Science has come a long way toward identifying what kills us, but we are still a longer way from knowing what keeps us going. It is in the murky gray areas that charlatans lurk, peddling snake oil remedies they promise will perform miracles. And those charlatans aren’t necessarily shady, bewhiskered characters. More often they are huge corporations with the appearance of respectability, who convince millions of people that their products work. Scarcely a moment goes by when we aren’t being bombarded with messages from television, the internet, print media and radio, courtesy of Big Food. Many of those messages tell us that all we need to do to stay healthy, live longer and maintain that youthful glow is to buy their products.
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Here are seven health food products with dubious claims to healthfulness.
1. Coconut Water
You know you’ve hit the big time when Coca-Cola wants a piece of the action. In 2013, Coke bought Zico, a leading purveyor of coconut water, that slightly sweet, slightly nutty tasting liquid drawn from inside still-green coconuts. Not to be outdone, Pepsi peddles O.N.E. coconut water and along with the independent Vita Coco and celebrity shills like Rihanna and Jessica Alba, coconut water is a half-billion-dollar industry and growing. The health claims are numerous. Low calorie, fat-free, high in potassium, a hydrating machine chock full of electrolytes.
To be truthful, coconut water has a big advantage over Gatorade and other “sports” drinks or sodas in one area. Those beverages are virtual sugar bombs in a bottle. Coconut water is relatively low in sugar. Still, coconut water is expensive and a serving contains 60 calories, enough to pack on the pounds if you are chugging it. While it is an effective hydrator for an athlete who perspires heavily, your body would do equally well or better with lots of cheap, free water. A 2012 study funded by Vita Coco concluded that neither sports drinks or coconut water are any better than H2O. Do the math. A banana and a glass of water: 20 cents. A bottle of coconut water: $2.
2. Vitamin-infused Water
Vitamins and water. What could be bad? Coca-Cola (again) agreed and anted up over $4 billion to buy VitaminWater back in 2007. Lifewater, Smartwater and a host of other competitive waters have flooded the market since, all claiming health benefits that are dubious at best. Still, when everybody’s favorite daytime talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres, or “Friends” friend Jennifer Aniston, or star basketball player Dwight Howard, proclaim the wonders of vitamin-infused water, who can argue?
Then again, there was that pesky class-action lawsuit against VitaminWater, settled in 2014, in which the company was accused of fraudulently marketing the beverage as a health drink. It seems that a bottle of VitaminWater contains almost as much sugar as a can of Coke. And despite all the claims otherwise, there is little evidence that vitamins cure anything other than rare and exotic diseases like scurvy and beri-beri (which are caused by vitamin deficiencies). So if you have scurvy, by all means chug a bottle of VitaminWater, although an orange would be a lot cheaper. Otherwise, we are all better off getting our vitamins from real foods, not sugar water.
3. Nutritional Snack Bars
Advertisements for nutritional and protein snack bars invariably display sexy women in tight-fitting exercise clothes or muscular men with bulging, well-defined abs. Who wouldn’t want to join that club? Marketed as a smart and healthy way to skip meals, slim down, bulk up and live the healthy life, health bars are a $2 billion industry. Of course the “health” part is disputable. Kind bars, which have sold more than a billion bars since 2004, were recently warned by the FDA that the bars do not meet the standard of the definition of “healthy.” Several of the bars were too high in saturated fat and the dark chocolate did not provide enough antioxidant power to merit the label “antioxidant-rich.”
In general, nutritional bars contain a high dose of sugar in some format. (Don’t be fooled by the type of sweetener used. Sugar is sugar, whether it's granulated white sugar or agave nectar or honey.) The fat content in the bars is often high and the amount of calories and protein in them can be much higher than you need.
Ah, granola. Nuts, dried fruit, whole grain goodness. Boxes rich with the color of wheat fields and oats and dripping honey. And sugar. And fat. A lot of it. A quarter cup of typical granola has 4 grams of sugar and 5 grams of fat. Quaker Oats 100 percent Natural Oats and Honey contains almost 7 grams of fat and over 13 grams of sugar in a half cup. And did we mention Quaker Oats is owned by a soda company (Pepsi)? Granola is a decent source of fiber, but most of the commercial ones are too sweet and too artery-clogging. If you like a little crunch in your breakfast, add a little granola to some plain nonfat Greek yogurt.
5. Fruit Yogurt
Low-fat fruit yogurts have the reputation of being a healthy breakfast or snack, but buyer beware. Plain yogurt is a terrific healthy food, an excellent source of protein and more importantly, good source of the gut bacteria that help keep your immune system happy. Unfortunately, processed food companies like General Mills, producer of Yoplait yogurt, muddy the health benefits. In 2013 General Mills settled a class-action lawsuit against it for making unproven health claims about Yoplait and its digestive benefits. Worse though, is the product itself. No one would eat a Twinkie and say it was healthy. Yet Yoplait has more sugar per serving than the cream-filled sponge cake snack (19 grams of sugar per Twinkie vs. 26 grams for Yoplait).
And Yoplait is not the only culprit. Dannon yogurt, 24 grams of sugar. Activia, 19 grams. Even Stonyfield Organic tops out at 29 grams. The culprit is all that gooey so-called fruit at the bottom of the yogurt cup. Not so much fruit, lots of sugar. Like five teaspoons worth. (Here's another good reason to avoid Yoplait: for years wildlife rescuers have been asking General Mills to change the design of Yoplait cups, which are responsible for suffocating skunks and other small mammals who get their heads trapped in the unusually shaped cup. Despite continuing wildlife deaths across the nation, General Mills refuses to budge.)
