Here's a nifty list of the 50 Best Health Blogs, listed by former UPI journalist Jim Purdy. 100 Pounds made (at least the initial) cut, and I am flattered and grateful. This list is really worth a look. There are some old favorites like Tara Parker Pope's Well Blog at the New York Times, Cranky Fitness, and Happy Healthy Long Life; but also some I hadn't heard of that are of great interest. At first glance, I'll be going back for more from The Checkup (the Washington Post's health blog), The Nourishing Gourmet, and Julie's Health Club (Chicago Tribune).
A few gems I've gleaned from perusing some of these featured blogs:
Check out Julie's current article explaining what exactly a calorie is and how understanding this can help you lose weight. I don't believe in calorie counting for myself, and in fact a nutritionist quoted in the article says she often discourages it; but if you're not going to count calories you have to have a very good grasp on portion control and know at a glance about how many calories are in your foodstuffs. Serving sizes are very easy to overestimate and I am sure that one reason for my snug jeans is lack of attention to this area. So Julie's article is a good reminder of how and why to get my dinners back on the (food) scale.
Kimi Harris tells us why we shouldn't eat farmed tilapia. I think you shouldn't eat tilapia because it tastes like wet paper towels, but if you're fond of this cheapest of fish, this might be a more compelling reason.
And last but not least, I heart Cranky Fitness so much for this sentence:And the Number One Thing You Should Never (evereverever) Eat:
Jo goes on to define dishonest food as anything that has more than ten unpronounceable ingredients in it. I so agree, and I am so stealing this. Really, you should head over and read the whole post.
Jo challenged her readers to make their own list of things you should never eat, and since I've blogged on that before and agree with most of her list, I'll skip for now. But it did remind me of a rant I've been storing up, so here goes.
If you've been reading me for any length of time, you probably know that I do not believe in completely cutting out any food that appeals to you. There are certainly things that I do not eat, and that I think no one should eat, but hey --- we all have our guilty pleasures. If you've got to have your occasional bag of Doritos or deep-fried chimichanga, I'm not going to get in your way, as long as you don't block my path to the gelato counter.
But I can't stop myself from fussing about commercial food, the big food industry, and the lies they tell consumers to make them think the crap they are selling is healthy and nutritious. If I could only put one item on my own list of foods you should never, ever eat, it would be FAST AND CHAIN RESTAURANT FOOD. But I'm not going to do that, because I don't believe in telling you that you should never eat certain kinds of food.
I'm only going to tell you why it's such a bad idea. :)
Ever since Jared lost weight eating his Subway sandwiches, the fast food/chain food joints are jumping on the weight loss bandwagon. Taco Bell now has a commercial in which a woman claims to have lost a lot of weight eating their "drive-through diet". She says quite clearly that her results aren't typical, but there are before and after photos of her surrounded by goodies flashing on the screen at the same time. What do you think people are going to pay attention to?
Let's just take a look at the nutritional information on some of these items, and the language with which they are promoted.
The menu is called the Fresco Drive-Through Diet. "Fresco" means (and sounds) "fresh", an inviting word which is associated with health and wholesomeness. It's a carefully selected word meant to make you think you are getting fresh, flavorful, wholesome, food. And it might indeed be fresh and flavorful, but as you might guess, I'm going to take issue with the wholesomeness. Hang with me here.
Taco Bell touts this menu as having less than 9 grams of fat per serving, which to the uneducated consumer may sound good. After all, fat is bad, right? And they're controlling the amount that's in each serving. It's LESS THAN NINE GRAMS! That's good, right?
BZZZZZZZZZZZZ! I'm sorry, you lose. These are not low-fat items and we don't know what specific kinds of fat they contain --- certainly some of that fat is coming from the cheese and the meat, and also whatever they use in the tortillas and for frying the taco shells. To be low-fat, a serving must contain no more than 5g of fat. And not all fats are created equal. Unsaturated fats from natural sources like olives, canola, nuts, and avocado are best. So "less than 9 grams of fat" is not particularly impressive.
