By Dr. Mercola
For an activity that most people do multiple times each and every day, eating is embroiled in confusion and controversy. Or rather, not the act of eating, but the choice of what to eat. With each meal and snack, you have an opportunity to give your body adequate and even extra nutrition. But many fall short of this goal.
To be honest, the cards are very much stacked against you. Food advertising is everywhere and it promotes the most profitable products, which are typically not one in the same with the healthiest food choices.
Processed foods in particular are literally designed to addict you and keep you eating more. At the same time, even public health guidelines on nutrition are entirely misguided – causing most people to shun healthful foods, like saturated fats, in favor of grains (which most eat far too much of).
The end result is nothing less than a nutritional disaster, evidenced by some of the most popular foods eaten by Americans on a daily basis. Worse still, many have been lead to believe that these foods are healthy when, in fact, they're only going to drain your energy and make you fat.
Ditch These 10 Popular Energy-Draining, Weight-Boosting Foods
The first step to eating better is knowledge – knowledge of which foods you're better off "breaking up with" starting today. Personal trainer and weight loss coach Traci Mitchell recently shared 10 such foods on Get Fit Chicago,1 and you know what? They're right on track.
Take a minute to review your typical daily diet, and if the following 10 foods make more than a very occasional appearance, it's time to do some major tweaking. These are 10 major food offenders that will only zap your energy and make you fat. You can eat better, get healthy, and feel great, and doing so starts with ditching these 10 popular foods.
Bagels are nothing more than a very large serving of bread. One bagel can contain 45 grams or more of refined carbohydrates, which quickly break down to sugar, increase your insulin levels, and cause insulin resistance, which is the number one underlying factor of nearly every chronic disease known to man, including cancer and heart disease.
2. Specialty Coffee Drinks
Coffee drinks are typically loaded with syrups and sugar, while the "skinny" versions will contain artificial sweeteners. While a cup of black coffee is an acceptable, even healthful, way to start your day, a medium mocha coffee drink from one popular chain can contain 35 grams of sugar. That's nearly nine teaspoons before your morning is over.
Most cereal is a combination of high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, and genetically modified (GM) corn, and cereals marketed to children are the worst offenders. However, even "healthy" adult cereals are better off avoided, as they're nothing more than refined carbohydrates. I don't recommend eating cereal, even if it doesn't have any added sugars.
4. Soda (Diet or Regular)
Most sodas contain far too much sugar, or even worse, artificial sweeteners. For instance, the chemical aspartame, often used as a sugar substitute in diet soda, has over 92 different side effects associated with its consumption including brain tumors, birth defects, diabetes, emotional disorders, and epilepsy/seizures. Plus, each sip of soda exposes you to:
- Phosphoric acid, which can interfere with your body's ability to use calcium, leading to osteoporosis or softening of your teeth and bones.
- Benzene. While the federal limit for benzene in drinking water is 5 parts per billion (ppb), researchers have found benzene levels as high as 79 ppb in some soft drinks, and of 100 brands tested, most had at least some detectable level of benzene present. Benzene is a known carcinogen.
- Artificial food colors, including caramel coloring, which has been identified as carcinogenic. The artificial brown coloring is made by reacting corn sugar with ammonia and sulfites under high pressures and at high temperatures.
- Sodium benzoate, a common preservative found in many soft drinks, which can cause DNA damage. This could eventually lead to diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver and Parkinson's.
5. Commercial Yogurt
Traditionally fermented yogurt is chock full of healthful bacteria (probiotics). In ancient times, food preservation was accomplished through lacto-fermentation, a process that adds a host of beneficial micro-organisms to food. This makes them easier to digest, and increases the healthy flora in your intestinal tract.
But don't expect to be able to pick up the real deal in your local supermarket. Pasteurized yogurts in most supermarkets will not provide you with these health benefits, as the pasteurization process destroys most of the precious enzymes and other nutrients.
Further, most commercial yogurt contains added sugar or artificial sweeteners. For healthier yogurt, try plain raw yogurt and add in your own flavoring, such as stevia, cinnamon, or fresh berries.
6. Submarine Sandwiches
Large submarine sandwiches are heavy on bread (more refined carbs) and typically contain processed-meat lunchmeat that may contain sodium nitrite and other additives like MSG, high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives, artificial flavors, or artificial colors. While sub sandwiches are often viewed as a healthier alternative to fast-food hamburgers, they're virtually just as bad.
7. Orange Juice
Some orange juice contains high-fructose corn syrup, added sugar, and artificial flavors and colors. But even natural brands contain far too much fructose without any of the fiber, antioxidants, and health-promoting phytochemicals found in whole fruit.
Previous studies have already clearly demonstrated that drinking large amounts of fruit juice dramatically increases your risk of obesity. Even freshly squeezed fruit juice can contain about eight full teaspoons of fructose per eight-ounce glass, which will cause your insulin to spike and may counter the benefits of the antioxidants. If you suffer from type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, or cancer, you'd be best off avoiding fruit juices altogether until you've normalized your uric acid and insulin levels.
