside for just a few minutes a day! They are usually fed an unhealthy diet high in grains and synthetic additives but little in the way of nutrients. Furthermore, their living environment is almost always an extremely unpleasant one – over-crowded, dirty and very polluted.

It is a fact that many eggs are contaminated with drugs and chemicals. These are used by the producers to control the diseases caused by the unsanitary conditions the birds are forced to live in.

They aren’t all bad though. While the eggs from the big producers should be avoided if possible, there are many smaller outfits that do supply a quality, and ethical, product. These producers allow their birds to forage freely in the wild outdoors and eat their natural diet.

Genuine free-range eggs have darker, orange colored yolks – this indicates a higher nutrient content. The eggs from the larger outfits, however, almost always have an insipid pale yellow yolk.

The message here is that if you want the best possible return from your egg consumption, you must get the best quality eggs. Don’t bother looking in the supermarkets, you won’t find them there. Instead, you have to source local egg producers who take the time and trouble to produce the genuine article.

While on the subject of quality, you may be interested in organic eggs. A genuine organic egg is the ultimate and, ideally, is the only type you should eat. To qualify as organic, it should meet a number of criteria. The birds should be free-range and fed certified, nutrient-enhanced, organic feed. They should not be given drugs such as antibiotics (as they are raised in a healthy environment, they simply don’t need them) and they should not be exposed to chemicals in the form of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.

When it comes to eating your eggs, ideally they will be eaten raw. This is because many of the nutrients are lost in the cooking process. However, few people are going to eat raw eggs so the next best option is to use the lowest heat you can, which basically means poaching or soft-boiling.

TIP – to determine how fresh an egg is, put it in a pan of water – fresh eggs sink to the bottom, stale eggs don’t. With a hard-boiled egg, you’ll know it’s fresh if it’s difficult to remove the shell.

Verdict
Eggs are the superfood to beat all superfoods. Quite simply, there is nothing better for you on the entire planet.

Blueberries

This North American fruit has had superfood status for quite a while now. Whether or not it actually is, of one thing there can be no dispute – blueberries are a really excellent source of vitamin K. They are also valued for their high levels of antioxidants, while some advocates claim they protect against cancers, heart disease and even loss of memory.

With regard to the heart disease claim, a well regarded study in 2014 found that people who ate three or more portions of blueberries a week, had a 25 percent lower risk of a heart attack than those who ate them no more than once a month. It is also thought that blueberries combat high blood pressure and atherosclerosis (the build-up of fatty material inside the arteries). They do this by relaxing the walls of blood vessels and so preventing hardening of the arteries – a well known cause of heart attacks and strokes.

Can blueberries prevent cancer? Well, to date there is very little evidence of this. In laboratory studies on cells and animals, blueberry extracts have been shown to reduce free radical damage that can cause cancer. However, it is not clear how well humans absorb these compounds and whether or not they have a protective effect.

With regard to its beneficial effects on memory, again, there is no conclusive evidence of this. A number of small studies have found a link between blueberry consumption and improved spatial learning and memory. However, most of these relied on small sample groups or animals, and so carry no real weight.

Blueberries have a high content of fiber, a fact that makes them important with regard to the issue of digestion. A 2013 study reported that people who ate blueberries every day for five weeks had higher levels of a type of bacteria crucial for the health of the digestive system.

Verdict
Not a superfood. The health claims for blueberries simply cannot be substantiated. That said, there is absolutely no doubt that they are extremely good for us, as they are low in calories and high in important nutrients. But then, so are most fruits!

Broccoli

A somewhat unappetising mainstay of school dinners for many years, broccoli has undergone a resurgence recently. The vegetable is a very good source of vitamins, fiber, protein, omega-3 fats, calcium, zinc, selenium, iron and niacin, to name just some.

Supposedly, it helps fight diseases such as cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. What’s the reality though?

With regard to diabetes, Broccoli has a very high content of an antioxidant called sulforaphane. This may help to alleviate the damage to small blood vessels caused by high blood sugar, as is commonly seen in people with diabetes. There is no conclusive proof of this, though. Another claim made for sulforaphane is that it can inhibit the development of colon and prostate cancers. Again, though, there is no conclusive proof of this.

There is no evidence to support claims that broccoli lowers blood pressure either. A 2012 study in which blood pressure patients were given broccoli for five weeks, found it made no difference whatsoever.

Verdict
Not a superfood. However, it does provide a range of nutrients needed for many of the body’s functions. It may also offer a small degree of protection against cancer and cardiovascular disease due to its sulforaphane content.

Oily Fish

Oily fish are a very good source of protein, vitamin D,  selenium and B vitamins. They are also high in omega-3 fats – a type of fat that’s very good for our health, and which most people don’t get enough of.

It’s a known fact that Eskimos have a much lower incidence of cardiovascular disease than people in the western hemisphere. It’s also a fact that they have a diet high in oily fish. So not surprisingly, this has sparked research into the health benefits offered by these types of fish. The results show quite clearly that fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines do offer protection against this disease.

Furthermore, they also lower blood pressure. The evidence is conclusive enough for the UK government to recommend that people should eat at least two portions of fish a week, one of which should be an oily variety.

There is also evidence to show that eating oily fish several times a week reduces the risk of age-related macular degeneration – a common cause of blindness in older people. However, a study to see whether fish oil supplements could reduce the progression of macular degeneration in people who already had the condition failed to find any evidence that it did.

A study in 2011 investigated the possibility that omega-3 fats may reduce the risk of dementia. The conclusion was that there is no preventative effect.

A number of studies have claimed that eating oily fish can offer protection against cancer – prostate, bowel and breast in particular. However, these tests have all had limitations that mean they cannot be considered conclusive one way or the other.

Verdict
Definitely a superfood. Eating oily fish offers clear and proven protection against cardiovascular disease. It’s good for us in many other ways as well. The only reservation is that our oceans are heavily polluted with toxins such as mercury.

For this reason, we recommend eating the smaller varieties, such as sardines, anchovies, herring, etc, which don’t live long enough to be affected by the toxins. Two or three servings a week is enough. The larger fish, such as tuna and king mackerel, should be avoided because of the toxins they almost certainly contain.

Green Tea

After water, tea is the most popular beverage in the world. In the western nations, it accounts for about 12 percent of all tea consumed. Interestingly, few people are aware that, regardless of the various names given to them, all teas come from the same plant. This is an evergreen shrub called Camellia Sinensis.

What differentiates the various types of tea is the method of production; to be specific, the degree of oxidation they are exposed to. Black teas are exposed to a high level of oxidation, whereas green teas are not. The lower level of oxidation is thought to result in less of the tea’s nutrients being lost during the manufacturing process.

Green tea is an excellent source of a powerful family of antioxidants called polyphenols, a range of vitamins, and minerals such as zinc and selenium. Popular in Chinese medicine for centuries, it has been used to treat a whole range of ailments.

Having only recently been elevated to the list of so-called superfoods, just what is green tea really good for though? Well, if you believe everything you read, quite a lot actually. It offers protection against cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, it aids in weight loss, and lowers blood pressure. If the latter is true, it will help people suffering from cardiovascular disease.

Let’s look at the cancer claim first. Ten years ago, a major review of data taken from a number of studies involving over a million participants, tried to find a link between green tea and cancers of the prostate, bowel, lungs and mouth. None was found.

Green tea contains a powerful antioxidant called catechin which is said to promote weight loss by increasing the body’s metabolism. This causes calories to be burnt at a faster rate. One study has claimed people who drink green tea burn up to an extra 70-100 calories per day. It neglected to say how much green tea they had to consume to achieve this though!

Most blood pressure drugs work by reducing the effects of an enzyme called Angiotensin II. Compounds in green tea are touted as having the same capability. A 2015 survey of data taken from previous studies found evidence of a modest reduction in blood pressure in people who consumed green tea. It was not enough to be considered significant though.

Green tea is claimed to be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Supposedly, this is due to its high level of antioxidants. However, there is no conclusive evidence to back this up.

Verdict
Not a superfood. It’s a pleasant drink and very good for us in a number of ways. But that’s it.

Kale

Kale has rapidly established itself as one of the most popular health foods. A member of the cruciferous vegetable family, it comes with a lot of nutrients. These include vitamins (A, C and K in particular), fiber, omega-3 fats (unusual in a vegetable) and protein.

The health benefits claimed for kale are too long to list here but the main ones are that it has excellent anti-inflammatory properties, it fights a number of cancers, is effective against diabetes, can improve eyesight and is good for heart health.

The reason touted for it being so effective as an anti-inflammatory agent is that it is high in vitamin K. While there is no dispute about this, the fact is all dark green leafy vegetables are high in vitamin K. There is absolutely nothing special about kale in this respect.

With regard to cancer, studies show that compounds found in kale can help fight a range of them, including those of the lung, bladder, breast, colon and liver. However, these have all been done on rodents. Studies done on humans show mixed results – some showing a link and others not showing any.

