Falling into the obesity and heart risk traps while eating ‘healthy foods’

Posted by
August 21, 2014

The “Rewind the Future” video that’s been going viral since being put online by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Strong4Life program is powerful and scary — and yes, you need to watch it. Maybe even with your kids, if they’re old enough.

In a series of rapid-fire images, it gives you an idea of the dietary and lifestyle habits that caused a character named Jim to become an obese heart attack victim at 32. The website that features it offers advice (in the form of brief increments) to parents on how to keep their kids from having to face a similar fate.

But while it’s not hard to shake your head when little Jim’s mom starts him on a cycle of self-indulgence by feeding him French fries as a toddler, the obesity trap so many kids are falling into these days might not just be the result of a diet of obvious “bad food choices.”

The fact is that there are any number of processed food products out there that would appear to be healthy enough to the untrained eye, but might actually be as bad for your weight – and your heart – as all that junk food you might be making a conscious effort to avoid.

Some of the following examples are among those we’ve cited in previous blogs.  But they’re worth reviewing again.

  • Kellogg’s Special K Vanilla Crisp Cereal Bars. You may well assume that a snack made with “Special K” is a healthy one, based on all the advertising hype for the cereal. But these bars contain partially hydrogenated palm kernel and soybean oil, a source of artery-clogging trans fat acknowledged by the Food and Drug Administration (which has proposed phasing it out) to be responsible for an estimated 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths a year.  (While the amount of trans fat listed is zero due to an FDA “loophole,” the package notes that the product contains “less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.”)
  • CapriSun Strawberry Kiwi, Tropical Punch, Fruit Punch. The hype on the cardboard container – “no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives” — may make you think these are really healthy beverages to give your kids, but don’t be fooled.  Their second ingredient (after water) is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which studies conducted at major universities have linked to obesity, diabetes, and “an increased risk of heart disease.”
  • Campbell’s Family Size Tomato Soup. According to what’s printed on the can, this is a “heart healthy” product with zero grams of trans fat. But its third ingredient is HFCS (see previous paragraph).
  • Nabisco Original Fig Newtons and Strawberry Newtons with Real Fruit.  These seemingly healthy, fruit-filled cookies actually pack a double whammy in the form of both artery-clogging partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil and HFCS (their first ingredient).
  • Schmidt Old Tyme 100% Whole Wheat bread. Now, this sure might look like a heart-healthy loaf of bread, considering that it contains “whole grain” and even has info on the wrapper about the importance of “Grains for Life.” But it turns out that this Old Tyme” bread also contains HFCS – which began being used about three decades or so ago – as its third listed ingredient;
  • Lawry’s Herb & Garlic Marinade with Lemon Juice. Now, what could be better for your heart and more apt to help you stay fit than a marinade containing herbs, garlic and lemon juice, and that boasts “No MSG” and “Natural Flavors” to boot? Or so you might think – until you read the ingredients, and discover that HFCS is the third one on the list.

We could go on, but you get the idea by now.

To find out whether or not something might be hazardous to heart health or make your kids more apt to become overweight and diabetic, it isn’t enough to make assumptions based on the product’s reputation or what it says on the front of the package. You need to go directly to that list of ingredients, and read it from top to bottom.

That is, if you really hope to avoid inadvertent “bad food choices.”