Walk into any supermarket and you’ll be greeted with swathes of labels promising to be a force for good in your metabolism’s fight to keep the waistline from creeping to dangerous levels.
Some might be decorated with ‘high protein’, others proudly state their ‘plant based’ heritage, then more will claim to be made with ‘natural ingredients’. Labels that hit the same impotent notes that get spouted by dieticians and government guidelines across the globe.
Unfortunately, the issue here isn’t simply that these superfoods deliver empty promises. They actually have the potential to be detrimental for your health. So if you’re attempting to turn any of the following into weekly staples, tread at your peril.
1. Peanut Butter
I still wake up some nights in cold sweat thinking about all the times I added a fat wad of peanut butter to my mass gainer shake. It tasted great, but I’d never feel too good in the aftermath. I’d be sluggish, bloated, and moody. At that point, I figured that was just the price I had to pay to get bigger.
Now I know that the unsavoury effects were simply due to the fact that peanut butter is brimming with toxins.
Anything that’s a plant baby is going to have a serious amount of defensive toxins enclosed in the package, because the plant is going to do its best to defend its offspring from predators. Nuts are one such group of plant babies.
Aflatoxins – Peanuts are contaminated with high amounts of carcinogenic chemicals for mold exposure, which can also cause nausea and stomach pain.
Omega 6 – Peanut butter contains high amounts of Omega 6 that are pro-inflammatory and pro-oxidative, with some of the oil already being rancid by the time you open the jar.
Lectins – These are plant defensive toxins that irritate the gut lining and compromise the immune system when allowed to get past the gut and into the body.
Anti Nutrients – Phytic acid, tannins and trypsin inhibitors are all plant toxins that prevent the absorption of key nutrients.
Peanut butter might be endearingly flexible in health recipes, but the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. Even the protein content should be taken with an asterisk, because the plant protein doesn’t have the full range of amino acids, and is therefore more likely to be oxidised as energy rather than shuttled towards muscle protein synthesis.
2. Vegan Milks
It feels like 80% of people are lactose intolerant these days, and the other 20% are being hassled by vegans to stop supporting the artificial insemination of cows. Or as they like to call it, rape. Which in no way is a deceitful attempt at emotional propaganda.
Just because a cow doesn’t moo its consent, doesn’t mean it’s being forced against its will.
But I digress, and this is about flaming the ethical solution to the (nonexistent) problem of dairy cows. The solution is to grind nuts into a pulp, then mix it with a bunch of sweeteners, thickeners, and seed oils, chuck the solution into a carton, and finally slap a leaf on it to mark it as vegan friendly.
If you’re wondering at what point it becomes milk, then I don’t know what to tell you. It’s really just a highly processed solution that’s vastly inferior to the product it’s attempting to replace.
Vegan milks come in a pretty diverse range, with supermarket staples like almond milk, oat milk, coconut milk, and rice milk. Coconut milk is the least problematic of the bunch, since it involves less processing, and could technically be made from just coconut meat and water if you search far enough. So I’m exempting it from the discussion.
As for the other fake milks, they have plenty of issues.
Seed Oils – You’ll know the score by now. We have no business ingesting these things, and you’re best keeping your intake down to an absolute minimum.
Carrageenan – This is a sulfated polysaccharide that has been proven to cause inflammation in the gut and destroy the mucosal layer that destroys the gut lining.
Oxalates – A different type of defensive toxin that blocks calcium absorption, causes mitochondrial dysfunction, and leads to kidney stones.
Phytic Acid – More mineral blocking.
3. Seed Oils
You wouldn’t think industrial lubricants would be marketed as a health food, but here we are. Seed oils like canola oil (rapeseed oil) and safflower oil are held up by the American Diabetes Association as a prime source of fats. The British Heart Foundation recommends them due to their monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat content. They get the prestigious label of being ‘heart healthy’.
Example Of Seed Oils
- Canola Oil (Rapeseed)
- Corn Oil
- Soybean Oil
- Cottonseed Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Safflower Oil
- Grapeseed Oil
- Rice Bran Oil
And why are they meant to be heart healthy? That would be because they actively lower cholesterol levels due to providing phytosterols that the body has to detoxify at the expense of making cholesterol.
Some call that healthy, I call it bad news for your hormone and Vitamin D levels, which are heavily reliant on cholesterol. There’s a good reason why vegan diets slash testosterone like nothing else, like this study that found a loss of 26%.
That’s also the tip of the iceberg that is the seed oil nightmare package, because as highly processed factory fats, they are pro-inflammatory, pro-oxidative, toxic, and bereft of any nutrients.
