I'm sure you've seen it popping up in cafes and restaurants near you: A new "smart" menu selection of a few low calorie options, with selections ranging from egg white omelets to yogurt parfaits for the folks out there who are “watching their waistline”. While these options may be better than a bag of Cheetos, we are here to tell you to that they are not as healthy as you might believe, and actually even some of the worst you could choose for your health (and your waistline). Whether you're eating out with friends or making breakfast at home, here's a glimpse at some not so good options that are masquerading as health foods. Let's break it down.
YOGURT & GRANOLA: You may as well be having an ice cream sundae for breakfast. Seriously! Yogurt gets hailed as a calcium-filled, protein rich health food, but it doesn’t offer any nutrients that you can't find in less processed, more nutrient rich, whole foods. While some people can eat dairy with little to no negative health effects, most people are actually quite sensitive to it, whether they know it or not. But regardless of your personal dairy tolerance, the lactose (the natural sugar in milk) and refined sugar added to most yogurt will send your blood sugar to the moon and back: A cup of yogurt has anywhere from 30-40 grams of sugar (that's around TEN teaspoons)! This super high sugar content will set you up for sugar cravings after you crash and make you hungrier later on, among a host of other issues. Yogurt is also hyper processed (lower fat content equals less nutrients and more junk) and is usually made from not-so-healthy animals. And here's the kicker: Any nutrients that might actually be in the yogurt won’t get absorbed into your system because you are eating it with granola! You read that right. Granola is made with myriad grains that are rolled in honey and baked, and while wheat (gluten) is the president of Grain City, almost all other grains come with serious blows to your health (and oats are almost always contaminated with gluten!). We will refer you back to this post to read all about why grains are detrimental to your gut, inhibit nutrient absorption, and do not promote overall health. And did you know that most normal servings of grains (even the "healthy whole" ones) can raise your blood sugar more than a candy bar?! Short version: Grains = No Bueno. So we're talking sugar laden, super processed, and nutrient-poor yogurt (sugar), topped with gut wrecking and insulin raising grains, rolled in honey (sugar)... and then top that parfait off with a squeeze of honey (sugar) or some fresh or dried fruit (sugar)? Ice cream would probably be a better choice.
WHAT TO GET INSTEAD: Believe it or not, a spinach and salmon salad will ring in with a higher calcium content (which will actually get absorbed and utilized), with none of the sugary side effects. Plus you'll get lots of healthy fats, protein, and fiber that will keep you satisfied for hours. Add strawberries to it if you need that something sweet.
EGG WHITE OMELET: Even though the science on the health benefits of whole eggs has come around in the mainstream media, we are still seeing an awful lot of egg white whathaveyous on menus. Eggs are one of nature's most powerful super foods, and to cut out the most nutrient rich part of the entire egg is a big, big mistake. (Read about the amazing whole egg here). Don't be tricked into thinking that low-fat is healthy. When you skimp on the healthy fats found in egg yolks, you are setting yourself up to be ravenous in an hour or two, and you're omitting the healthiest part of the whole egg! (We'll say it every time: Fat does not make you fat! Read more about that here).
WHAT TO GET INSTEAD: A whole egg scramble or omelet with meats and/or veggies (hold the toast!). Load up on all the eggs your heart desires and add in some extra protein and vegetables. This is often one of the best options on the whole menu- enjoy it! The protein and fat content will keep you satisfied for hours to come, and you are getting loads of amazing nutrients!
OATMEAL: While oatmeal is one of the lesser offenders on the glycemic index scale, it is still a grain. That means that it will not be digested properly in your body, it will inhibit nutrient absorption, it will spike your blood sugar a fair amount, and it pales in comparison to other whole, less processed, more nutrient dense options. And oatmeal is almost always contaminated with gluten, which can cause big issues for most people. Oatmeal is also often made with brown sugar or maple syrup, and this combined with the insulin raising qualities of the grain alone can add up to quite a bit of sugar. Not to mention any added fruit (sugar). Are you noticing a trend here?
WHAT TO GET INSTEAD: If you're looking for a great nutrient rich energy source, try a sweet potato hash with vegetables and protein. The veggies will deliver all (and more) of the fiber you were hoping for with oatmeal, the protein will help keep you full, and the fat in the hash will help keep your blood sugar levels steady as your body utilizes the carbohydrates in the sweet potatoes. This makes for a much more steady, slow, satisfying, nutrient dense and useful energy boost (perfect for a pre-workout meal!).
BOTTOM LINE: Don't be fooled into thinking low-cal or low-fat is healthy, since those options are often laden with sugars and grains that do precisely nothing for your body except send your insulin levels into crazy town and prohibit nutrient absorption. Opt for healthy fats, high protein and low sugar choices, and you will be feeding your body exactly what it needs to be happy and healthy. And remember, when in doubt, (whole) eggs and bacon is always a great choice!