Top 5 (Not so) Healthy Ingredients

Just because they are packaged with a label that says “vegan”, “gluten free” or “fresh”, it doesn’t mean certain foods are actually good for you.

The items that follow are some of what I consider to be the biggest scams in the health food world.

1. Margarine & Vegan Shortenings:

Vegan shortenings and vegan butters such as margarine are a highly processed food made of vegetable oils, emulsifiers, colorants and various artificial ingredients invented to replace traditional butter.

Vegetable oils, such as soybean, cottonseed, corn and safflower, can’t be extracted just by pressing (like olive oil or coconut oil), they must be chemically extracted from the plants with a solvent named hexane and then deodorized and altered. In fact, because these oils are liquid at room temperature, they are often hydrogenated, meaning they’re exposed to high heat, high pressure, hydrogen gas and a metal catalyst which give margarine a harder consistency and extend its shelf life.

Hydrogenated fats, also known as trans fats, are highly toxic and strongly associated with heart disease. And we don’t want them in our diet.

2. Canola Oil and other 2 vegetable oils:

Have you ever seen a ‘canola’ plant? Could you tell what it looks like? If not, don’t worry. You have a good reason. It doesn’t exist!

“Canola” is a made-up word that stands for “Canadian Oil Low Acid”, and it describes a genetically modified product. In the 80‘s, after discovering that rapeseed oil contains high amounts of erucic acid, which is poisonous to the body and associated with heart damage, they thought about genetically modifying the plant to lower the content of toxicity.

This hybrid version of rapeseed, is first treated with high levels of pesticides, then heated and processed with a petroleum solvent to extract the oil.

At this point, another process of heat and addition of acid is used to remove the solids (wax) that occur during the first processing. And finally, the newly created canola oil must be treated with more chemicals to improve color and separate the different parts of the oil. But it doesn’t end here: since the chemical process has created a harsh smell, now the oil must be chemically deodorized to be palatable.

One of the biggest problems with highly processed, industrial oils such as Corn, Soybean and Canola Oil, is that they are highly inflammatory for our body and can contribute to many degenerative diseases. So watch out when eating out: because Canola Oil is a cheap product to manufacture, it’s used in many packaged foods, even when labeled as healthy!

When you are out at a restaurant, make sure you always ask what oil they use and always request Extra Virgin Coconut or Olive Oil. And if you are following the steps to recreate a so labeled “healthy vegan recipe” that call for a cup of canola oil… you are probably not getting the final healthy result you were hoping for.
Ditch the recipe… and use mine instead! 😉

3. Vegan Cheese and Veganaise:

Before we start, check out my resource on How To Read Labels… I am sure that after that read we’ll be on the same page about most of the foods that come in a package! 😉

…But just in case you want to know more about store bought plant-based cheeses, let’s start saying that they can be made with everything!

From isolated soy protein, solidified vegetable oils (like canola and safflower), thickening agents and fillers to various flavorings, cellulose, vegetable glycerin, xanthan gum, citric acid, annatto, titanium dioxide… and so on. As you can probably imagine, some of these ingredients can be highly inflammatory and shouldn’t be part of a healthy diet.

Some vegan cheeses are less processed then others, sure. But in general, keep in mind: just because it is vegan does not mean it is healthy!!

I admit I am guilty of indulging with vegan cheese once every couple of months… there’s nothing like that melted cheesy flavor on a warm slice of pizza. But eating it mus n’t be the norm!

4. Mock Meats:

Faux sausages, meatless ground meat, mock chicken and fishless tuna. Or any non vegan product for which there is a vegan alternative… but does merely being vegan mean it’s healthy???

Many times, mock meats are excessively processed, packed with lots of sodium, fillers and questionable ingredients that sound all but natural!

As always, read the label: hydrolyzed wheat protein, methylcellulose, disodium guanylate, artificial flavors, disodium inosinate, soy protein isolate.

Keep this fact in mind: 91% of soy grown in the US is genetically modified, loaded with pesticides and produced using hexane, a substance that can provoke damages to the nervous system if consumed in large quantities.

Furthermore, most of these products contain high doses of gluten which is commonly used as a binder. Think about seitan for example!

The best way to enjoy a vegan burger is to make the patty yourself only using natural ingredients! You can make some extremely yummy meatless burgers using quinoa, sweet potatoes, chickpeas or black beans!

Just experiment in the kitchen with some of your favorite foods, add a generous dose of spices and you’ll be surprised by how good it tastes!!!

5. Bagged Greens:

Prewashed bagged greens and ready-to-eat salad kits are a terrific time savior. We just need to open a plastic bag… and dinner is served!

This commodity though comes at a cost. Many of these prepackaged greens might be two weeks old and many of their health benefits are lost way before we put them in our plate.

A 2010 Consumer Reports investigation tested 208 containers of greens from 16 different brands; they turned up “evidence of coliforms and enterococcus, bacteria that are common indicators of poor sanitation and fecal contamination.” 39 percent of the samples took in exam exceeded the accepted level for total coliforms and 23 percent of them surpassed the allowed threshold for the total amount of enterococcus.

Let’s see what happens in the processing plants!

Bagged leafy greens, even the organic ones, get triple-washed in a solution of water that contains a small amount of chlorine (the same chemical used in swimming pools) to help kill bacteria and are then sprayed with compounds such chlorine and ozone in order to delay spoilage.

In addition, these greens are often cut in small pieces before they are even washed, a process that could easily transfer the bacteria lying on the leaves inside the vegetables. And once they’re in there, they can’t be washed away.
Furthermore, when you cut a piece of fruit or vegetable and expose it to the air, an oxygen process occurs that provokes a break down in the nutritional value, making your produce lose vitamins and other nutrients faster than whole products.

As a last step, our bagged greens are stuffed into plastic bags or containers, and shipped off to our supermarket. They are usually kept refrigerated but if they spend some time at a warm temperature, they soon become a breeding ground for bacteria.

Since the chances of compromising the quality of our greens are many, I always prefer a whole head of lettuce to a bagged green mix. It might take a few more minutes to wash and cut my lettuce at home but I get a way fresher and cleaner product.

And here’s a time saving tip: the varietals of greens that are the easiest to clean and prepare are Iceberg Lettuce and Endive. Prefer those when time is an issue.

Know how to wash!

Of course, like all the produce growing outside, leafy greens are exposed to wildlife as well as contaminants that might be found in irrigation water and soil and therefore they can carry high levels of bacteria.

Don’t forget to always clean your lettuce thoroughly before you put it in your plate. Here are some tips to do it effectively:

  1. Wash your lettuce in a sink that has been thoroughly cleaned. Immerse loose greens in cool water for a couple of minutes to allow debris to sink to the bottom.
  2. Use quality antimicrobial vegetable washes to better remove pesticides and other chemicals.
  3. When finished, let the water drain then rub and rinse each lettuce leaf individually under cold running water
  4. Finally, dry your greens in a salad spinner or with paper towels, but do not use cloth towels, which could transmit other bacteria.

Something’s better than nothing….

Getting your daily dose of leafy greens is extremely important, and we all live a busy a life. If one day you can’t to stop to buy fresh produce, a bag of prewashed spinach will help you eating more greens and raw veggies and it will be better than not having them.
Just remember to pay attention on the packaging dates and try to purchase the product with the furthest expiration date possible.

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