Kale is good source of antioxidants. These fight free radicals in the body that are thought to cause diseases such as diabetes. However, once again, all fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants, and so have the same beneficial effect with regard to diabetes and other diseases. This applies to heart disease as well.

Good eyesight is another supposed benefit of kale. This is because it is high in carotenoids, such as lutein and zeaxanthin which promote vision and the health of the retina. But, once again, it turns out that while this is true, it is also true of all dark green leafy vegetables.

Verdict
Kale is definitely not a superfood. Like all cruciferous vegetables, it is very good for you but that’s as far as it goes – there is absolutely nothing stand-out about it.

Nuts

Packed with protein, minerals, vitamins and fiber, nuts, just like eggs, are powerhouses of nutrition. There are many types, most offering both general and specific health benefits. One thing common to all of them is a very high fat content. It’s the fear that this will make them put on weight that prevents many people from eating them.

However, studies have shown quite clearly that eating nuts does not cause weight gain – in fact, as part of a sensible and controlled diet, they actually do the opposite – make you lose weight. This is because they are satiating and so suppress the body’s hunger signals.

As nuts are such an important source of high quality nutrients, we’ll take a brief look at the main types and see what they have to offer:

Almonds – almonds are a great source of bone-building calcium and so are ideal for people who don’t eat dairy products for whatever reason. They are also high in vitamin E and other antioxidants that nourish the skin and reduce signs of aging.

Almonds have compounds called flavonoids in their skin that are known to improve artery health and reduce inflammation – good for maintaining a healthy heart. Of all the nuts, almonds are also the best source of protein.

Brazil Nuts – a key nutrient provided by brazil nuts is a mineral called selenium. This is critical to several body functions, such as the prevention of damage to the thyroid gland, combating inflammation, and the production of DNA. It’s also important for the liver and kidneys. Three or four nuts a day provides all the selenium we need.

Brazil nuts are high in calories and so are a good source of instant energy – this makes them ideal for people who are active.

Cashews – cashews are a very rich source of minerals – copper and magnesium especially. The latter is known to be important for memory recall, brain function, keeping blood pressure under control and reducing the risk of migraine attacks. Copper is used in the production of skin, bone, and hair pigments called melanin and collagen. Amongst many other things, these help provide our skin’s elasticity.

Cashews also contain flavanols that inhibit the ability of cancer cells to divide and multiply, so reducing the incidence of some types of cancer.

Chestnuts – nutrition-wise, there’s nothing special about chestnuts. They do, however, have an extremely high level of fiber which makes them a low-glycemic index food. Accordingly, they can help to regulate glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

They also have less fat and calories than any other nut. This makes them an ideal addition to a weight-loss diet. When ground up, they form a gluten-free flour that can be used for baking.

Hazelnuts – hazelnuts are rich in calcium, potassium and magnesium. These are minerals that provide a range of health benefits, a very important one of which is the maintenance of healthy blood pressure.

Hazelnuts are also rich in oleic acid – this is known to lower blood sugar and insulin levels, and so helps to minimize the effects of diabetes.

Pecans – just one ounce of pecans provides 8 percent of the recommended daily amount of fiber. They are also one of the most antioxidant-rich foods in the world.

As with hazelnuts, pecans are high in oleic acid and so are good for people with diabetes. Many of the minerals found in pecans are very good for the brain.

Recent research has found that some nutrients in pecans can be helpful to people suffering from osteoporosis. They do this by increasing bone mass and reducing bone loss.

Walnuts – of all the nuts, walnuts are the best with regard to the heart. This is because of their rich content of omega-3, 6 and 9 fats. Omega-3 fat is also known to be good for cognitive function which means walnuts feed the brain as well.

Studies have shown that a handful of walnuts a day cuts the risk of both breast and prostate cancer. The same handful also has a significant impact on male fertility, i.e. sperm quality. This is one of the lesser known benefits of walnuts.

Pistachios – grown mainly in the Middle East, pistachios are lower in calories than most nuts. This makes them ideal for people who are trying to lose weight, as well as improve their diet. Nutrition-wise, as with nuts in general, they provide a range of minerals plus a large amount of protein.

However, one issue with these nuts is that the majority of them are bleached before being marketed. This is done to hide unsightly staining on the shells caused by the harvesting process. Not only can this leave bleach residues on the nuts, important phytochemicals in their skins are destroyed. For this reason, it is recommended that you eat only organically grown pistachio nuts.

Macadamias – macadamias are the most nutrient-rich of all the nuts. They provide high amounts of manganese, magnesium, iron and copper, plus several B vitamins. They are also low in carbohydrates and protein while being high in omega-3 fats.

100 grams of macadamias provides 20 percent of the daily recommended amount of fiber. They are also a very good source of phytosterols – these help to regulate cholesterol levels.

They are, however, the nut with the highest calorie count.

Verdict
Superfood. Nuts are a superb source of unsaturated fats, fiber, vitamin E, antioxidants and omega-3 fats. This makes them one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. Eating a handful of mixed nuts every day is one of the best things you can do if you are seeking a long and healthy life.

Avocados

Native to Central/South America and classified as a fruit, avocados are yet another of nature’s products that positively brim with health-giving nutrients.

As with nuts, these green fruits are an excellent source of monounsaturated fats. They provide close to twenty essential nutrients, including vitamins A, C and E, B-vitamins and folic acid. They are also a rich source of potassium (twice the amount found in bananas). The fruits also provide a high amount of fiber, which is another very good reason to eat them.

Benefits claimed for avocados include protection against cancer and heart disease. Another is that the fruit has anti-inflammatory properties.

How good are they really though? Well, firstly, their high content of monounsaturated fats makes avocados extremely satiating (just one provides half a person’s daily fiber requirement). Not only that, they provide a lot of energy – this enables you to cut down on carbohydrates should your weight be an issue.

Their high fat content also enables the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients from other foods eaten in conjunction. Furthermore, it is a well-known fact that monounsaturated fat offers protection against heart disease, and also lowers blood pressure.

With regard to cancer, several studies have been done in an attempt to find a link. One of these concluded that phytochemicals in avocados make them potentially beneficial for inhibiting the development of oral and prostate cancer. A 2015 study showed an antioxidant called lutein, which is high in avocados, may reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.

Avocados contain chemicals called phytosterols that have anti-inflammatory properties known to be good for treating osteoarthritis – a condition suffered by millions of people worldwide.

Tip – many of the nutrients found in avocados are in the dark green part of the fruit just under the skin.

Verdict
Superfood. Avocados contain too many healthy fats and nutrients, such as lutein, oleic acid, vitamins, folate, fiber, monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, to be anything but.

Chia Seeds

Originating in Mexico, chia seeds are becoming one of the most popular foods with the health-conscious. Supposedly, they offer a huge array of nutrients that include vitamins, protein, fiber, antioxidants, minerals and healthy fats.

So what are they good for? Well, if you believe the claims made for them, they have anti-aging properties, are good for the heart, the digestive system, bones and teeth, plus they help with diabetes and weight loss.

Chia seeds have a high content of antioxidants, which neutralize free radicals (damaged body cells) that, amongst other things, cause damage to the skin. So they may be helpful in this respect. There is no proof of this though.

Chia seeds provide more omega-3 fats than salmon. This has led many people to think they must therefore be very good for the heart. However, while they undoubtedly are, it’s a fact that plant-based omega-3 fats are not as good as those from animal sources.

With a high fiber content, chia seeds can be nothing else than extremely good for our digestive systems. There is no dispute here.

With regard to bones and teeth, they do have a high level of the necessary nutrients – calcium, protein, magnesium and phosphorus. In fact, chia seeds provide more calcium than most dairy products. This makes them a very good source of this essential mineral for people who don’t eat dairy for whatever reason.

There is research that suggests chia seeds lower blood sugar levels, and so can help control diabetes. However, there is no evidence that this is actually the case.

Verdict
Chia seeds may be a superfood. The main issue with the many health claims made for them is the lack of conclusive evidence. The few studies done have been mainly on animals. However, superfood or not, they do make a very worthwhile addition to any diet.

Coconut Oil

The coconut tree is thought to originate in South America. The oil, taken from the pressed meat of the coconuts, has only recently gained superfood status. Bear this fact in mind when you evaluate the various claims made for its supposed benefits. These include heart health, weight loss, improving digestion, treating Alzheimer’s disease  and many others.

Coconut oil contains more saturated fat than butter, lard and beef tallow (no less than 90 percent of it is fat). It has no carbohydrates or protein and only minute amounts of a few assorted nutrients.

However, as we’ve mentioned elsewhere, saturated fat is not the demon it’s made out to be; it is, in fact, very good for us – in small amounts. So when consumed in said small amounts, the fat content of coconut oil is nothing to be alarmed about. That’s the first thing.

The second is that 50 percent of this saturated fat is lauric acid – a medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA) that has several health-promoting properties. One of these is that it increases the rate at which we burn calories. For this reason, coconut oil is being touted as a means of losing weight. A recent study has suggested that this might actually be the case. However, it only involved a few subjects so cannot be taken too seriously.

