1. Coconut milk and coconut oil
Coconut milk and coconut oil—these are getting more and more prevalent as ingredients in so-called healthy snacks. The plant-based, “natural,” or vegan food craze has a hand in this. But coconut isn’t everything it’s hyped up to be. Sure, it’s a plant, but coconut milk and oil are loaded with saturated fat and calories. Too much saturated fat in your diet will raise LDL—or bad—cholesterol levels, which in turn increases your risk of heart disease. And loading up on calories you can’t burn will lead to weight gain.
Just how bad is coconut milk? Well, a cup of coconut milk has 445 calories and 43 grams of saturated fat. If you consume about 2,000 calories per day (the recommended daily caloric intake for inactive women), you would have already exceeded the saturated fat limit by 27 grams with just a cup of coconut milk! To put it differently, you would have consumed three days’ worth of allowable saturated fat in one sitting.
As for coconut oil, it’s 90 percent saturated fat, which is higher than butter’s 64 percent, and beef fat’s and lard’s 40 percent.
Some argue that coconut milk or oil is good for you since it also raises your HDL—or good—cholesterol levels. Apart from that, coconut contains antioxidants, which are beneficial to us too.
Nevertheless doctors and other health experts recommend you consume both coconut products rarely. Walter C. Willett, MD of Harvard School of Public Health says “Coconut oil’s special HDL-boosting effect may make it ‘less bad’ than the high saturated fat content would indicate, but it’s still probably not the best choice among the many available oils to reduce the risk of heart disease.” And which are better oils than coconut oil? Olive oil and soybean oil. They are mainly unsaturated fat, hence they increase your good cholesterol and decrease your bad cholesterol.
2. Evaporated cane juice
“Evaporated cane juice” on a label is misleading. Judy Sanchez, spokesperson of the US Sugar Corp., explains: “All sugar is evaporated cane juice. [Food manufacturers] just use that for a natural-sounding name for a product.” F YI, sugar is made when the liquid of a sugarcane plant is evaporated; and then the remaining crystals are put in a centrifuge to separate the gooey molasses from the crystallized sucrose. According to Sanchez, the only difference between the white table sugar and evaporate cane juice is that the latter has some caramel color to it.
The US FDA also frowns upon the term for the same reason—that it misleads. “It suggests that the sweetener is ‘juice’ or is made from ‘juice,’ and does not reveal that its basic nature and characterizing properties are those of a sugar.”
Side note: While sugar and sugarcane juice come from the same plant, they don’t have the same effect on your blood sugar level, which is represented by what’s called a glycemic index. Sugarcane, which is an unrefined sweetener, has a low glycemic index of 43 out of 100, while white or refined sugar’s is 64, a medium glycemic index. Food with high glycemic index (70 and above) rapidly increases blood sugar level; it’s suitable for giving you instant energy, but it’s also associated with increased risk of obesity. Food with a low glycemic index makes the blood sugar level rise slowly and steadily.
3. Artificial Sweeteners
The US FDA approves of five artificial sweeteners—saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose—and one natural sweetener, stevia. Short-term studies show that using those artificial sweeteners has helped people lose weight. However, researchers do caution people from consuming food laced with artificial sweeteners. They could also promote weight gain.
“Artificial sweeteners are extremely sweet—hundreds to thousands of times sweeter than table sugar,” writes obesity and weight-loss specialist David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD in Harvard Health Letter. “So people who habitually consume them may wind up desensitized to sweetness. Healthful, satiating foods that are less sweet—such as fruits and vegetables—may become unappetizing by comparison.” A person’s diet in turn suffers if she consumes too much artificial sweetener, becoming desensitized to the sweetness, and thereby consuming sweeter dishes that are refined carbohydrates, artificially sweetened, and made of low-quality fats—food with very low nutritional value.
Furthermore, the fact that artificial sweeteners have zero calories can make some people set that off with a cheat day—or even cheat week.
4. Skim milk
Been told to choose skim milk, which is claimed to be better for you, over full-fat dairy because full-fat dairy has, well, fat? Don’t abandon full-fat dairy just yet, because studies have shown that people who consume full-fat dairy weigh less and are less likely to develop diabetes.
In a study published early this year in the journal Circulation, people who consumed full-fat dairy had, on average, 46 percent lower risk of getting diabetes. While the causal link between full-fat dairy consumption and diabetes isn’t clear yet, researchers presume that people who drink skim milk, which is lower in calories and fat, satisfy their hunger by eating more food rich in sugar or carbohydrates, which raise blood sugar levels.
In another study published in the American Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that women who consumed full-fat dairy experienced less weight gain. And lower risk of becoming overweight or obese was found in women who had the highest intake of high-fat dairy.
On the other hand, skim milk has very little evidence that it is a better choice than full-fat milk. Nutrition experts like Willett of Harvard School Public Health question the promotion of skim milk over whole milk. Part of it is due to the fact that sugar and flavorings are added to skim milk to make up for the loss of taste when the fat was removed. The added sugar can lead to heart disease and other health problems.
While all this information suggests that one kind of milk is probably healthier than the other, as with any food or drink, consume it in moderation.
Follow Stephanie on Instagram.