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Graduate Goodness: What’s Hiding in our “Healthy” Food?

The multitude of choices we are faced with when food shopping is incredible, but can often be hard to digest – pun intended. Consumers have been fed the myth that opting for “low carb” and “fat free” alternatives is nutritionally superior to other foodstuffs, a problem that has led us perplexed by our expanding waistlines. Moreover, consumption of excess sugar, in particular, can lead to fatigue, illustrating the harmful effects of poor eating on our lifestyles. This article will consider how “hidden” sugars and salts have led to many of us being deceived into eating seemingly healthy foods – the result of which has been damaging to our health. So what “healthy” foods do we need to be wary of? Below is a list of some of the biggest culprits.

(Photo credit: Reader’s Digest)

Flavoured yoghurt

Every time you turn on the TV or flick through a magazine it seems another glamorous celebrity is promoting yoghurt as an indulgent, yet guilt-free, dessert. Yet eating these sweet treats won’t necessarily give you the figure of Nicole Scherzinger (oh, how we wish). Flavoured yoghurts, from vanilla to papaya, are teeming with sugar, making them more suitable as a weekend treat than an everyday staple. Similarly, frozen yoghurt has been named and shamed for its high sugar content, comparable to regular ice cream. This is bad news especially for those of us whose toppings of choice are brownie bites and caramel sauce. Teeming with probiotics and protein, plain Greek yoghurt has been praised by experts for its nutritional value. Indeed, instagram foodies Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley argue that full-fat yoghurt is better for our health than fat-free alternatives because it leaves us feeling fuller for longer. Similarly, nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert, writing for the Daily Mail last year, argues “the higher the fat content, the slower the release of intrinsic lactose sugars”. Essentially, eating fat (of the unsaturated variety) will not make you fat, but eating excess sugar will. Instead of eating flavoured, low-fat yoghurt, add a handful of fresh or frozen fruit to plain yoghurt to curb those sweet cravings without consuming excess sugar.

Pre-bought Pasta Sauce

It’s become cliché that pasta is a staple in the average student’s diet (and, lets be honest, for most of us it’s true), but the pre-bought sauces we use are more damaging to our health then we may realise. But pasta sauces are full of vegetables, right? True, but pre-bought jars are usually packed with sugar and salt in order to satisfy our sweet tooth. Pair this with white pasta and you’re creating a recipe for disaster – cue a sugar crash a couple of hours later. Worryingly, Mars foods warned consumers last year that Dolmio and Uncle Ben’s sauces, among others, should be eaten in moderation due to their soaring sugar and salt content. But pasta doesn’t have to be unhealthy: swap white pasta for wholewheat or spelt (or half-and-half if the taste of cardboard doesn’t appeal) and make your own pasta sauce. Passata, onions, garlic, herbs, you name it, anything goes. It only takes 10 minutes, and you can cook it in big batches and freeze the rest for a later date, therefore effectively curbing those pasta cravings in a healthier way.

Ready Meals

Hardly surprising, but even ready meals of the “diet” variety can be damaging to our health. As well as the process of cooking ready meals resulting in a loss of vital nutrients, it’s not just what is taken out of that is of concern. In 2015, The Telegraph and campaign group Action on Sugar revealed that some supermarket ready meals “contain double as much sugar as a can of Coca-Cola”. It was these scary statistics that prompted the government’s inquiry into a potential sugar tax on unhealthy foods. Although many supermarkets have pledged to reduce the sugar content in their ready meals, consumers still need to be wary of what we are feeding our bodies. Whilst the convenience of a ready meal tempts us all from time to time, especially when busy University schedules make slaving over dinner extremely unappealing, we should think twice before we reach for these quick fixes on the supermarket shelves.

Whilst it isn’t necessary to eliminate these foods entirely – not everyone has the time (or can be bothered) to cook from scratch 24/7 – it’s time we changed our perceptions of foods with “hidden” sugars. If we begin to consider these foods as occasional treats, not as healthy staples, a couple of small changes will improve our daily diets enormously.

Third year history student at the University of Bristol.
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