Still with lauric acid, when the liver breaks it down, ketones are created that can be used as fuel by the brain. There is a current theory that because these ketones supply energy to the brain, thus eliminating the need for insulin to convert glucose into energy, coconut oil is an effective treatment for people with Alzheimer’s. While there may be something in this, a study has yet to be done that actually proves it.

MCFAs are also thought to boost digestive health. This is because they are easily absorbed in the digestive tract, plus they apparently help other nutrients to be absorbed as well. If so, it follows that people with digestive disorders, like Crohn’s disease, will benefit from eating coconut oil.

Verdict
Not a superfood by any stretch of the imagination. There are no conclusive studies that prove otherwise. In fact, for some people coconut oil could even be dangerous due to its extremely high content of saturated fat. If you’re looking for a healthy oil, go with olive oil which has proven benefits.

Turmeric

A spice native to Southern Asia, turmeric has a deep orange-gold color, and is widely used for cooking and as a coloring agent (it is the main ingredient in curry powder). Before use, it is usually dried, boiled and then ground into a powder. It has been used for centuries in China where it is considered to have medicinal qualities.

One of the main claims made for turmeric is that it is rich in a compound called curcumin – this is thought to give it anti-inflammatory properties. Some studies indicate curcumin may be effective at fighting Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.

Other studies show it has a high content of antioxidants that fight and neutralize the free radicals in our bodies that can be the cause of so many illnesses.

However, it’s a known fact that turmeric is not easily absorbed by the body. Therefore, to get any worthwhile benefits from it, assuming there are any, you would need to consume so much of the stuff there would almost certainly be side effects. It is also a fact that many of the studies done have involved conflicts of interest, i.e. researchers with vested interests in the results (was it ever thus!)

Verdict
Not a superfood. As is so often the case, the claims made for this undoubtedly tasty spice are overblown. There simply aren’t any studies that provide conclusive proof for any of them.

Best Foods to Eat

For far too many people, eating and drinking is more of a recreation, i.e. an activity to be enjoyed, rather than what it actually is – a biological necessity for life and good health. Many people don’t like the taste or texture of certain foods that are good for them and so refuse to eat them. Others acquire the taste for foods that are positively bad for them.

A surprising amount of people don’t even know what foods are healthy and what foods aren’t. For all these people, ensuring their grocery list contains the following foods will make an enormous difference to their lives and long-term outlook.

Red Meat
Much vilified these days due to its saturated fat content that supposedly causes high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity; red meat is, in fact, one of the most nutrient-rich foods on the planet. This is why nature designed the human body to thrive on it – we are, in fact, genetically programmed to function at the optimal level on a diet that includes red meat. Most animals, and many birds, eat it as well and for the same reason.

Red meat provides us with high-quality protein that contains all the amino acids required for building muscle and bone. It is also an excellent source of B vitamins which are essential for keeping our brains ticking over. Lack of them can cause aggression, insomnia, dementia, confusion, impaired senses and physical weakness.

In addition, it is rich in zinc which supports the immune system, and iron which builds red blood cells and gives us energy.

You may have seen meat labelled as ‘organic’, ‘free range’ and ‘grass fed’ and be wondering if it is worth paying extra for. This is a relatively new and expanding market fuelled by people’s understandable desire to eat more healthily. 

Unfortunately, like virtually all food markets, it is riddled with false and unsubstantiated claims. Yes, these animals may have more space than their factory-farmed cousins, but mostly they’re subjected to the same unhappy regime of high-energy feed, selective breeding for rapid weight gain, and minimal exercise. Nutrition-wise, these meats are only slightly better for you than factory-farmed meat and, all other things being equal, are most definitely not worth the premium you will pay for them.

That said, should you be lucky enough to find the genuine article (and you will be lucky!) you will at least get meat that is free of the antibiotics, steroids and growth hormones found in factory-farmed meat.

With regard to white meat (chicken and turkey) the only real difference between it and red meat is the color and flavor. White meat contains the same minerals, vitamins and fats found in red meat but in lesser quantities. It’s good for you, just not quite as good.

Seafood
With a similar level of proteins and minerals, meat that comes from the sea has much the same nutritional value as red and white meat. However, in comparison, it offers only small to moderate amounts of vitamins.

Where seafood does have an advantage is its fat content – lower than in red meat. Furthermore, one of these fats is the healthy polyunsaturated omega-3 which is thought to play an important role in lowering the risk of heart disease. Being low in fat means seafood is also low in calories, so eating it is much better than eating meat for people looking to lose weight.

Fatty fish, such as herring, mackerel, sardines, salmon and tuna, all provide a good amount of omega-3 fat and are indeed one of the best sources of it.

However, there are a couple of caveats with regard to eating fish. The first is that we have contaminated the oceans with pollutants such as mercury and dioxin. As a result, many fish now have dangerous amounts of these toxins and so should be avoided completely. These are the larger fish, such as albacore and bluefin tuna, swordfish, king mackerel and sharks.

Smaller sea creatures lower down on the food chain are much safer as they don’t live long enough to absorb dangerous amounts of these pollutants. These include sardines, anchovies, crab, shrimps, prawns and oysters, etc.

The second caveat is the issue of fish farming. There is actually a world of difference between farm-raised fish and those caught in the wild. Farmed fish are raised in filthy, over-crowded conditions that cause diseases and parasites. To control these diseases, they are given antibiotics, and to control the parasites they are given pesticides.

These unfortunate creatures are fed a totally unnatural diet that consists mainly of grain-based pellets. This gives them nutrition levels that are much lower than those of wild-caught fish. For example, farmed salmon may be much fattier than wild salmon, but they contain much less healthy omega-3 fats and protein.

Be aware that industrial fish farming is the fastest growing form of food production in the world. Approximately 50 percent (and rising) of the world’s seafood now comes from it. Don’t let this put you off fish though – we urge you to eat it. Just be sure to eat the right types and get them from the right sources.

Dairy Produce
Diary products are basically butter, cheese, milk, yoghurt and cream. Let’s take a look at what they have to offer.

Milk – of the three main versions of milk commonly found in the stores – whole (full-fat), low-fat and skim – the only one worth consuming is whole. Skim milk has all the cream (fat) removed which renders it almost totally devoid of nutritional value. This is because the vitamins in milk are fat-soluble, meaning they need fat in order to be absorbed by the body. Without the fat it is essentially little more than water. Low-fat milk has a lesser amount removed and so does contain some nutrients.

Furthermore, the fat also gives milk its flavor and texture – removing it makes it bland and tasteless. It’s also a fact that because skim milk is a highly processed food, it will usually leave you feeling unsatisfied and wanting something more.

Whole milk, however, is totally different. As a result of being stigmatized for years by various government advisory bodies (most of which are in the pocket of the processed food industry), many people have been put off drinking it due to the supposed dangers of its saturated fat content. However, it is precisely because of that fat content that it is in fact extremely good for us. Amongst other things, whole milk strengthens our immunity to infections and provides calcium that helps keep our bones healthy.

It’s also a fact that whole milk is not actually a high-fat food. As a general rule, anything with a fat content of 20 percent or over is considered to be high-fat, but whole milk only contains between 3 and 5  percent.

Less commonly available is organic and raw milk. Organic milk is produced without the use of pesticides and with higher standards of animal welfare than non-organic. Accordingly, it is more nutritious, as the cows eat what nature intended them to eat – green grass. It offers higher levels of omega-3 fats, vitamin E, iron and other nutrients.

Raw milk is the real deal – unadulterated and straight from the cow, just as nature intended it to be. As with organic milk, it comes from grass-fed cows and is unpasteurized and unhomogenized. As a result, it retains all of its natural enzymes, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. This makes it one of the most nutrient-dense foods in the world. It also tastes wonderful and has a rich, creamy consistency.

It has, however, attracted a lot of bad publicity because it is unpasteurized and so is supposedly unsafe to drink. The fact that this publicity is largely driven by the processed food industry which sees no advantage, i.e. profit, in raw milk should give the lie to this though. As should the fact that man has been drinking raw milk for thousands of years without any problems at all. As long as it is purchased from a reputable source, raw milk is perfectly safe and far more nutritious than any other type.

So, drink as much raw, organic and whole milk as you like and give the low-fat versions a definite miss – they are little more than water and offer very little in the way of nutrients.

Cheese – as with milk, this food has been vilified for years due to its high fat content. Again though, as with milk, it is actually extremely good for you and provides a whole host of vitamins (particularly K2), minerals and protein.

It should go without saying by now that the most nutritious and flavorsome cheeses are the ones made from the milk of grass-fed animals. Sadly, the vast majority of cheeses sold in the stores aren’t, and so are inferior. They are still well worth eating but aren’t nearly as good as they could be.

Do not, however, be tempted by the many types of processed cheese on the market. By this, we mean products such as individually wrapped cheeses, spreadable cheese, sliced cheese, string cheese and spray cheese. These should all be given a very wide berth. Not only are they bland and tasteless, they are actually very bad for you. Check out the ingredients of these cheeses and you will see a long list that includes stuff like dairy by-products, emulsifiers, sodium, saturated vegetable oils, preservatives, coloring agents and sugar, to name just some.

