Are energy bars, protein shakes and other foods advertised as "health foods" good for us? Answer: More often than not, NO they aren't.

Processed foods are generally not good for us, regardless of how they are advertised. I’ve lived with roommates who firmly believed that they were on wholesome, perfectly nutritious diets all the while subsisting on Power bars, frozen TV dinners from the health food section of our local grocery store and Gatorade. Just because a product is advertised as a health food does not make it one! A trip to the grocery store quickly confirms this simple, yet often forgotten principle. In fact, many of the foods advertised as “energy bars” or nutrient packed “protein powders” are some of the most dangerous foods you could possibly consume. Take for instance PowerBar’s Triple Threat Chocolate Peanut Butter Crisp. Putting aside the fact that the name of this bar doesn’t sound healthy to begin with (albeit it does sound decadently delicious), let us pretend that we fall for the claim that this bar provides “long lasting energy” as marketed on the packaging. Now, let us begin to become enlightened about why this PowerBar can do no such thing and doesn’t even taste decadently delicious for Pete’s sake.  

Energy bar. Flickr: D'Arcy Norman

The first ingredient is corn syrup. Corn syrup, only slightly better than it’s cousin high fructose corn syrup, is the nutritional equivalent of sugar. The next ingredient is soy crisps, a combination of soy protein isolate and rice flour. Mmm, tasty. Soy protein isolate is a highly processed soy product that retains none of the original nutritional value of the natural soybean and raises levels of insulin like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in the blood, subsequently hastening the growth of our cells and the aging process. The manner in which soy protein isolate is processed and manufactured is freaky too. It involving acid washing it in aluminum tanks. I’m not sure what the purpose of acid washing is, but I do know that a significant aluminum load manages to make its way into the final product. Nitrites and chemical flavoring are also used to add flavor. These chemicals have been linked to the development of certain cancers, allergies and even Alzheimer’s disease. So far we would be damaging our cells with a big helping of processed sugar and cancer causing processed junk. Let’s see what else this “energy” bar has to throw our way. Next we’ve got a chocolatey coating. Oh look, more sugar! Some oil and whey! Mmm. More wholesome goodness for us to chew on. Whey is the liquid remaining after cow’s boob milk has been curdled, so not only is it bad for us, but it’s gross too. Just like soy protein isolate, whey is a processed protein which raises IGF-1. Excess protein is simply not lifespan favorable.

After reading the ingredient list (see actual list below), it becomes obvious that the ingestion of this “energy” bar will provide no more energy than if we simply blended a bunch of sugar, processed proteins, salt and oil. Even though calling it a “drop dead prematurely” bar would probably not be the best marketing strategy, it would be much more accurate. There is a restaurant in Dallas, Texas called Heart Attack Grill, which I’m told is quite successful, so I don’t know. Perhaps a “drop dead prematurely” bar would do quite well in grocery stores. It might peak the interest of children around Halloween.   

Ingredients

CORN SYRUP, SOY CRISPS (SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, RICE FLOUR, ALKALIZED COCOA), CHOCOLATEY COATING (SUGAR, FRACTIONATED PALM KERNEL OIL, COCOA, WHEY, NONFAT MILK, SOY LECITHIN, NATURAL VANILLA FLAVOR), WHOLE OATS, DRY ROASTED PEANUTS, SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, INULIN (FROM CHICORY), NATURAL FLAVORS (CONTAINS PEANUT, MILK, SOY LECITHIN), RICE CRISPS (MILLED RICE, SUGAR, SALT, BARLEY MALT), SALTED PEANUT BUTTER, VEGETABLE GLYCERIN, AND LESS THAN 2% OF PEANUT FLOUR, ALMOND BUTTER, SALT, SOY LECITHIN, MINERALS: CALCIUM PHOSPHATE, POTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, FERROUS FUMARATE (IRON), VITAMINS: ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C), VITAMIN B6 HYDROCHLORIDE, RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), THIAMINE MONONITRATE (VITAMIN B1). CONTAINS ALMOND, MILK, PEANUT AND SOY INGREDIENTS. MADE ON EQUIPMENT THAT ALSO PROCESSES WHEAT.

The moral of this short blog post is that processed foods advertised as health foods are not necessarily healthy. The less you use foods that come in packages, boxes or wrappers, the better. There are a few processed products that make the nutrient density, body lovin’ cut, but we need to do our homework and read the labels if we decide we are in the mood to open a can or unfreeze a TV dinner.   

