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6 “Healthy” Eating Choices to Rethink

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6 “Healthy” Eating Choices to Rethink

In the pursuit of optimal vitality, many health-motivated people reach for food they think is good for them. Unfortunately, many such so-called healthy choices turn out to be less beneficial than we assume. Because they often involve swapping fats and sugars for a slew of chemicals, they may actually undermine, rather than support, your health goals.

Not quite sure how well you’d score on a healthy-eating pop quiz? Here are the subjects on which many well-intended eaters remain confused, and a review of the often misunderstood gaps between hype and reality.

1. Low-Fat Dressings
Hype: When studies in the early ’90s found that salad dressings were a surprisingly high source of fat in women’s diets, food makers rushed in to offer low-fat options. Today, dozens of low-fat and fat-free salad dressings crowd supermarket shelves, and one in three women (and one in five men) say they always opt for low-calorie dressings. The appeal of low-fat and fat-free dressings is the notion that they are in some way “heart healthy,” cholesterol reducing or helpful in supporting weight loss.

Reality: You’re better off making or buying salad dressings with a healthy dose of high-quality oils or natural fats such as olive oil or grape-seed oil, and even augmenting your salad with additional ingredients rich in healthy fats (think nuts, seeds and avocado). That’s because a well-built salad not only tastes great and satisfies longer, it’s a smorgasbord of vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients. Striving to keep your salad fat-free, or even low fat, not only reduces the pleasure you take in eating the salad, but it reduces your body’s ability to make use of those nutrients.

It turns out that the human gut simply can’t absorb key nutrients, such as carotenoids (organic pigments that give orange and red fruits and veggies their bright colors), without a dollop of fat. Researchers estimate that the gut needs roughly 6 grams of fat to wrestle carotenoids from their plant moorings and whisk them into the body.

Another reason to pass on low-fat and fat-free dressings? Peruse the ingredient list of most fat-free ones and you’ll likely see artificial flavors and a hefty glob of high-fructose corn syrup. The syrup is particularly hazardous, since studies suggest it lowers metabolism while shutting off the brain’s master switch for appetite control. Some low-fat salad dressings also contain hydrogenated oils (trans fats), which you want to avoid at all costs.

“Fat-free dressings rob you of the chance to integrate healthy fats into your diet,” says Michelle Babb, RD, a nutritionist at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle. Moreover, she notes, “A salad with fat-free dressing will leave you hungry an hour later because you didn’t get the satiety that comes with eating fat.”

This last point is important, because a lack of eating satisfaction can lead directly to unhealthy snacking and overeating of sugars and refined carbs, both of which pose a larger threat to lipid profiles and healthy-weight maintenance than the fats found in most salad dressings.

Better choice: Give preference to dressings that have an olive oil or other healthy-oil base and that contain only natural, whole-food ingredients. It’s easy to make your own single-serving dressing. Start with a tablespoon of high-quality, extra-virgin olive oil and mix in a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Add a couple teaspoons of your favorite vinegar, plus sea salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste. Prefer a creamy dressing? Add smaller amounts of the ingredients above to a base of plain, full-fat yogurt.

Not a fan of salad dressings? Get many of the same benefits (and then some) by adding avocado to your salad. At 115 calories and 10 grams of fat, one-half of an avocado will help your body absorb good stuff from the salad, as well as deliver vitamin B6, vitamin C, folate, potassium and omega-3 fats.

LEARN MORE:Big Fat Controversy” (January/February 2004), “Fat Chance” (January/February 2006), “All About Oils” (April 2007)

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Megan, selected from Experience Life

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe to the print or digital version.


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4:04AM PDT on Oct 7, 2013


7:56PM PDT on Apr 5, 2011

I already knew most of the article, I still liked it and am glad it was posted so that those who were unaware can learn from it. Stay far, far away from artificial sweeteners or anything artificial.

7:18AM PST on Jan 11, 2011

great stuff.

6:48AM PDT on Aug 31, 2010

Carol S. I suggest you read the plethora of information available about the lack of leptin and insulin stimulation properties of high-fructose corn syrup. Leptin and insulin are stimulated by other sugars like glucose and this is how the brain is signalled that we are full. Because HFCS does not act like a natural sugar, we consume much more of the foods or that contain this substance. You should also be aware that the FDA turned down an application by the corn refiners association (vested interest alert) to have HFCS declared a natural food. The FDA said that the original corn product had been so dramatically altered that it could not be called a food. This is not demonization, it is simply fact. Another interesting fact is that if you chart the rise of the obesity epidemic in North America, it corresponds to the introduction of HFCS into a vast array of food and drinks. For more information see:
and also:

6:37PM PDT on Aug 4, 2010

I like the LEARN MORE portion of the article; well-archived

6:35PM PDT on Aug 4, 2010

so true

4:26AM PDT on Jun 12, 2010

Interesting...I will try to internalize these tips!

3:25PM PDT on May 4, 2010

I'm going to try to eat less cereal...
For breakfast, I'll stick to oatmeal, fruit salads, and yogurt.

10:23AM PST on Feb 19, 2010

Great article

12:05AM PST on Feb 19, 2010

Go Vegan !!

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