Real cheese is a simple fermented dairy product made from just a few ingredients, and which can be identified by its label. Examples are blue cheese, cheddar cheese, mozzarella, american and pepper jack. As with all real cheeses, these need to be kept in a refrigerator.

Butter – also subject to the ‘fat is bad’ school of thought is butter. Along with milk and cheese, this has received a bad press over the years. However, it is actually an excellent source of vitamins, such as A, D and K, which play an important role in the efficient absorption of calcium.

These vitamins are also beneficial to the body’s immune system, and are thought to play a role in the suppression of cancer cell growth. Also found in butter is a compound called sodium butyrate. Recent studies show this is effective in the treatment and prevention of diet-induced insulin resistance.

However, none of these benefits are provided by the products that masquerade as butter. Here, we are talking about margarine, shortening and the ‘spreads’ of various kinds. These all contain trans-fats which are extremely dangerous and should not be eaten.

Eggs
There are two points to be made with regard to eggs. The first is the high level of cholesterol in the yolks, and the second is the unbelievable amount of nutrients they provide.

The first issue, cholesterol, has been covered in this article so we won’t go into it again here.

Moving on to their nutritional content, eggs are a very good source of high quality protein. More than half of this is found in the whites, along with vitamin B2 and low amounts of fat and cholesterol. The whites are also rich sources of selenium, vitamins D, B6, B12, and minerals such as zinc, iron and copper.

The yolks have a higher content of calories and fat than the whites and, apart from being an egg’s main source of cholesterol, are also its main source of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and lecithin.

Eggs also contain lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants have major benefits for eye health and significantly reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration – both pf which are very common eye disorders.

Yet another benefit of eating eggs is the fact they’re extremely satiating – this makes them the ideal food to include in a weight-loss diet.

The bottom line then is that eggs are the most nutritious food on planet Earth – nothing else comes even close. Eat them to your heart’s content.

Vegetables
Most vegetables are very low in calories and carbohydrates while, at the same time, having a high content of the fiber, vitamins and minerals our bodies need to achieve and maintain optimal health.

Vegetables reduce the risk of getting a range of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and even some cancers. Not only that, they are good for improving cognitive function and are effective against Alzheimer’s disease, kidney stones and various types of digestive issues. Furthermore, they provide antioxidants and compounds that aren’t found in any other type of food.

Some vegetables are better for us than others. These are the cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage and green leafy vegetables like kale. Not only are they very high in fiber, they also have the lowest content of carbohydrates – this makes them the ideal food for a weight-loss diet. Other vegetables in this category include broccoli, brussels sprouts, bell peppers, beet greens, cauliflowers, eggplant and spinach.

Root vegetables are of lesser value as, typically, they have less fiber. Also, being more starchy, they have higher levels of carbohydrates. So, while still very good for us, their leafy cousins have the edge thanks to their higher content of fiber. And, of course, if body weight is a factor then the carbohydrate content of root vegetables becomes an issue, particularly with potatoes. Once again, the leafy vegetables will be the ones to go for.

In both categories of vegetable, there is a huge range to choose from. So which are the best ones to eat?

Of the leafy vegetables, the general consensus is that kale offers most benefits, closely followed by spinach, mustard greens, swiss chard, arugula and romaine lettuce.

With regard to root vegetables, it’s butternut squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beets, ginger, turmeric and eggplant.

Fruit
From a nutritional viewpoint, fruit in general offers much the same in the way of nutrients as vegetables do. They have similar levels of minerals, vitamins, fiber and health-enhancing compounds such as antioxidants.

The drawback with fruit is the fact that it has a high sugar content – a type of sugar known as fructose. Eating too much sugar leads to excess weight which, in turn, is the cause of a large number of illnesses and chronic diseases. Now when eaten in small quantities, there is nothing wrong with fructose. But because it is routinely added to popular sweeteners, such as honey and white table sugar, and virtually all processed foods, most people are already eating far more of it than is good for them.

This is just one part of the problem – another is that the body handles fructose differently than it does other sugars. For example, eating glucose triggers an increase in the production of insulin which enables the glucose to be used for energy. Glucose consumption also increases production of leptin which regulates appetite and fat storage in the body. Neither of these processes happen when fructose is eaten, with the result that it gets stored as fat.

People in good health, who aren’t overweight and aren’t insulin resistant, can eat fruit without problem. Indeed, it is recommended that they do. However, people who are overweight, have high blood pressure, diabetes or a high level of cholesterol, are advised to limit the amount of fruit they eat.

With regard to which fruits are best to eat, you won’t go wrong with berries, bananas, avocados, papayas, olives, pineapples and kiwifruit. Berries are probably the best fruit of all as they offer all the nutrients and fiber that other fruits do but without the high levels of sugar.

Of the berries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are probably the pick of the bunch. Also well worth a mention are avocados. These tropical fruits are an excellent source of fiber, healthy fats, potassium, folate, and a wide range of vitamins. Indeed, avocados are considered to be a superfood.

Those looking for fruits low in carbohydrates need look no further than berries (not blueberries, though), rhubarb, watermelon, cantaloupes and coconuts.

Now we come to the fruits to avoid. Let’s start with the seedless varieties. These are fruits that have been artificially developed so that they have no seeds. As consumption of these fruits is generally easier and more convenient, this is considered to give them added commercial value. A number of methods have been devised to create them, such as genetic modification and grafting.

While, currently, there is no evidence that they are in any way bad for us, they simply haven’t been around long enough for the long-term effects of regular consumption to be evaluated. For this reason, we suggest you don’t eat them. Examples of this type of fruit are bananas, tomatoes, watermelons and grapes.

It’s also worth pointing out that much of a plant’s nutritional content, be it a fruit or a vegetable, is concentrated in its seeds. So while a seedless fruit may be more profitable for the producer and more convenient for the consumer, it will not be nearly as nutritious as nature intended it to be.

Then we have dried fruit. This is fruit that has had its water content removed so creating an extremely high sugar content. As long as it is eaten in small quantities though, it won’t be a problem. Just remember that being a processed food, dried fruit usually has sugar, vegetable oils, preservatives and goodness knows what else added to it.

Legumes
A legume is a dry fruit that grows inside a seed or pod. The most well-known of these are beans, lentils and peas. They are all excellent sources of fiber, protein, healthy fats and carbohydrates.

The most common type of legume is the beans. These include kidney beans, broad beans, navy beans, soybeans, black beans, lima beans mung beans and chickpeas. They are all high in protein and carbohydrates but low in fat.

Some legumes are called peas. These include split peas, green peas, black-eyed peas, snow peas and snap peas. Similar to beans, peas of all types contain high concentrations of carbohydrates, fiber and protein, but little fat.

Lentils are round, oval or heart-shaped, seeds and are usually split into halves. They are available in a number of varieties that differ in color, texture and taste. The most common of these are the green, black and red varieties. Black lentils, also known as beluga, are famous for their similarity to caviar.

The two things that all types of legume have in common are their high levels of protein and fiber. For people who don’t eat meat, or restrict their intake of it, this high protein content makes them an ideal substitute for the protein they’re not getting from meat. As for the fiber content, this is great for those on a diet. A spoonful every now and then keeps those hunger pangs at bay, thus restricting the urge to eat.

Note that some legumes are incorrectly called nuts. The most common example of this is the peanut, others being soy nuts and carob nuts.

Oatmeal
Oatmeal is meal made from rolled or ground oats and interest in it has increased considerably in recent years because of its health benefits. One of these is that the cereal’s soluble fiber content helps lower cholesterol levels.

Oats are abundant in both complex carbohydrates and water-soluble fiber, both of which slow digestion rates and stabilize the level of blood-glucose. Oatmeal is extremely rich in omega-3 fats, folate, B vitamins and potassium. Oats that are steel-cut contain much more fiber than the instant varieties.

Summary
The foods we have looked at in this article – meat, eggs, seafood, dairy produce, nuts, vegetables, fruit, legumes and oatmeal – contain all the nutrients required for optimum health. You need eat nothing else!

The same cannot be said for the foods we look at here. Eat these on a regular basis as so many people do, and you will, quite literally, be heading for an early grave – it’s your choice!

 

Worst Foods to Eat

The processed food industry is now reckoned to be just about the largest industry on Earth and is estimated to generate some two trillion pounds per annum. This has not happened by accident – the food companies have achieved it by deception, dishonesty, clever marketing and swiftly latching onto, and exploiting, the various food trends and fads as they emerge.

The latest of these is health food. However, this has presented them with a problem – processed food is inherently unhealthy and will always be. So in order to cash in, they have had to resort, once again, to deception.

Two methods have been used. The first has been the creation of foods aimed specifically at the health-conscious, such as energy bars and drinks. The second is to take existing foods that are known to be unhealthy and, seemingly, make them healthy.

What they don’t tell you though, is that while the energy bars and drinks do provide a boost of energy, they also provide an unhealthy dose of sugar, and often an almost total lack of nutrients.

