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FOOD: Here are 5 foods you thought were healthy but aren't

In this week's Ask the Nutritionist, Nonie De Long highlights concerns about vegetable oils, artificial sweeteners, fruit juice, egg replacements, grains
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Dear Readers, today’s column is a response to a Suzy who asks why she is now reading that vegetable oils and margarine are unhealthy when just five years ago they were considered the healthy options. She wants to know why this has changed and if there are other foods we were told were healthier that, in fact, aren’t. So let’s get right to it and talk about the top five foods you thought were healthy but really aren’t.

5) Vegetable Oils

We have been told vegetable oils are healthier for us because it was believed that saturated fat causes heart disease. This has since been debunked. It’s a matter of historical record that the nutrition researcher, Ancel Keys, who was responsible for the ‘diet-heart hypothesis’ that said saturated fat caused heart disease cherry picked and skewed data to fit the narrative he wanted to endorse. We now know he received bribes from the processed food industry to do this. Heart health had become front and centre as a problem in Western countries and his research set the stage for a lot of misinformation that continues today. This includes the idea that fat is bad for us and vegetable oils are superior to natural saturated fats like animal fat.

The truth is, saturated fats are far more stable, less processed, and less inflammatory - especially when they are the byproduct of healthy, properly grazed animals. The fat content in meat actually changes in accordance with how they’re raised and fed. Grass fed beef produce a leaner meat with less inflammatory Omega 6 fatty acids, for example. We now know that saturated fat raises the “good” HDL cholesterol, and that it is very satiating - which helps with overeating. We also know low-fat diets promote increased carbohydrate intake - which is likely the biggest driver of heart disease risk, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome today.

The takeaway? Avoid highly processed, subsidized, and industrially produced grain and vegetable oils and replace them with grass-fed or pastured animal fats, organic coconut oil, grass fed butter, organic avocado oil, or certified organic, extra virgin first cold pressed olive oil. Look for animals that have been raised ethically and fed biologically appropriate foods, as all the toxins an animal is exposed to are stored in the fat cells of the body.

4) Fruit Juices

At some point over the last few decades, consumers became increasingly aware of all the added sugars in juices and sought an alternative. The food industry answered that demand with ‘all natural, unsweetened’ fruit juices. But are they any better?

Since fruit contains vitamins, the juice also does, right? Well, not really. Vitamins are damaged from high temperatures, and in order to keep the fruit juice shelf stable, it needs to be pasteurized - or flash heated. That means that any vitamins that were in it prior to healing are no longer there.

Well, they at least don’t contain sugar, right? Again, not really. Fructose - or fruit sugar - has been shown to be every bit as bad for our health as regular table sugar. American pediatric endocrinologist, Dr. Robert Lustig has become famous for his work on this very issue. He has shown that far from being benign, fructose is driving the diabetes epidemic and is not a better alternative.

The takeaway? Cut your risk of diabetes and obesity and eschew fruit juices altogether. Instead opt for a homemade herbal iced tea or fruit infused water with some stevia if you like a sweeter flavour. When you feel like fruit, consume the whole, fresh fruit to get all the benefits instead.

3) Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners have been around in various forms for a long time. The food industry wanted a way to sweeten foods without added sugar and calories. But over time it has become apparent that artificial sweeteners do not help people lose weight, may contribute to metabolic disease like diabetes and weight gain, are known to damage the gut microbiome, and are often difficult to stop due to withdrawal symptoms in people consuming them daily. For a deeper dive into the health problems of each of them, go here.

There are superior, natural sweeteners now that we can turn to that don’t carry these risks. I recommend monkfruit, stevia, unpasteurized honey, or raw palm sugar most often. Sometimes these are blended with erythritol, which seems to be a safe corn-derived sweetener that does not cause the digestive upset other sugar alcohols often do. I often recommend a product called Whole Earth that does not have any odd aftertaste and is a blend of a few of these products together.

2) Egg Replacement

Eggs are bad for you because of cholesterol, right? Yet again, we run into the misinformation perpetuated by the diet-heart hypothesis. You may not realize it, but consuming cholesterol does not cause high cholesterol. The body makes and tightly regulates cholesterol in-house because it’s essential for reproductive and brain health.

But it clogs arteries, right? Cholesterol is part of the patch the body creates to mend the lining of arterial walls that have been damaged. Blaming cholesterol for atherosclerosis (hardened and narrowed arteries) is literally blaming the bandaid for the problem.

The takeaway? Whole, organic, free range eggs are super nutritious! They’re packed with B vitamins and lecithin for the brain and nervous system - but all of that is in the yolk! I consider eggs to be a superfood almost anyone can enjoy regularly with great benefit.

1) Grains are Healthy

The top health mythinformation we have been given in the last half decade is also a byproduct of the heart-health myth, and that is the endorsement of the cereal grains as essential to a healthy diet. We have followed these recommendations and people are fatter and sicker than ever before in our history. Children are now diagnosed with what used to be adult only conditions like type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. The recommendation to eat cereal grains continually has a good bit to do with that.

Farmers know that grains fatten up the animals. It’s no different for humans. We have been told that slower absorbing starch is superior to glucose, but in fact the glycemic index for whole grain bread is around 31.2, which makes it a high glycemic food, not much different than a candy bar when it comes to how it spikes your insulin. And in the presence of insulin we can never lose weight!

Additionally, we know that grains are frequently very inflammatory. Not all, but many.

The takeaway? Most people benefit from reducing their intake of grains and replacing these with vegetables, animal products, nuts, seeds, and fruit. If we want to keep a certain favourite grain recipe in our diet I recommend keeping it as a treat and not a staple. Moving away from this does more to balance metabolism than almost anything else we can do.

Thank you, Suzy, for the excellent question! As always I welcome reader questions. You can write to me anytime at While you’re at it, sign up for my free newsletter at to be advised of upcoming online cooking classes and workshops wherein we’ll explore the role of delicious, whole foods in good health. Subscribers will also get their names on the list for a $200 Christmas homeopathic first aid kit giveaway!

Nonie Nutritionista