The emergence of seed oils over the last 150 years correlates alarmingly well with the exponential surge of chronic disease. They have no place in the human cuisine, and labelling them as ‘heart-healthy’ is incredibly dangerous, given that atherosclerotic plaques are progressed by oxidised LDL.
And guess what drastically increases oxidation? Rancid seed oils. And that’s one in a vast number of ways they can wreck your metabolism.
4. Whole Grains
Fibre has been propelled into the stratosphere as the ingredient that heals the gut, bolsters satiety, and provides a rich source of nutrition. This has given companies the magnificent chance to process their products a little less, while fetching a higher price point. ‘Whole grain’ just means they don’t bother removing the bran and the germ that normally sits in the kernel. Cheaper to make, with better profit margins. What’s not to like?
Well, as the consumer, you should be a little wary of the fibre agenda. Because it doesn’t just fail to deliver on its three benefits, it deals damage instead.
Gut Healing – By acting as a fertiliser for all gut bugs, and by making abrasive contact with the endothelial layer, fibre accentuates existing microbiome imbalances and increases inflammation and permeability.
Satiety – By increasing the bulk of your meals, the stomach gets stretched, meaning you subsequently need more volume in order for you to feel full.
Nutrition – Fiber contains antinutrients, such as the phytic acid that’s brimming in whole grains, and these compounds have a nasty habit of blocking the body from absorbing some of the nutrients contained in the meal. To make things worse, plant nutrition lacks bioavailability and often converts at great losses. Non-heme iron, for instance, converts the body’s heme version by as low as 2%.
To add to that, whole grains like brown rice are more likely to be contaminated with pesticides and heavy metals, which carry a great carcinogenic risk and love to abuse the mitochondria.
While I’d generally recommend steering away from grains in general, if you were to pick one, you’d go for a refined one like white rice. Less fibre, fewer toxins, fewer chemicals. It should be an easy choice.
Despite resembling other grains, quinoa is a pseudo cereal, and belongs to the spinach and beetroot family. Aside from that stunning bit of trivia, quinoa is also held up as the superior version of pasta and rice. It has more protein, fewer carbs, more minerals, more fibre, and more of the essential fat, Omega 6.
You’ll have a great idea at this point about what I think about these claims, but regardless, all this puts quinoa on the superfood pedestal as far as marketing is concerned. None of them hold much water due to the lack of bioavailability inherent in plant foods, and having a higher Omega 6 content isn’t the flex that some companies think it is, since it opens up pathways towards inflammation, oxidation, and fat storage.
That’s not the end of it though, because quinoa stands out amongst other grains as the one most stacked in plant toxins.
Saponins – A notorious addon in quinoa, these are soapy compounds that limit nutrient absorption, affect cell permeability, and cause leaky gut.
Quinoins – A cytotoxic (toxic to cells) compound that does its job by inactivating ribosome proteins.
Oxalates – Sharp crystal-like toxins that block calcium absorption and shred up cells, leading to mitochondrial dysfunction.
Antinutrients – Quinoa also contains phytic acid, tannins, and trypsin inhibitors, which all work to inhibit the absorption of accompanying nutrients.
So while snapping pictures of quinoa salads might seem like an easy source of brownie points, you probably want to skip the eating part, unless you’re keen on testing your metabolism’s mettle against a frontal assault.
Held up as the peak of plant protein power, tofu is purported to contain all the essential amino acids, a host of key minerals, and the antidote to menopause. It’s also strongly recommended due to the ethical superiority that comes with its meatless properties.
But besides the need to learn kitchen gymnastics to make a palatable meal out of something that tastes like wet cardboard, tofu has some serious nutritional issues.
For one, tofu isn’t an animal product, and that’s not great for its protein content. Tofu has less essential amino acids, less BCAAs, and 68% of the bioavailability of an egg. By opting for eggs, you also get an incredible array of friendly vitamins and minerals, prime animal fats, and you get to have something that tastes like food.
Then there are the accompanying toxins, and since tofu is made from the legume soybean, another plant baby, we’re in for a treat.
Phytoestrogens – These are the well known isoflavones that latch onto your estrogen receptors and destabilise your hormone levels.
Antinutrients – Phytic acid and trypsin inhibitors cancel out many of tofu’s momentous mineral package while also impairing protein digestion.
Lectins – These carbohydrate-binding molecules irritate the gut lining and cause adverse immune responses when allowed to get through the gut barrier.
Glyphosate – Most soy is sprayed with glyphosate, which impairs nutrient absorption, inflames the gut, causes mitochondrial dysfunction, and is a certified carcinogen. Quite the CV.