When they claim to have made an unhealthy food healthy, they’ve done it by taking out the saturated fat. This enables them to say the food is now low in calories and so healthy. What they don’t say, however, is that they’ve replaced the fat with a cocktail of chemicals designed to replicate the taste and texture provided by the fat. The end result is something that appears to be a health food but is actually more like something out of a laboratory, and so is anything but.

Then there’s all the other foods that people know are not good for them but, because they love them so much, they keep on eating. There’s just no incentive for the manufacturers to improve them – if the people are happy to eat rubbish, they’re quite happy to sell it to them!

Classic examples of the food companies dishonesty and indifference are:

Energy Bars
The advertising blurb on the packaging of these products invariably extols how low in calories they are, and the huge amount of protein and fiber they provide. This makes them seem like a super-healthy option – an impression reinforced by the fact they’re sold in health food shops and many gyms.

A few of them do actually live up to the hype by being low in saturated fat and sugars, and offering a decent amount of protein and fiber. This makes them a nutritious and satisfying pick-me-up. Unfortunately, these bars are the exception – most are actually the exact opposite.

This is because they consist largely of artificial sweeteners and cereals all wrapped in an outer layer designed to look healthy and appetising. While they do provide a quick energy boost, long-term consumption of these bars will cause the pounds to pile on.

Just one of the various types of sweetener used in these bars is sugar alcohol; this is because it is low in calories. However, sugar alcohols are difficult for our bodies to digest and can cause wind, bloating and diarrhoea.   

The so-called protein content is often a blatant con. Cheap soy and whey proteins are usually used; the low qualities of which are, in any case, largely destroyed by the production process. Synthetic vitamins go in the mix as well. These are cheap and allow labeling such as ‘fortified with’ to be used.

The bottom line is that there’s actually little point to energy bars. They’re not much different to the average candy bar which also provides an energy boost. They are a lot more expensive though!

Energy & Sports Drinks
Possibly even worse than energy bars are the energy and sports drinks. Typically, these include caffeine, amino acids, herbal supplements, sugar, synthetic vitamins and taurine. According to the advertizing, they provide a boost to endurance, stamina and mental  concentration.

While they no doubt do, to some degree at any rate, they also have less desirable effects. For one, their phenomenally high content of sugar is a known cause of obesity – this can lead to type 2 diabetes. Others are convulsions, high blood pressure, vomiting and nausea. These drinks are also very rich in caffeine.

Some contain as much as 20 teaspoons of sugar, believe it or not! This is three times the recommended daily maximum for an adult. While sugar-free and low-sugar versions are available, they are still loaded with caffeine – some have four times as much as a cup of coffee. As caffeine is a powerful stimulant, over-consumption can cause a number of problems that include heart palpitations, insomnia, hallucinations, anxiety and stomach ulcers.

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, the high sugar and caffeine content means energy drinks are also addictive.

Pop Drinks
Along with the energy drinks, pop drinks (soft drinks in the UK) are just about the worst thing you can put into your body. They may look and taste good but they have virtually no nutritional value.

To start with, they increase the risk of getting cancer – pancreatic cancer in particular. This is due to their high sugar content which forces the pancreas to increase its production of insulin.

Pop drinks can also be the cause of hyperactivity. This is because they alter protein levels in the brain, the action of which is thought to be caused by the flavorings and colorings used in the drinks.

They contain a large amount of caffeine. This causes the same health issues that the energy drinks do, although perhaps to a lesser degree.

Another major ingredient is phosphoric acid. This can restrict the body’s ability to absorb and use calcium which leads to osteoporosis (softening of the teeth and bones). Note that caffeine is also known to interfere with calcium absorption and so may contribute to this issue as well.

Packed with sugar, pop drinks are one of the major causes of the current obesity crisis. Obesity, is of course, the trigger for a range of illnesses and diseases. And don’t assume the so-called ‘diet’ versions are any better – these come with their own issues. Just one of which is the fact they are flavored with artificial sweeteners, a typical example being aspartame. This substance is 200 times sweeter than sugar! The problem with these artificial sweeteners is that no one has a clue with regard to their long-term effects.

To sum up, pop drinks are a known cause of dangerous conditions, such as osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, obesity and fatty liver disease.

Oh, and they rot your teeth as well! Give your body a break – drink something else.

Fruit Drinks
Of all the so-called health foods, fruit drinks must be at the top of the list of misrepresented products – the advertizing and promotion blurb for them is just a massive lie. It’s not hard to see why it works either.

Fruit is inherently healthy and people fondly imagine that all the food companies do is take a load of fruit, squeeze the juice out it, put it in cartons and then ship it off to the stores. The reality, however, is somewhat different. The first problem with fruit juice is the large amount of sugar it contains. If you’re eating an apple say, quite apart from its sugar content, you’re also ingesting a lot of fiber. This fills you up and kills your appetite. Effectively, the fiber stops you eating too many apples thus making sure your intake of sugar is kept at a safe level. It also ensures the sugar is digested slowly at a rate the liver can handle.

Fruit drinks, however, don’t contain any fiber – it’s all been taken out. Consequently, a glass of the stuff contains the sugar of not just one fruit, but several. One glass of apple juice contains the sugar of around eight apples! Also, due to the lack of fiber, the rate at which it is digested is rapid. Accordingly, the body receives a large and sudden hit of sugar which the liver cannot cope with; it processes what it can and converts the rest to fat.

One of the big selling points of fruit drinks is their supposedly high content of vitamins and other nutrients. This is true only to a degree, however, as the production process removes a large proportion of the nutrients. What’s left, pound-for-pound, bears little relation to the nutritional content of whole fruit.

Another effect of the production process is that the flavor, color and odor of the fruit is largely removed. To make the juice look, taste and smell like it should, the sugary water that it essentially is, is enhanced with ‘flavor packs’ that are basically a cocktail of chemicals.

Calorie for calorie, fruit drinks are as bad for you as carbonated drinks and our advice is to not drink them at all. They are a major contributor to the current obesity epidemic, plus, there is a confirmed link between them and tooth decay.

Much better by far to purchase a blender and make your own natural fruit drinks, the sugar content of which can be controlled.

Ice Cream
This one will surprise a lot of people. Ice cream is one of the most popular snacks in the world and has been for many, many years. However, that’s because very few people know what goes into it these days. Years ago, ice cream was a healthy enough blend of little more than frozen double cream, milk, sugar, lard and eggs.

Then the big food companies got in on the act. Now, it bears little resemblance to the ice cream of old. If you read the label on a tub, you’ll see a long list of ingredients that reads something like sugar, milk, corn syrup, mono, carob bean gum, whey, annatto, diglycerides, guar gum, carrageenan, tara gum and vitamin A palmitate. Not quite the same is it!

Many ice creams now don’t even contain cream and, in some cases, no milk either. Instead, the producers use vegetable oil – typically palm oil which is high in saturated fat and one of the unhealthiest vegetable oils on the planet!

In the UK for example, the amount of dairy produce the manufacturers must put in ice cream in order to be able to legally call it such is extremely low – a minimum of 2.5 percent milk and 5 percent dairy fat. And if you think that’s bad, it gets worse! Rather than use good quality protein, they use whey solids – a low-grade protein which is a waste product of the cheese industry. In fact, for a long time this stuff was just dumped into the rivers and seas – it had zero commercial value.

Also, ice cream is sold by volume, not weight. So it is bulked out by whipping as much air into the mixture as possible before freezing it into the tubs and containers.

So there we have it – the bulk of the ice cream in that cornet you’re holding is probably comprised of little more than vegetable fats and air. Even the flavor is fake, produced by a mix of who knows what chemicals. Nutrients? – forget it!

Farmed Salmon
Fish farming, also known as aquaculture, is the fastest growing form of food production in the world. 55 percent (75 percent for salmon) of the world’s seafood is now produced this way.

Salmon is very popular and not just because of its unique flavor. As an oily fish, it also has health-giving properties due to its high content of omega-3 fats. Salmon caught in the open seas is one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. The same, however, cannot be said of farmed salmon.

A study carried out in 2017 discovered that while farmed salmon are fatter than their wild cousins, they have half the level of omega-3 fats. This is thought to be due to the low quality feed (consisting mainly of genetically modified grain) they are fed.

Farmed salmon are forced to live an unnatural life spent in inadequately sized enclosures. They are also exposed to pollutants, such as dioxin and DDT, not to mention carcinogens. Salmon contaminated with these can cause a range of health issues.

To avoid eating farmed salmon, do not buy anything labelled ‘Atlantic salmon’ – this comes from fish farms. Also, be aware that virtually all salmon sold in restaurants and supermarkets is farmed. However, if you can find Alaskan salmon, buy it – it is actually illegal to farm Alaskan salmon.

Margarine
Once upon a time (and it wasn’t that long ago) if you wanted something to spread on a slice of bread, or to bake with, you used butter. It was cheap, tasty and good for you. Furthermore, people had been eating it for centuries without issue. Then cardiovascular disease began to raise its ugly head and pretty soon the so-called experts came to the erroneous conclusion that saturated fat was the cause of it all.

