The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Is Your Health Food Unhealthful?

Most people know junk food when they see it at Halloween, coming next week. Would you recognize it in disguise now? In gyms and fitness centers, I see people buying expensive exercise foods and drinks advertised for "health" and "energy" that are not healthful. Here are four things to check, with more in coming posts:

Many "energy" and workout foods are high calorie. The sport science definition of calories is energy. That does not mean calories make you energetic. If you are calorie deficient you will feel weaker. More calories than you need will not make you stronger or able to exercise more. A 400 calorie workout then eating a 200 calorie sports bar and a 200 calorie energy drink plus regular meals will result in weight gain not loss.

Next, many bars and drinks are little more than unhealthful candy - refined sugar, fillers, dyes, hydrolyzed proteins, unhealthy fats, and some synthetic vitamins. Eating them does not make you healthy just because they have the words "natural," "healthy," "vitamins," or "exercise" on the label. You would get more vitamins and health from eating a pear and some walnuts. Some that are labelled "low-carb" are high in unhealthy transfat and hydrogenated fat. Many products labelled "low-fat" or "no-fat" have much junk refined sugar. Junk fats and sugars damage your health over the long term. There is nothing you need to eat that has high fructose corn syrup. Both junk food and "health food" low carbohydrate products can have sugar substitutes like sorbital that can make you bloated and gassy.

Third, many powders, drinks, and bars have unfermented soy, which does not have the benefits of fermented soy, and in large amounts can slow the thyroid and may have estrogen-promoting qualities. People with tendency to estrogen-dependent tumors like fibroids, cystic ovary, and endometriosis probably want to avoid these products.

Fourth, watch for stimulants in exercise foods, often caffeine, guarana, ephedra, ginseng, ma huang and others. You don't need them to exercise or lose weight. Many exercisers take them, plus energy pills, diet pills, and their usual coffee and espresso. A cycle starts of needing them to avoid feeling weary and headachy. Nervousness, anxiety, inability to concentrate by day and sleep at night, and irregular heart beats can occur. Then over-the-counter or prescription medicines to try to stop those effects? That's not health.

Make healthier, less expensive sports drinks by putting an apple, banana, grapes, or other fruit, with nuts, a green pepper, and clean water in a blender, grinder, food processor, mixer, or just mash them in a bowl. Add any combination of unsweetened cocoa powder, cinnamon, cloves, ginger root, sesame seeds, and healthy items for flavor. When baking Halloween treats, there is no need to add any sugar. Use mashed fruit. Instead of shortening, use a cooked sweet potato and ground flax seeds or walnuts. Instead of icing, mash apples (no cooking needed) for a topping as sweet as any sugar or syrup, and a better habit for the long run. Get more ideas on our food blogger's Candy Free Halloween Treats (and Tricks) and on The NYTimes opinion page today for commentary on making the change to healthier food thinking.

Exercise your brain and be able to spot foods marketed for health and exercise that are unhealthy foods in disguise.

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Photo by StarMama, Creative Commons
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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.