If you’re on a mission to get healthy and lose weight, you’ve probably heard of the many prepared weight loss products out there.
There are countless numbers of shakes, smoothies and bars out there that are portrayed as a magic bullet for weight loss. They are marketed with slick, appealing lifestyle imaging that makes us relate the products to health and vitality.
Unfortunately, these subversive techniques work all too often. We are programmed for instant gratification and when healthy diet changes and physical activity don’t work fast enough, many people resort to what they perceive as quick fixes. The truth is, attempting to take short cuts with processed ready-made “foods” is just not going to trick the body into getting lean or healthy.
It probably took your body a while to get the way it is today. It is unfair (and unrealistic) to expect it to transform suddenly into an ideal shape, by feeding it some mysterious powder from a flashy container.
The reason weight loss shakes and bars don’t help us achieve ideal health is that they are full of overly processed ingredients. Not only are these ingredients not health-promoting, but many are downright dangerous.
The purpose of this brief article is to open your eyes to some of the ingredients you might be consuming in your “healthy” weight loss product, from the questionable to the utterly toxic.
Unfortunately protein shakes commonly use GMO products to add bulk without much expense.
Maltodextrin—This is a carbohydrate-rich “filler” product that is made from corn. The problem is that the vast majority of corn is now genetically modified. Maltodextrin is a processed sugar byproduct of this GMO corn.
The addition of this carbohydrate complex skews the macronutrient balance of a protein shake. We are consuming the protein shake to get more protein, not carbs! It is essentially a cheap filler product.
Maltodextrin is also used to make a highly processed chemicalized indigestible fiber, which is used in weight loss products to create the feeling of fullness in the consumer.
Soy—You will frequently spot soy protein concentrate or soy protein isolate on the ingredients list of health food products. Soy has been portrayed as a healthy and eco-friendly source of protein, however today’s soybeans are extensively hybridized and treated with agricultural chemicals.
It is a common allergen and tricks the body into sensing too much estrogen, which throws off hormonal balance. It also contains phytic acid, which prevents the body from absorbing the minerals from food.
Weight loss products are rife with artificial sweeteners, which have been linked to damaged gut bacteria, metabolic derangement, inflammation and weight gain.
Acesulfame potassium—This chemical also goes by the short form Ace-K. Acesulfame potassium is often blended with other chemical sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose to take away their bitter aftertaste. Although governments in North America and Europe currently allow the use of Ace-K in many food products, all of the approvals are based on safety studies performed in the 1970s by the manufacturer of the product itself.
Researchers have recently determined that these safety trials were poorly performed. Despite the inadequacy of those trials, they still showed a link between Ace-K and the formation of cancer. Various studies have been performed since then, but to this day there have been no proper studies performed to evaluate the carcinogenicity (cancer-causing potential) of Ace-K. There is also concern that Ace-K degrades into toxic byproducts when subjected to UV radiation (i.e., sunlight).
Sucralose—Also known as Splenda, sucralose has been carefully marketed and positioned as a “natural” sweetener. It’s true that sucralose is technically naturally derived; it starts out as sucrose, which is then chemically processed so that it can no longer be broken down and absorbed by the digestive system. This is done via the addition of chlorine atoms.
The theory behind sucralose is that it’s an inert compound, meaning it passes through the gut without any effect on the system. However studies have shown that sucralose actually alters gut bacteria in mammals. Under high temperatures, sucralose breaks down to form toxic byproducts, and may encourage the mutation of healthy cells at elevated concentrations.
Whey protein isolate
Whey is the thin cloudy liquid that results from cheese-making. It is high in proteins, which can be dried and made into powder. The problem with whey protein isolate is that the vast majority is sourced from conventional milk that comes from cows raised on pesticide-ridden grains, antibiotics and growth hormones.
It is then treated with high heat (pasteurized) and forced through tiny holes (homogenized) which breaks apart many of the healthy components. The whey protein isolate is a highly processed product which, like the name states, is isolated. We know the body does not absorb isolate nutrients as effectively as those that come in whole-food form.
Isolated and synthetic vitamins
The vitamins and minerals that are added to protein shakes and energy bars present a similar problem as the whey protein isolate. Nutritional studies show that when chemically isolated nutrients are added to a food, they don’t have the same effect as naturally occurring nutrients.
We may think a product is healthy because it contains “26 vitamins and minerals,” but when the body can use only a small percentage of those, they are not much use. Synthetic vitamins can even block the receptors for natural vitamins, and end up causing deficiencies.
Vegetable oils, hydrogenated and trans fats
These rancid industrial oils are common ingredients in “health food” snacks and bars. They are sometimes even added to shakes in powdered form to give a creamy mouthfeel. If you look up how canola oil is made, you will certainly want to avoid consuming it. Vegetable oils are extracted under high heat and pressure, using petrochemicals and solvents. They are usually rancid after this process, so they are chemically deodorized before they are bottled.
The resulting nutritional profile is harmful to the human body. Vegetable oils are high in omega-6 fats, which are too common in our modern-day diet and contribute to chronic inflammation.
Man-made fats, such as those that are hydrogenated, are produced via chemical alteration of natural fats. This is done to make them more shelf-stable. Unfortunately, the body is unable to process these unnatural molecules. They are highly inflammatory and contribute to atherosclerosis, or the clogging of arteries.
These are some toxic fats to look out for:
– Soybean oil
– Corn oil
– Canola oil
– Cottonseed oil
– Safflower oil
– Sunflower oil
– Palm kernel oil (note that carefully processed palm FRUIT oil is healthy)
– Any oil that is partially or fully hydrogenated
– Any oil that is modified
Food producers have created many flavors that are amplified versions of natural ones, or false-engineered flavors with creative names. The terms “artificial flavor” and “natural flavor” are used as catchalls for all types of flavor enhancers, and manufacturers are not required to disclose exactly what they are. As long as the ingredient started out vaguely natural, it doesn’t matter how chemically processed or altered it is by the time you’re eating it.
All types of flavoring, whether artificial or natural, can actually be a cover-up for allergens, such as wheat, gluten, corn and soy. It’s best to steer clear of foods that include those ingredients on their labels.
Preservatives are commonly used in prepared foods to extend their shelf life. This is a major concern with shakes and weight loss foods. Be sure to look out for these dangerous preservatives:
– Propyl gallate
These preservatives have been tied with effects such as hyperactivity in children, risk of cancer, and impaired cardiovascular health.
In the end, the purpose of these companies is to sell products. It is up to you to critically read and evaluate what they are actually selling you. There are a few companies that make convenient food products that are better quality. Although these healthier options are still not a magic bullet for weight loss, they will be more helpful for building a strong, detoxified body.
We encourage you to seek out shakes and bars that contain healthy ingredients, such as cold processed grass-fed organic whey protein, raw hemp protein made from organic hemp seeds, or protein from organic sprouted grains. If you choose a flavored variety, ensure that the flavor comes from whole food ingredients, not just ambiguous “natural flavor.”
Ideally you will focus on using healthy protein products as a compliment to your real food diet, rather than a lazy shortcut or meal replacement. Try using healthy protein powder to make raw energy balls, or your own protein power bars. Or add some protein as a boost to smoothies with vegetables and superfoods as the main ingredients.
Liivi is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and is training to become a doula. She inspires women to find peace and personal power by taking control of health and fertility naturally.Liivi‘s passion is ancestral nutrition and primal lifestyle design. She and her partner Will live between Toronto, Canada and Queenstown, New Zealand.