Sales of foods high in saturated fats like cheese, meat and, of course, butter, began to plummet. Desperate to find something to replace the cash cow that was butter, the food companies told their laboratories to concoct a replacement. The product they came up with looked like butter, smelled a bit like butter and tasted, well, a bit like butter. They called it margarine and told the world it was much healthier.

But of course it wasn’t – it was actually a lot worse for us than butter. Scandalously, the manufacturers were only too well aware of this but did their utmost to convince us otherwise. It worked for a while but when the incidence of heart disease stubbornly continued to rise, the penny eventually dropped.

Why is margarine so bad for us? Well, because the main ingredient is hydrogenated vegetable oils, aka trans-fats. Amongst other things, they cause heart disease and stroke. The fact that margarine also contains synthetic coloring to disguise its grey, bland unappealing look maybe tells its own story!

More recently, in response to the criticism they have received, the manufacturers have tried to rescue the product by replacing the trans-fats with palm oil.  However, this is an oil rich in a type of fat that can also cause heart disease.

So it’s back to square one. The fat in margarine, be it trans-fats or palm oil, causes heart disease, stroke and other conditions. As to what all the chemicals in it do to us, well who knows? – if the manufacturers do, they’re not saying!

So do yourself a big favor and don’t eat this  extremely unhealthy so-called food.

Peanuts
Peanuts originated in South America and were an important constituent in the diets of the Aztecs and other native Indian tribes. Today, they are an extremely popular snack food, as is a derivative – peanut butter.

As we have already seen, nuts in general are an extremely healthy food and peanuts, while not classed as a nut, are often thought of as such. However, while they may be very good for us in their natural state, by the time they arrive in the stores they are considerably less so.

Most peanuts are sold in packs and are coated in salt and vegetable oil. Too much salt raises blood pressure and so increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. This can be avoided, however, by eating peanuts straight from the shell.

Peanut crops are heavily contaminated with pesticides, some of which are thought to be carcinogenic. Also, due to their soft skins, the nuts are susceptible to a fungus that releases a cancer-causing agent known as aflatoxin. This attacks the liver and is one of the most deadly food-borne toxins in existence.

Peanuts have a very high content of omega-6 fats. This is a type of fat that is important for us in a number of ways including cognitive function, fighting inflammation and bone health. However, too much of it can actually be bad for us and increase the risk of getting common diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes.

With regard to peanut butter, this is usually adulterated with palm oil or trans-fats, plus salt and sugar for flavor. It will also be laced with the usual chemical preservatives.

Low-fat Foods
Increasingly, people are becoming aware of just how precious their health really is and are actively seeking ways to at least maintain, if not actually improve it. Currently, saturated fat is seen as being public enemy No 1 and the food companies, never slow to spot a new market, are busily selling us a range of low-fat products marketed as being healthy.

Walk down the aisles of any supermarket and your eyes will be assailed by shelves and shelves of low-fat this and low-fat that – cakes, biscuits, desserts, ready meals – all screaming at you, ‘I’m healthy, eat me’.

Now, there’s no disputing that these products are indeed low in fat. However, having taken out a major part of the food (as the saturated fat is), the companies have had to replace it with something else. Until recently, they would have used trans-fats for this purpose. However, as they are having to scale back on the use of this type of fat due to increasing public awareness of just how dangerous it is, their solution is to instead use concoctions of various kinds. These are all high in sugar, salt, starch and chemicals, and replace the bulk and flavor lost by the removal of the fat.

Accordingly, most low-fat foods contain a lot more sugar than their full-fat equivalents – in many cases, several times as much. They also contain more modified starches, not to mention a range of chemical substances. The end result is food high in carbohydrates and calories, and that is actually anything but healthy! Don’t fall for it.

Processed Meats
Meats that are processed include salami, ham, sausages, corned beef, bacon, hot dogs, dried meat, smoked meat, salted meat, beef jerky and canned meat – there are many others as well.

Typically, the animals from which these meats are produced are raised in enclosures in much the same way that farmed fish are kept in pens. Not only do the poor animals live a short and wretched life but, as with the fish, they have an unnatural diet consisting largely of genetically modified grains.

Furthermore, due to the unhygienic conditions in which they are compelled to live, the animals are given drugs – these include hormones and antibiotics. They are also pumped full of various chemicals to not just preserve the meat but also give it color and flavor.

Another issue with processed meats is the large amount of salt they contain. Years ago this was necessary in order to preserve meat but these days chemicals are used instead. The reason it is salted now is to add flavor. However, because of the large quantities of salt used, eating too much of these meats can cause hypertension, heart disease and some cancers – bowel and stomach cancer in particular.

If eaten very occasionally, processed meats don’t do us any harm. Any more than that though, and we are potentially exposing ourselves to a range of illnesses and diseases. We’ll also be supporting and furthering an industry that treats the animals in its care atrociously.

We’ll leave you to ponder the ethics of that!

Cereal
Just as with low-fat foods, supermarket shelves are packed with brightly colored cereal boxes all proclaiming what a low sugar content they have, how much fiber they contain, what they are fortified with, etc, etc. True to form, however, many of these claims are hugely exaggerated. Meanwhile, things the manufacturers would tell us about if they were genuinely concerned about our health aren’t mentioned at all.

Consider the way that cereals are manufactured. It’s a highly mechanized process that starts with grain – usually wheat, rice, corn or oats. This is cleaned, crushed and then pressure-cooked. While the grain is cooking, various chemicals and fats are added. What rolls out the other end is an unappetising sludge devoid of shape, taste or smell.

Furthermore, because the outer layers of the grain have been removed during the processing, and the fact it’s been subjected to very high temperatures, very little in the way of nutrients remains either. The sludge is then dried and shaped. The last stage of the process is the adding of artificial coloring, flavoring (sugar mainly), preservatives and nutrients.

The latter enables the manufacturers to claim that the product has been ‘fortified’ with extra nutrients, such as vitamins, iron and calcium. However, the reality is that these so-called nutrients are synthetic, i.e. manufactured in a laboratory and bear no relation to the real nutrients lost during the manufacturing process.

Then there is the fact that the grains used to make the cereals are almost always genetically modified (GM) – see below. A range of health issues are associated with GM foods including unnaturally rapid aging, poor insulin regulation, infertility and problems with the gastrointestinal system.

Genetically Modified (GM) Food
Genetic modification is a laboratory procedure whereby genes from the DNA of one species are extracted and then forced into the genes of a different plant or animal. These extracted genes can come from animals, insects, bacteria, viruses or even humans. Foods produced from, or using, GM organisms are referred to as genetically modified foods.

The benefits of genetic modification are that it improves crop yields by making plants naturally resistant to diseases, and also makes them more tolerant to herbicides. These benefits are purely economic – health-wise, there are none.

However, in years to come, it is forecast that genetic modification will be able to improve food’s nutritional content, reduce its potential for creating allergies, and improve the efficiency of food production systems. GM foods will also be developed from micro-organisms and animals, unlike just from plants as they are now.

Is GM food safe to eat though? Well, according to the scientific community the answer is yes. Predictably, the big corporations who have a vested interest say the same. However, given that GM has only been around for about 30 years, no one can possibly know for sure. The jury is still out on its long-term effects and, for that reason, we advise against it.

Also, currently, there is simply no reason to eat GM food – it offers no health benefits whatsoever. That being the case, why take the risk?

Bottom Line
All the foods listed in this article are products of the processed food industry. Eating them occasionally won’t do you any harm but doing so on a regular basis, as so many of people do, considerably increases the risk of a number of unpleasant and dangerous diseases. 

Organic Foods

The term ‘organic food’ refers to the product of a farming system that avoids the use of man-made fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives. The system also prohibits irradiation and the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Basically, organic agriculture is about going back to the way farming was hundreds of years ago. It is a way of farming that is, to a large degree, dictated to, and controlled by, nature – not the other way round as happens with modern agricultural methods. As a result, the land and waterways are less polluted, wildlife can flourish and thrive, and the animals live in more pleasant, natural and humane conditions.

With the current focus on health, organic food is becoming increasingly popular. Many people, however, find it can be a very confusing subject. Are the benefits worth the premium prices charged? Is it really more nutritious than conventional food? Is organic food really better for the environment? What do all the labels mean? What, really, is the truth?

Lets take a look:

The Good
One of the most touted benefits of organic food is that it’s exposed to fewer chemicals. In conventional farming, the use of chemicals, such as pesticides and fungicides, is widespread. So many people will be surprised to learn that they are also widespread in organic farming. There is, however, a difference. The pesticides used in organic farming are natural, as opposed to the synthetic pesticides used in conventional farming. While they are still toxic, the degree of toxicity is much less than with the synthetic pesticides. So, overall, the exposure to harmful chemicals is much less with organic food.