Pooled data from 12 different studies: High meat intake increases diabetes risk

Usually, when we think about foods that increase diabetes risk, we think of white flour-based processed foods, sugary sodas, and desserts, since these foods are known to produce dangerous increases in blood glucose. Also, many diabetics are under the impression that that they should avoid carbohydrate-containing foods, and eat higher levels of protein to keep their blood glucose levels in check. However, dietary factors associated with diabetes are not a simple question of carbohydrate vs. protein. Whole food sources of carbohydrate, like fruit and whole grains, are protective.1 On the other hand, several studies have now confirmed that high intake of meat, which contains no carbohydrate, increases the risk of diabetes.

A meta-analysis of 12 prospective cohort studies has revealed that high total meat intake increased type 2 diabetes risk 17% above low intake, high red meat intake increased risk 21%, and high processed meat intake increased risk 41%.2

All the reasons behind these associations are not yet clear. One possibility is the pro-oxidant properties of heme iron (found only in animal products), the primary source of which is red meat. High dietary intake of heme iron and also high body stores of iron have been previously associated with increased diabetes risk in multiple studies3,4, whereas dietary nonheme iron (found only in plant foods) was protective. Heme iron from fish and poultry was also associated with diabetes risk.4 Oxidative stress, which may be brought on by excessive iron, plays an important role in the production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which contribute to both insulin resistance and diabetes complications.5 Also meat is a concentrated source of calories, it has a high caloric density and people can get a good blast of fat and protein, easily exceeding the body’s requirements for macronutrients.  Meat eating is also associated with weight gain and of course, excess body weight is the most important risk factor for diabetes. Like most other chronic diseases that plague Americans, diabetes is a consequence of a high-calorie, low-nutrient diet-style that is deficient in protective unrefined plant foods. 

 

References:

1. Bazzano LA et al. Intake of fruit, vegetables, and fruit juices and risk of diabetes in women. Diabetes Care. 2008 Jul;31(7):1311-7.

Kastorini CM, Panagiotakos DB. Dietary patterns and prevention of type 2 diabetes: from research to clinical practice; a systematic review. Curr Diabetes Rev. 2009 Nov;5(4):221-7.

2. Aune D, Ursin G, Veierød MB. Meat consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. Diabetologia. 2009 Nov;52(11):2277-87.

3. Rajpathak SN, Crandall JP, Wylie-Rosett J, et al. The role of iron in type 2 diabetes in humans. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 Jul;1790(7):671-81.

Luan de C, Li H, Li SJ, et al. Body iron stores and dietary iron intake in relation to diabetes in adults in North China. Diabetes Care. 2008 Feb;31(2):285-6.

4. Rajpathak S, Ma J, Manson J, Willett WC, Hu FB. Iron intake and the risk of type 2 diabetes in women: a prospective cohort study. Diabetes Care. 2006

5. Reddy VP, Zhu X, Perry G, Smith MA. Oxidative stress in diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2009 Apr;16(4):763-74.

Schalkwijk CG, Brouwers O, Stehouwer CD. Modulation of insulin action by advanced glycation end products: a new player in the field. Horm Metab Res. 2008 Sep;40(9):614-9.

Flaxseed Proteins Lower Blood Pressure

New research in the Journal of Functional Foods suggests flaxseeds contain amino acids that may help lower blood pressure. The study is a little complicated, but scientists determined a protein in flaxseed meal acts as an ACE-inhibitor, lowering blood pressure and reducing angiotensin. Angiotensin causes blood vessels to contract and induces hypertension. Researchers noted that these proteins have beneficial effects in the kidneys that may also help lower blood pressure; Food Navigator reports.

I eat flaxseeds everyday. Flaxseeds are potent sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids are great sources of iron, zinc, calcium, protein, magnesium, vitamin E and folate, all potent disease-fighters, but flaxseed oil is a drag. According to Dr. Fuhrman, flaxseed oil is nothing but fat and devoid of all the nutrients that make flaxseed so good. Maybe you can use it on a squeaky door.

In related news, previous research has shown salt decreases levels of nitric oxide synthase, an enzyme that reduces blood pressure and all that high blood pressure makes it hard for kids to think.

Image credit: redcherryhill

Fruits and Vegetables Keep Bones Strong!

Dr. Fuhrman explains that diets high in animal products and low in fruits and vegetables weaken bones. And a new study seems to agree. Research in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism reveals eating a lot of protein and grains produces excess acid, causing calcium excretion, hurting bones, but diets rich in fruits and vegetables help strengthen skeletal health; via NewsWise.