In listing the nutritional information, Taco Bell does something a little bit sneaky. Most of the time, on food labels, calories are listed first. On their website, Taco Bell lists the serving size in grams first, right before the calories. (Do you even know how much a gram is? I mean in any sort of meaningful, relevant-to-real-life way? I had to look it up to be sure. A nickel weighs 5 grams. A teaspoon of sugar is a gram. Now back to your regularly scheduled rant).
Who does that? Food labels usually say something like: "Serving Size One Taco (20g). In this case, they list only the number of grams, which doesn't mean that much to the average consumer. This usually a smaller number than the number of calories which is listed right next to it, and unless you read carefully, it's easy to read that number as the calorie count. I have no proof but this smacks of a deliberate marketing scheme to me. They are not lying, but they are using a little trick to obsfucate the truth.
The Fresco Chicken Burrito Supreme has 340 calories. If that is all you plan on eating for lunch, that's okay. But it has 8 grams of fat, 3 of which are saturated fat. It has a whopping 1410 mg of sodium, 25 of cholesterol, and 50g carbs. This is not health food, folks. The lightest thing on the menu is their Fresco Crunchy Taco at 150 calories, 70 of which are fat; 20 g cholesterol, 350 mg of sodium, and 13 carbs. My guess is you're going to need at least two of these to make a meal, so just go ahead and double everything. It may not give you a heart attack tomorrow, and it certainly beats an order of Volcano Nachos at 1000 calories (62g of fat!), but quality health food it ain't. And we haven't even gotten into food sources, but you can check out the ingredient lists online and see that their seasoned beef contains 25 ingredients. Thank you, but any beef I put in my mouth is going to contain ONE ingredient, and that is BEEF. BTW, if you're wondering why there are no links to this information, it's because I refuse to give corporate fast food any link love. It's easy enough to find on their website, and I do applaud Taco Bell for that.
Now, let's move on to Applebee's. This one has really been sticking in my craw. Never mind that Applebee's is traditionally the home of extremely mediocre food, which is always an offense unto mine eyes (and tastebuds, and stomach). For a while they've had an affiliation with Weight Watchers, and list points for certain items on their menu --- a good crossover marketing ploy, since Weight Watchers members could feel "safe" with choices at Applebee's. Now they have launched a campaign designed to make people think they have healthy menu choices, with their Under 550 Calorie menu. "All of the taste, none of the trade-offs" is their motto. They are telling you that you can still eat out and make better choices. Whenever a commercial entity tells you that about food, what they mean is "not the very worst choice you could make"; but the use of that word is designed to make you feel like you are indeed eating healthy when you eat their food.
If you visit the website and check out the photos, you will see five extremely pedestrian and unimaginative menu items which could easily be prepared at home and in fact look not unlike something you could buy in cardboard at the freezer section of your grocery store and heat up in a microwave.
But that's just me being a food snob. Let's check out the Applebee's Under 550 calorie menu nutrition! Oh, wait, we can't. There is no nutritional information listed on their website. We'll just have to use common sense.
First of all, 550 calories is almost twice as much as you need for a normal meal. For an indulgence meal, once in a while, it's okay. And granted, not all of the items are 550 calories --- but the calorie count is an approximation at best, as it will vary depending on who's doing the cooking.
What's really disturbing is that Applebee's has made a corporate decision to keep mum on he nutritional content of this food. There can be only one reason for that: they know that if they share that information, it will damage sales. We don't need a lab analysis to guess that something like the 7 oz asiago peppercorn steak, served with steamed new potatoes and veggies and topped with melted cheese, is going to have a lot of sodium and fat. And potatoes, delicious as they are, are not an optimal source of carbs. You have only to look at the grilled shrimp to feel the salt overwhelm your tastebuds. And all the food in the photos on their site is suspiciously shiny. That shine comes from added fat.
And although I'm sure Applebee's executives would puff up like angry roosters at the suggestion, this is hardly high-quality sourced food. It is not dangerous, and it is not exactly coming from a dumpster, but I'd be very surprised it if came from anywhere other than giant corporate farms.
Are these items, and others like them, "better" choices? They might very well be, but in my book, that's not really saying much. The moral of this rant is: eat what you want, but choose wisely, and don't take at face value any healthy claims made by people whose primary interest is selling you stuff. Take ownership of your own health and get your health education from independent sources.
Rant over. It's time to go run in the sunshine.