Organic food is much fresher than food grown conventionally and doesn’t contain preservatives to make it last longer, i.e. increase it’s shelf life. Also, organic food is often produced on small farms that sell it locally – it doesn’t need to be transported far and stored for long periods.

In most countries, organic crops don’t contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and organic meat comes from animals raised on GMO-free farms. 

Organic meat and milk is richer in omega-3 fats and certain minerals than from animals raised conventionally. These omega-3 fats provide us with a range of health benefits.

Organic farming is more environment-friendly due to the methods it employs. For example, its use of compost, manure and crop rotation. This helps to keep soil healthy and rich in organic matter, nutrients and microbial activity. It also uses much less energy – this is a very important factor these days.

Many people take the issue of animal welfare seriously. Organic farmers are legally obliged to do the same by providing their animals with access to the outdoors and allowing them to roam freely. They are also prohibited from using antibiotics and synthetic growth hormones. Furthermore, they must ensure their animals are fed 100 percent organic feed and provided with clean, cage-free living conditions.

Organic foods are generally considered to taste much better than conventionally produced foods. This is due to a higher mineral content and the fact that they are free of additives and chemicals.

The Bad
The first negative is that of cost – using chemicals and synthetic pesticides in conventional farming reduces the cost of production as they enable foods to be produced faster and more efficiently. Organic farms can’t use these products and so, inevitably, their rate of production is lower. Together with higher overheads, this makes organic products considerably more expensive.

Organic foods are not treated with chemical preservatives so they have a shorter shelf life than conventional foods do. This further adds to their cost.

Organic farming is big business and needs to sell its products. Exaggerated claims that it does this, that and the other are a favorite way of achieving this. One such claim is that organic food is far more nutritious than conventionally produced food. However, there is no real evidence that this is the case. While organic food does have a higher content of some nutrients, it is definitely not far more nutritious.

Unfortunately, many organic farms don’t take the issue of animal welfare as seriously as they would have us believe (and are supposedly obliged to by law). Yes, they let the chickens run free but it may only be for a few minutes rather than the hours it should be. All too often, the animals are forced to live in the same cramped, unpleasant conditions that conventionally farmed animals are. If they fall ill, they may not be given antibiotics because the farm would then lose its ‘organic’ status.

Animals on organic farms often have to endure the same cruelties, such as debeaking, castration and dehorning, as animals on conventional farms do.

To Buy or Not to Buy?
It’s a fact that not all conventionally farmed foods are high in pesticides. Many people will still want to avoid them for other reasons – for example, their environmental impact. But with regard to health, it is not always necessary to go for the more expensive organic versions.

The foods listed below are not high in pesticides for the simple reason they do not need to be. Buying organic versions is quite pointless.

  •   Asparagus
  •   Avocados
  •   Mushrooms
  •   Cabbages
  •   Sweet Corn
  •   Eggplants
  •   Kiwis
  •   Honeydew Melons
  •   Cantaloupes

However, the foods below are high in pesticides, so buying organic is the recommended option:

  •   Mangoes
  •   Onions
  •   Papayas
  •   Pineapples
  •   Sweet Peas
  •   Sweet Potatoes
  •   Grapefruits
  •   Water Melons
  •   Cauliflower
  •   Apples
  •   Spinach
  •   Apples
  •   Pears
  •   Celery
  •   Kale
  •   Squash
  •   Nectarines
  •   Peaches
  •   Spinach
  •   Tomatoes
  •   Bell Peppers
  •   Potatoes
  •   Strawberries
  •   Hot Peppers
  •   Grapes

How do we know if a food is really organic though? Well, in most countries organic foods are clearly labeled as such. In the USA and the EU, at least 95 percent of the ingredients in a food product must be organically produced.

In some countries, the rules that govern organic food labeling are ambiguous. For example, food with a low organic content may be labelled as ‘made with organic ingredients’. It’s true but deceptively so!

Also, be wary when buying organic foods from market traders and the like – very often they’re anything but!

Juicing

Sales of juice extractors are going through the roof as more and more people are tempted by all the hype being spread on the Internet and by various celebrities (all of whom are handsomely paid to do so!).

These machines extract the juice, and only the juice, from fruits and vegetables – all the pulp and fiber is removed. The end product is a thin watery liquid that contains all the nutrients the fruit or vegetable has to offer.

It certainly sounds healthy enough and does have some benefits. However, as we shall see, there are some definite downsides to juicing as well.

The Good
One obvious benefit is that it enables people who don’t like a particular fruit or vegetable and so would never eat it, to get the nutrients it offers.

Another is that by eliminating the starchy, and thus high in carbohydrates, part of the food, juicing can help people to lose weight.

Juicing provides an excellent way of ensuring that we get the recommended ‘five a day’ that virtually every health authority insists on these days. There is actually a lot of merit in this and having a juicer makes it very easy to do.

We are more likely to try a wider variety of fruit and vegetables. This increases the range of nutrients we take in and will undoubtedly have beneficial effects on our overall health.

The Bad
One big disadvantage of juicing is the cost. Juicing is expensive when compared to eating whole fruits and vegetables. To start with, the juice extractors themselves are quite costly. Then there’s the food – you’ll need a lot more of it than if you were eating it whole. Whereas eating a couple of apples or so will fill you up, getting a worthwhile amount of juice will need a lot more.

Juicing can make us ill. This is because raw food contains microbes which can be the cause of a range of conditions such as vomiting, diarrhoea, e.coli, food poisoning, hepatitis and even kidney failure. For this reason, commercially produced juices and smoothies are put through a pasteurization process that kills all organisms that are potentially dangerous. Home-made versions are not!

Drinking vegetables is not the same as eating them. We may be getting the nutrients but we won’t be getting the fiber that slows the speed at which they are digested. Health-wise, this is as important as the nutrients themselves.

Fiber is also essential for the promotion of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. These bacteria play an important role in preventing constipation and diseases of the gut, such as bowel cancer and inflammatory bowel disease. Fiber is also known to play a major role in keeping our immune systems healthy.

It’s easy to overdo things and take in a concentrated dose of nutrients that the body simply isn’t designed to handle. When this happens, the body will usually absorb what it needs and then excrete what’s left. It doesn’t always, however – some water-soluble vitamins taken in excess can cause problems. For example, too much vitamin B6 can cause nerve problems, and excess vitamin C can cause kidney stones.

Problems also arise when just, or mainly, fruit is juiced. This can result in a drink that has far more sugar than is healthy. For example, juicing five large oranges produces a drink that contains about twenty teaspoons of sugar. Quite apart from all the health issues this can cause, it is very bad for the teeth and gums.

Tip – note that with some fruits and vegetables, many of the nutrients are actually in the skin or just under it – avocados are a typical example. It’s precisely this part that many people will discard during the preparation process – don’t make this mistake.

Bottom Line 
While drinking the juice of vegetables and fruits can help in achieving a healthy diet when done sensibly, there are simply too many downsides to the concept. Our advice is to give this one a definite miss.

Smoothies

As with juicing, making smoothies requires a machine; in this case one that blends all the ingredients into a mushy, pulpy liquid. These machines provide a quick and convenient way of getting nutrition.

The Good
Unlike with juicing, smoothie machines just pulp the fiber, they don’t remove it. As a lot of a food’s nutrients are in the fiber, this results in drinks that are healthier.

When compared to juicing, another benefit is cost. Producing a smoothie doesn’t require more food in the way that juicing does.

Blending fruits and vegetables in the form of a smoothie is a quick and easy way to fuel the body. It is also possible to add other types of food to enhance a smoothie’s nutrient content generally, or more specifically. As an example of the latter, adding nuts will give a smoothie a boost of protein.

Smoothies can be a lot more than just a drink. With a bit of thought and imagination, it is possible to come up with concoctions that are actually meal-substitutes. These can keep you going until lunch or whatever. You can also create your own energy drinks rather than buy them off the shelf.

Smoothies make it easier to eat food that you don’t like the taste of. All you have to do is blend it with something you do like the taste of.

The Bad
Smoothies are not, and never will be, as good as eating whole fruits and vegetables. There are several reasons for this. One is that during the blending process, the fiber is pulped and, inevitably some is damaged. This means that the amount in the finished drink is not as much as would be gained from eating the fruit or vegetable whole.

Another is due to the process of oxidation (also an issue with juicing). As soon as the skin of a fruit or vegetable is broken, its flesh is exposed to light and air. This causes the nutrients in it to start breaking down almost immediately. To demonstrate this, cut into an apple and you will see that the area around the cut very quickly turns brown – this is oxidation at work. So right from the word go, your smoothie is losing its nutritional value and, the longer you store it, the more it will lose.

Smoothies can be very high in both sugar and calories. It’s very easy to get carried away when making these drinks and add things you really shouldn’t, or simply just too much of them. One way to prevent this is to add leafy green vegetables that are generally relatively tasteless. This will leave less room for the sugary stuff (and provide more nutrients as a bonus).

Smoothies can even be dangerous. This is due to the design of the blending machine’s cutting blades that makes them difficult to clean. As a result, many people don’t do it as well as they should, and the blades and the surrounding area become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. These can cause food poisoning and diseases such as e.coli and salmonella.