7. Protein Bars
These have become staples in the routine of gym rats that struggle to get the protein coming in across the day, or just need a way to eat some chocolate without experiencing intense self-loathing.
And I hate to do this, but protein bars are just another type of processed chemical junk that is trying to sneak by with good marketing.
Soy Protein – Most protein bars are made with soy protein, because they’re cheap, and sometimes keen on staying vegan friendly. Unfortunately, the presence of soy protein also means the presence of phytoestrogens and phytic acid.
Seed Oils – Protein bars also regularly use seed oils, which gifts the product with a tantalising layer of oxidation.
Fructose – Sweeteners can often come in the form of high fructose corn syrup (HCFS), which is damaging to the liver, encourages fat gain, and leads to insulin resistance.
Artificial Sweeteners – When HCFS isn’t being used, and the carb content is being kept low, the flavour is going to be coming from artificial sweeteners, which can still prompt an insulin response, and can negatively alter the gut microbiome.
Surely at this point I’m being dogmatic for the sake of it. What could I possibly have against the innocent but not necessarily sweet vegetables?
Buffing up a meal with salad doesn’t miraculously make you more healthy. Vegetables lack virtually any macronutrients, are a subpar source of micronutrients, aren’t bioavailable, are mostly indigestible, contain inflammatory toxins, and take up plate real estate that could be going towards foods that are far more beneficial.
So rather than stuffing yourself with nature’s sawdust, just focus on eating more real food.
9. Fish Oil
An animal product on the sh** list? This might seem unprecedented, but fish oil does have the potential to be highly toxic to the body. Yes, it’s a great source of Omega 3, which is an essential fatty acid, and plays an important role in counteracting the inflammatory effects of Omega 6.
And I have nothing against getting that Omega 3 when it’s stuck inside fish, as long as you’re aware of the dangers of relying on the larger fishes, of the covered-in-arsenic variety.
The issue is when you get them in capsules, or in a bottle, because they’re virtually guaranteed to be rancid before you get to chase them down with raw milk.
You know how I’ve often mentioned the inflammatory effects of seed oils. Well, fish oil is several times more prone to being oxidised. Any benefits of ingesting Omega 3 is going to be comfortably outmatched by all the inflammation, oxidation, and toxins that will accompany it.
And to drive it home, the benefits of Omega 3 are largely found in its relation to Omega 6 levels in the body. And given the historically unprecedented levels of Omega 6 in the diet, you’re going to see seismically greater benefits in reducing Omega 6.
If you can do that, perhaps by going on a carnivore diet, then you’re not going to need anything more than a few mild servings of sardines every week.
10. Olive Oil
The flagship of the historical Mediterranean diet that was presented as the solution to the heart disease epidemic. Two of the blue zones, the beacons of longevity, come from the Mediterranean.
Amongst all the factors that could have shaped these utopian societies, olive oil was held up as the fountain of youth. It’s predominantly made of ‘healthy’ monounsaturated fats, contains plenty of miraculous polyphenols that stave off fat gain, and comes steeped in at least two thousand years of rich tradition.
And while it certainly is a better option than seed oils, it’s quite a challenge to find olive oil that meets the standard. Unless you’re living right next door to the lovely sun-battered Sicilian farmer. When your fresh bottle has been imported overseas, it’s best to be sceptical.
Simply buying the ones marked as ‘extra virgin’ won’t be enough. One study found that 69% of imported extra virgin olive oils failed to meet the accepted standard, due to a few reasons.
Mixed With Inflammatory Seed Oils – Suffering from companies bent on increasing profit margins, by mixing it with cheaper seed oils.
Poor Quality – Made with damaged olives and cheap processing.
Oxidised – As an unsaturated fat, olive oil is liable to become rancid due to exposure to light, elevated temperatures, or just ageing.
As for the polyphenols, they tend to get chewed up pretty quickly with exposure to elements, so the chances of you getting any of its benefits a few thousand miles later, is adjacent to zero.
And as nice as it is to have olive oil and think of its past in the Roman Empire, why would you choose an unstable oxidant-prone fat when you could instead have a much more stable fat that was also celebrated by Romans.
Of course, I’m talking about lard, because those Italians didn’t like the cut of the jibe of the northern Germanic butter chuggers.
As you might gather, most superfoods are just the products of clever marketing.
But there are a few superfoods that do meet the standard, and they all share in the distinction of not being plants. Turns out, all we have to do is eat the foods that we evolved to digest and absorb.
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