Five foods gone bad

If you’ve put “healthy eating” on your resolution list for this year, you may have introduced some new foods into your diet. But buyer beware: some healthy food is less healthy than it seems, or may have been turned into junk food before it reaches your pantry or fridge. Here are five to watch for.

Eating fish can have many benefits. Fish is a good source of protein, containing many vitamins and minerals, and many types of fish are low in saturated fat. Fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid that helps reduce the risk of heart disease. Fish with edible bones, such as sardines and canned salmon, also contain calcium phosphorus and fluoride. And fish is also a good source of selenium, which helps protect cells from damage by acting as an antioxidant.

The bad news is that some fish, particularly large, fatty fish such as tuna and shark, contain high levels of mercury. Farmed salmon may also contain PCBs. And fish is often prepared in an unhealthy way, breaded and fried, or deep fried. So before you buy fish sticks or grill a tuna steak, read the label for fat content, or the Health Canada advisoryabout mercury in fish.

Yoghurt is high in protein, calcium and vitamins and can often be eaten by those who cannot digest milk well. Yoghurt often contains live “healthy” bacteria which can aid in digestion and help to prevent yeast infections. But much of what is sold as yoghurt in dairy cases is really more of a vehicle for sugar and flavourings – and sometimes even added fats – than it is a part of a healthy diet. Reach for the plain yoghurt and add your own fruit or a bit of jam or honey rather than grabbing the coloured, processed version.

Green tea
Green tea has been perceived as a healthy drink for over 1,000 years. The Kissa Yojoki, or Book of Tea, written by Zen priest Eisai in 1191, describes how drinking green tea can have a positive effect on the five vital organs, especially the heart. Modern research has backed this observation up. In a study that appeared in the May 2006 Journal of the American College of Surgeons, researchers at Yale University School of Medicine published a review article that looked at more than 100 studies on the health benefits of green tea, and found that it is linked to better cardiovascular health. They believe green tea may prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” type), which, in turn, can reduce the buildup of plaque in arteries.

So how has this food gone bad? Eager to jump on the health bandwagon, companies like Lipton have introduced iced green tea into the marketplace, touting its health benefits. But these drinks contain almost as much sugar as the equivalent size soda pop. So brew your own and leave the bottled versions alone.

Popcorn can be a healthy and satisfying snack. Popcorn alone is high in fiber, low in calories, and until you add oil or reach for the butter or salt, is fat and sodium free. But like the potato, many of us choose to consume popcorn in unhealthy ways. Microwave popcorn is a particularly common offender, and may contain trans fats as well as the added salt and fat from its flavoured topping.

Read the nutritional information on any package of popcorn, and for the healthiest results pop yours at home in a hot-air popper. At least then you’ll see how much butter and salt you’re adding!

What may surprise you most about pizza as healthy food is that it can be! Our North American version often comes laden with oils in the crusts (particularly “pan pizzas”), fat in the cheese, and unhealthy toppings such as processed meats high in fat and sodium. Frozen varieties may contain all this and a number of preservatives. But the original Italian variety pizza based on fresh, wholesome ingredients is not the bad guy.

To make your own choose a whole grain crust and top with vegetables like grilled eggplant or roasted red pepper. Top with a small amount of high-quality mozzarella, and if you would like to add a bit of fat, drizzle with olive oil. And keep portion sizes reasonable!