REVEALED: The Truth About Unhealthy Food Alternatives

Many of us lead busy lives where food becomes a means of refueling than indulging. Most of the time, people opt of the more convenient food option, rather than the healthier one.

Nowadays, food manufacturing companies produce products that are in fact not as good for you as you might think. More often than not, they are also cheaper than their original healthy counterparts.

We chat to two food specialists about some of the current unhealthy food alternatives in SA and discuss the reasons for their success. We have also included some recipes supplied by Faithful to Nature. 

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Top 7 Unhealthy Food Alternatives To Avoid

Have you ever been in a hurry and needed to have a quick bite to eat to keep you going? Let’s be honest- most of us have.

Choosing food that will give us the ‘quick fix’ taste of satisfaction seems a lot easier than choosing to make something from scratch. But is it really as healthy as we think?

Here are the top seven unhealthy food alternatives to avoid:

1. Instant Oats

In order for the product to be made into an ‘instant’ meal, it becomes less nutritious. According to Dietitian and Fitness Trainer, Gaby Burbaitzky, anything that has been processed for convenience living, is normally a lot higher in fat and sugar.

“Instant oats are often much higher in sugar, fat and salt and are no longer low GI due to extra processing,” adds Burbaitzky.

Healthy Alternative: Rolled Oats

2. Instant Soups, Gravies And Mash

Once again, anything that is instant, is normally not very healthy for you. According to Burbaitzky, instant soups like Cup of Soup and powdered gravies are very high in salt and lack nutritional value. This is the same for instant mash options.

Healthy Alternative: Fresh Soups, Gravies and make your own mash or have a baked potato. 

3. Processed Meat

Options such as polony, viennas, sausage and cold meats are very bad for you. These excessively processed meat products are high in fat and salt. According to Burbaitzky, these meats have been linked to the development of colon cancer.

According to another local Dietitian, Rael Sanzul, even purchasing pre-made burger patties from the store is not really ideal.

With store bought burgers you’ll get a standard high fat, high sodium (salt) mix with no added micronutrients from vegetables or seeds.  There is a great chance it may contain refined white flour which has been stripped of all its fibre,” explains Sanzul. 

Healthy Alternative: Make Your Own Burgers and avoid processed meat.

4. Sugar Sweetened Beverages

“Sodas, fruit juice, vitamin water, flavoured water are high in sugar and therefore high in calories. The problem is when we drink them we don’t adjust our necessary calories from food for the day in order to compensate for those consumed when drinking an SSB. Rather drink water and eat fruit instead of drinking fruit juice,” explains Burbaitzky.

A lot of people are still under the impression that drinking good quality fruit juice is a good replacement for eating fruit, however, this is really not the case.

I often get a very surprised response when telling clients that fruit juice has a high sugar content.  They try explain that they’re drinking juice made with “100% real fruit” and “no added sugar” but these again are marketing strategies intended to repel the consumer from looking at the nutrition labels on packages (fruit juice can contain around 8 teaspoons of sugar in a 330ml can, not to mention the flavourants and preservatives added),” expresses Sanzul. 

Healthy Alternative: Water or Unsweetened Rooibos Tea

5. Powdered Milk Alternatives

Instead of using fresh milk, some people prefer to use coffee creamers or milk powder. Although this makes drinking a coffee a whole lot more creamier, coffee creamers are not good for you.

“Powdered milk alternatives contain very little nutritional value and are high in sugar and hydrogenated vegetable fats which are linked to obesity, heart disease and inflammation,” confirms Burbaitzky.

Rather opt for a fresh approach and purchase milk products that have an expiry date, rather than those with added preservatives.

Healthy Alternative: Fresh Milk

6. Pre-made Meals

Although cooking might be the last thing you feel like doing after a long day at the office, knowing what is going into your body is better than buying ready-made items.

Pre-made meals such as lasagne and macaroni and cheese are extremely high in sodium. Sanzul explains that these meals exceed the daily recommended calorie consumption as they are so high in saturated fats.

“These processed foods are usually manufactured with palm kernel oils (saturated fats) in high amounts.”

These foods are better known as convenience foods, rather than healthy foods as they add little nutrition to your diet.

Healthy Alternative: Homemade Meal

7. Two Minute Noodles

Oh the good, old faithful two minute noodles. Everyone loves a quick and easy snack or even a meal when the finances are low. But, wait. This really is a very unhealthy option and it is advisable to stay away from snacks such as two minute noodles.

There has been much speculation and research done on instant noodles and many outcomes have said that it can cause cancer and is as bad as eating plastic.

According to Sanzul, these noodles and especially their spice packs are extremely high in sodium and can cause high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Healthy Alternative: Fresh Egg Noodle Stir Fry

Why Are People Drawn To The Unhealthy? 

Even though we know that the instant unhealthy alternatives aren’t good for our bodies, we still tend to purchase them. But why?

Well, Sanzul explains that one of the main reasons why people continue to purchase these products is because of excellent marketing campaigns.

These companies glamourize their products and make it sound like the right choice.  Even those who are educated, get caught up in the bright lights and sounds of a well marketed product.  These advertisements are usually purposefully misleading, for example Milo boasts it contains Iron – what is fails to say is that it the iron in Milo is poorly absorbed by the body (due to its chemical structure which is different from, let’s say fish) and its absorption is extremely poor when mixed with calcium.”

Another reason is due to the convenience of the product satisfaction. The fact that you can go to a shop and purchase something that needs very little to no preparation time at all is perfect for the person on-the-go.

“Many of these foods require very little, if any, preparation or cooking. In today’s world, everybody complains of lack of time to prepare food. This is what makes processed foods so appealing,” explains Burbaitzky.

Why Are These Products Still On The Shelves? 

Well it really all comes down to one thing- the taste!

“Food companies have been researching for over fifty years exactly how much sugar, salt and fat to put in our processed food in order to keep people wanting more. This is known as the “bliss point”,” explains Burbaitzky.

Although these foods aren’t good for you, they do undergo a quality control assurance test. These regulations are set out in the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act 54 of 1972.

So now that you know some truths about the convenient food choice, let us know your guilty pleasure?

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