Bottom Line
Smoothies offer several benefits. One is that they provide a quick and easy way of getting a concentrated dose of nutrients. Another is that they make it possible to get the nutrient content of foods a person doesn’t eat. 

However, they have to be consumed quickly in order to get the full nutritional value of the drink. It’s also important to keep the smoothie machine clean – a lot of people neglect to do this and can suffer as a result.

Types of Sugar

Sugar – empires have been built on it, fortunes made with it, and over-consumption of it kills and cripples millions of people every year. Yet for all that, it is a foodstuff loved the world over.

In 2018, a massive two billion tonnes of it was produced. On average, across the world, we each eat some 25 kilograms (55 lb) every year. In the western hemisphere, the figure rises to a startling 34 kilograms (75 lb). In terms of calories, the latter equates to nearly 300 per day.

Sugar is available in many different forms, consistencies and colors – each being used for specific purposes.

Let’s take a look at what’s available and what they are used for:
 

Solid Sugars

Most sugar these days is produced from sugar beet. The production process involves slicing the beet into small pieces and then mixing the pieces with hot water. This creates a syrupy liquid that contains the sugar. The syrup is then filtered to remove impurities. What’s left is heated and then seeded with tiny crystals of sugar which grow to the size required. Finally, the crystals are washed, dried and cooled.

White Table Sugar
This is the white granulated sugar that we are all familiar with. The reason it is white is that it has been refined to such a degree that it is absolutely pure. Be aware that the refining process strips out all the natural color and nutrients from the plant it was taken from. What’s left is unadulterated calories – nothing else.

As we mentioned above, most sugar these days is made from the sugar beet plant – approximately 60 percent in fact. Sugarcane is another common source. Something else you may care to note is the fact that the vast majority of the sugar beet used in the production of sugar is genetically modified.

This type of sugar is the one commonly found on dining tables and kitchens across the globe. It is the most used type of sugar for general baking and cooking.

Nutrition-wise, white sugar offers precisely nothing. It has a glycemic index rating of 63 – the highest of all the sugars. For those who don’t know, the glycemic index (GI) is a rating system for foods that contain carbohydrates. It shows how quickly a food affects blood sugar level.

Superfine Sugar
Superfine sugar has a number of names that include baking sugar, casting sugar, bar sugar and
caster sugar. The latter is the British term for it.

Very fine in consistency, with the smallest crystal size of all the granulated sugars, it is ideal for use in meringues, syrups and cocktails, where it adds volume as well as flavor. It is also often sprinkled over fruits and cereals.

Confectioners Sugar
Also known as icing sugar, this is white sugar that has been ground into a fine powder. To prevent clumping, a small amount of cornstarch is typically added and mixed in.

As it is so fine, it dissolves easily in liquid and so is ideal for making icing, frosting and whipping cream, as well as for decorating a range of foods.

Sanding Sugar
This type of sugar has much larger crystals than table and superfine sugar. Because of the size of these crystals, it has a reflective property that makes it sparkle. Colored versions are also available. These two properties make it an ideal sugar for decorative purposes.

With regard to nutrient content, superfine, confectioners and sanding sugars, as with white sugar, all have none. They also have the same glycemic index rating – 63.

Brown Sugar
A fact that surprises most people is that common brown sugar is actually regular white sugar to which molasses (see below) has been added.

Brown sugar proper, on the other hand, is made from sugarcane. The production process creates a thick dark brown viscous liquid which is known as molasses. The color of the finished sugar is dependant on how much of this molasses is processed out. There are several varieties of brown sugar and the thing that differentiates them is the amount of processing they go through.

These include Muscovado sugar which is dark brown and has a very strong flavor. The minimally processed crystals are coarser and stickier than regular brown sugar. Another variety is Demerara sugar which is is popular in the UK. This is a light brown sugar with large sticky crystals. It is often used in coffee, tea and on cereals.

Thanks to their molasses content, brown sugars do offer a limited range of nutrients. Their glycemic index rating though, is the same as white sugar.

Palm Sugar
Palm sugar is produced from palm trees. As there are many varieties of this type of tree, the sugar is named after the palm that produced it – coconut palm sugar for example. Being produced from a tree that requires little in the way of water, it is the most sustainable type of all the sugars.

Years ago, it was made from sap taken from two trees – the Palmyra palm and the Date palm. And, indeed it still is. These days, however, it is also produced from the Coconut and Sago palms.

Palm sugar varies in color from dark brown to light gold. It is a very grainy type of sugar and has a crumbly consistency. The main use for it is in cooking due to it having a strong and distinctive flavor. This is a result of the minimal amount of refining it goes through.

Another benefit of the low refining level is that it has a good content of nutrients. These include minerals such as phosphorus, manganese, copper, potassium, zinc and iron. It is also rich in B vitamins. With regard to its glycemic index rating, this is a healthy 35.  

Liquid Sugars

Sugar is also produced in various liquid forms. The simplest is nothing more than white granulated sugar that has been dissolved in water. Other types are more complex.

Corn Syrup
Corn syrup is a refined sugar syrup made from corn starch and is flavored with vanilla. As it has hygroscopic properties, it is very useful as a means of retaining moisture in baked goods. Consisting of 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose, corn syrup is nearly as sweet as honey.

Because of it’s hygroscopic properties, it is used in a huge range of  products that include bread, sauces, cakes, cereals, salad dressing and cookies to name just a few. Basically, it is found in virtually all processed food. It is also commonly used in carbonated beverages.

Agave Syrup
Agave syrup is a liquid sugar that has a consistency similar to honey. It is extracted from several species of the agave plant which are commonly found in South Africa and Mexico. The syrup is 1.5 times sweeter than normal sugar.

In color, it is a yellowish-orange with hues ranging from light to dark, depending on the degree of refining. Agave syrup’s main property is that it dissolves very easily. This makes it ideal for use as a sweetener in drinks of various types, such as cocktails and smoothies. It is also used as a topping for waffles, pancakes, etc.

Note that, as with palm sugar, agave syrup has a lower glycemic index rating than white sugar.

Rice Syrup
Rice syrup, also known as rice malt, brown rice malt and brown rice syrup, is a natural sweetener made from cooked brown rice. It is commonly used in asian cooking. The production process involves saccharification which converts the starch in the rice to sugar.

The main selling point of rice syrup is that it has a low content of fructose – a known cause of obesity and related illnesses. However, it has to be pointed out that it contains almost twice the amount of calories that normal white sugar does. Furthermore, it is very low in nutrients.

Molasses
Molasses is a thick, brownish-black, honey-like substance that is a byproduct of the refining process used to make sugar from sugarcane. In the USA it is commonly known as blackstrap molasses, and in the UK it is known either as treacle or black treacle.

While it does have inherent sweetness and so can be used as a sweetener, molasses is more valued for its high mineral content (iron, copper and calcium especially), strong flavor and rich color. Its prime use is in baking and making candy. It is also the base ingredient for the manufacture of dark rum. Blackstrap and other low grades of molasses are used in animal feed and in the production of vinegar and citric acid.

With regard to its calorie and nutrition content, these are similar to that of white sugar.

Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is made from the spring sap of certain types of maple tree. These include the Sugar maple, the Black maple and the Red maple. The sap is boiled until most of its water content has evaporated, leaving a thick, sugary syrup. This is then filtered to remove any impurities.

There are several different grades of maple syrup, all of which are characterized by their color. The darker syrups (made from sap extracted later in the season) have a richer flavor and so are usually used in baking. The lighter syrups are commonly used on waffles, pancakes, french toast, cereals and porridge.

Nutrition-wise, the syrup is rich, particularly in manganese and zinc. However, it also has a high sugar content with a glycemic index of 54 – not much below regular white sugar (63).

Honey
Produced by the honey bee, honey is a viscous mixture of sugars and other compounds – mainly fructose and glucose. Its flavor, color and viscosity varies, depending on the flowers available to the bees that produced it and the production method used.

Natural, unprocessed honey is simply taken from honeycombs, strained to remove any impurities and then bottled. Processed versions, on the other hand, are subjected to a pasteurization process designed to increase the product’s shelf life. Unfortunately, as with most food processing techniques, it also removes much of the nutrients.

Honey is available in a huge range of flavors, many of them specific to a country. These include acacia, clover, eucalyptus, orange and lemon blossom, lavender and the most famous of all, Manuka from New Zealand.

Both natural and processed honey can be used in salad dressings, drinks, smoothies and marinades. It can be poured over fruit salads and yoghurts. It is also a very good baking ingredient as it adds both sweetness and moistness. Cooking apart, and unlike most other sugars, honey can be used for a number of purposes. These include as a salve to heal burns and prevent infections, treating Psoriasis (a common skin condition) and treating hemorrhoids.

The nutrition content of honey depends to a certain extent on where the honey comes from. Typically though, it is rich in calcium, copper, iron and zinc, as well as B vitamins. It’s sugar content is also dependant on its source and can have a glycemic index rating of between 45 and 65.