Most muffins are high in sugar and refined carbs and low in nutrition. This is true even if they're "low-fat" or contain healthy-sounding elements like bran or carrots. Eating a muffin is no different than eating a bagel or plate of pancakes. It will cause your blood sugar and insulin levels to spike, followed by an energy-draining crash. This is true of any food high in refined sugar and carbs, so you'll want to avoid doughnuts,
9. Potato Chips
Potato chips are nothing more than refined carbs and unhealthy fats, tossed with too much processed sodium. Plus, when carbohydrate-rich foods like potatoes are cooked at high temperatures, as all potato chips are, acrylamide -- a tasteless, invisible chemical byproduct -- is formed. Animal studies have shown that exposure to acrylamide increases the risk of several types of cancer, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer considers acrylamide a "probable human carcinogen."
10. Fruit Smoothies
Fruit smoothies are often touted as a convenient strategy to boost your fruit and veggie intake. Unfortunately, they too contain excessive amounts of fructose, and perhaps even added sugars on top of that. While it's possible to make a healthful fruit smoothie at home, provided you go easy on the fruit and add in healthful additions like spinach and coconut oil, store-bought smoothies are virtually always high-sugar nutritional disasters.
Energy Drinks Won't Give You Lasting Energy Either
Among the functional beverage category, the energy drink segment has experienced the largest volume growth and increased annual sales, both in the US and abroad.2 This should give you an idea of just how many people are turning to energy drinks to give them the boost they need to get through their day.
There are the risks from over-consuming caffeine, of course (and other risks, like the fact that drinking energy drinks has been compared to "bathing" teeth in acid because of their impact on your tooth enamel3), but above and beyond is the plain and simple fact that this is artificial energy (often with other questionable artificial ingredients added, too).
As soon as the boost from the caffeine wears off, you'll likely be more depleted than before you imbibed and you'll be looking for another fix. And wouldn't you rather just wake up fresh, ready to go, with energy and enthusiasm for your day? The lack of energy and fatigue state is not a natural one. Rather, it's much more likely a result of certain lifestyle choices, such as not enough healthy food, too much processed foods and sugar, and not enough exercise and sleep, plus an overload of stress.
Your Diet Is Key for Boosting Energy Levels and Fat-Burning
There are two fuels your body can use, sugar and fat. The sad reality is that our ancestors were adapted to using fat as their primary fuel, and over 99 percent of us are now adapted to using sugar or glucose as our number one fuel source. Because most are primarily burning carbs as fuel, afternoon fatigue is typically related to post-lunch hypoglycemia. By switching your body from using carbs as its primary fuel to burning fats instead, or becoming "fat adapted," you virtually eliminate such drops in energy levels. Overall, being adapted to burning fat instead of carbs has a number of benefits, including:
- Having plenty of accessible energy on hand, as you effectively burn stored fat for energy throughout the day. One way to tell if you're fat adapted or not is to take note of how you feel when you skip a meal. If you can skip meals without getting ravenous and cranky (or craving carbs), you're likely fat-adapted.
- Improved insulin and leptin sensitivity and decreased risk of virtually every known chronic degenerative disease.
- Effectively burn dietary fat for your energy, which leads to less dietary fat being stored in your adipose tissue—hence, the weight loss benefits associated with fat adaptation.
- Being able to rely more on fat for energy during exertion, sparing glycogen for when you really need it. This can improve athletic performance, and helps burn more body fat. As explained by Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint, if you can handle exercising without having to carb-load, you're probably fat-adapted. If you can work out effectively in a fasted state, you're definitely fat-adapted.
To Increase Energy and Burn More Fat, Replace Your Carbs with Healthy Fats
This is an important step to getting the energy you need from your food while also optimizing your weight. Keep in mind that when we're talking about harmful carbs, we're only referring to grains and sugars, NOT vegetable carbs. You need very little if any of the former and plenty of the latter. In fact, when you cut out sugar and grains, you need to radically increase the amount of vegetables you eat since, by volume, the grains you need to trade out are denser than vegetables. You also need to dramatically increase healthful fats, which include:
Olives and olive oil (for cold dishes)
✓ Coconuts, and coconut oil (for all types of cooking and baking)
✓ Butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk
✓ Raw nuts, such as almonds or pecans
✓ Organic pastured egg yolks
✓ Pasture-finished meats
✓ Palm oil
✓ Unheated organic nut oils
A reasonable goal will be to have as much as 50-70 percent of daily calories from healthy fat, which will radically reduce your carbohydrate intake. Fat is far more satiating than carbs, so if you have cut down on carbs and still feel ravenous, it's a sign that you have not replaced them with sufficient amounts of healthy fat. Most people will likely notice massive improvement in their health and overall energy levels by following this approach. To help you get started on the right track, review my Nutrition Plan, which guides you through these dietary changes one step at a time.
Are You Eating These 10 Healthiest Foods?
We've covered the basics of what to eat for energy and fat-burning, along with 10 foods to avoid. Now you may be wondering what types of foods are ideal to consume. The 10 healthful foods that follow are among the best. Remember, these are general recommendations. Not everyone will do well with these foods, but the vast majority will have health improvement by regularly consuming them. As always, it is important to listen to your body and let it guide you in making that determination.
- Fermented vegetables
- Fermented beverages, like kefir
- Sardines and wild Alaskan salmon
- Whey protein
- Organic eggs
- Coconut oil
- Raw organic butter