6. Almond Milk
The non-dairy milk industry has grown by leaps and bounds in the past decade, as the stories of the horrors of factory farming leak out, combined with the search for a lactose-free alternative. Soy milk, hemp milk and other vegetable-based alternatives have grown to a $2 billion combined industry, but none has grown so much as almond milk, the leader at over $700 million. Almond milk corporations like Whitewave and Blue Diamond have extolled the wonders of almond milk and it is a fact that almonds are good for you. But almond milk? Not so much.
An ounce of actual almonds contains as much protein as an egg, as much fiber as a banana and as much good fat as half an avocado. A serving of almond milk contains just one gram of protein and fiber and five grams of fat. Almond milk is composed mainly of water, along with a small handful of ground-up almonds mixed in. Not exactly a nutritional powerhouse. The calcium and other nutrients are mostly added in after the fact, so what you are getting is basically some cloudy water with a vitamin pill dissolved in it, plus some thickeners and other flavor enhancers to make it palatable. In these days of California (where 80 percent of almonds are grown) water shortages, it takes over a gallon of water to grow a single almond, making almond milk an environmental thorn.
7. Omega-3 Enhanced Foods
There is some evidence that omega-3 fatty acids play a role in reducing the incidence of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and other life-threatening illnesses. No wonder food corporations jumped on the bandwagon and began adding omega-3s to their food products. Land-o-Lakes “All-Natural” Eggs, Horizon Organic Chocolate Milk, Kashi Go Lean Crunch cereal, Quaker Oats Fiber and Omega-3 granola bars, on and on.
Of course many of these products are enhanced not with DHA and EPA omega-3 (the fatty acids that seem to be protective), but with ALA omega-3, which has not much compelling evidence of benefit. Plus some of the products are loaded with sugar. The Center for Science in the Public Interest recommends that if you want your omega-3s, you should get them from natural sources like salmon, which has them in abundance. A six-ounce serving of salmon contains 100 times the amount of good DHA and EPA omega-3s as a serving of DHA-enhanced foods like yogurt or milk.
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By Sara Lindberg
Whether you've hit a workout plateau or you're just ready to turn things up a notch, adding more strenuous exercise — also known as high-intensity exercise — to your overall fitness routine is one way to increase your calorie burn, improve your heart health, and boost your metabolism.
However, to do it safely and effectively, there are some guidelines you should follow. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of vigorous exercise and how to safely dial up the intensity of your workouts.
What Is Considered Strenuous Exercise?<p>When it comes to exercise, the intensity of how hard you work out is just as important as the duration of your exercise session. In general, exercise intensity is divided into three categories:</p><ul><li>low</li><li>moderate</li><li>vigorous or strenuous</li></ul><p>For an activity to be vigorous, you need to work at 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate, according to the<a href="https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/target-heart-rates" target="_blank"> American Heart Association</a>. Examples of vigorous exercise include:</p><ul><li>running</li><li>cycling at 10 mph or faster</li><li>walking briskly uphill with a heavy backpack</li><li>jumping rope</li></ul><p>Low to moderate exercise is easier to sustain for longer periods since you work below 70 percent of your maximum heart rate and, sometimes, well below that level.</p><p>To reap health benefits, the <a href="https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/be-active/physical-activity-guidelines-for-americans/index.html" target="_blank">Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans</a> recommends that people age 18 and older get one of the following:</p><ul><li><strong>150 minutes</strong> of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week</li><li><strong>75 minutes</strong> of vigorous aerobic activity per week</li><li><strong>combination of both types</strong> of activity spread throughout the week</li></ul>
Strenuous Exercise Vs. Moderate Exercise<p>Increasing your exercise intensity is fairly simple to do. You can still participate in your favorite activities — just at a more vigorous pace.</p><p>One of the benefits of more strenuous exercise is that you can reap the same rewards as moderate-intensity exercise but in less time. So, if time is of the essence, doing a more strenuous 20-minute workout can be just as beneficial as doing a slower 40-minute workout session.</p><p>Here are some examples of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/physical/pdf/pa_intensity_table_2_1.pdf" target="_blank">strenuous vs. moderate exercise<span></span></a>.</p><table><tbody><tr><th>Moderate intensity</th><th>Strenuous intensity</th></tr><tr><td>bicycling at less than 10 mph</td><td>bicycling at more than 10 mph</td></tr><tr><td>walking briskly</td><td>running, or hiking uphill at a steady pace</td></tr><tr><td>jog-walk intervals</td><td>water jogging/running</td></tr><tr><td>shooting baskets in basketball</td><td>playing a basketball game</td></tr><tr><td>playing doubles tennis</td><td>playing singles tennis</td></tr><tr><td>raking leaves or mowing the lawn</td><td>shoveling more than 10 lbs. per minute, digging ditches</td></tr><tr><td>walking stairs</td><td>running stairs</td></tr></tbody></table>
Benefits of Vigorous Exercise<p>Besides being more efficient, turning up the heat on your fitness sessions can benefit your health in a variety of ways. Let's take a closer look at some of the evidence-based benefits of a higher intensity workout.</p><ul><li><strong>Higher calorie burn.</strong> According to the <a href="https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/5008/7-things-to-know-about-excess-post-exercise-oxygen-consumption-epoc/?utm_source=Rakuten&utm_medium=10&ranMID=42334&ranEAID=TnL5HPStwNw&ranSiteID=TnL5HPStwNw-hYlKnAcfzfixAUsvnO6Ubw" target="_blank">American Council on Exercise</a>, working out at a higher intensity requires more oxygen, which burns more calories. It also contributes to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) or the "afterburn effect" that allows you to continue burning calories even after you finish working out. This means your metabolism will stay elevated for longer after a vigorous exercise session.</li><li><strong>More weight loss.</strong> A <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/interval-workouts-will-help-you-lose-weight-more-quickly" target="_blank">higher calorie burn</a> and an elevated metabolism will help you lose weight more quickly than doing low- or moderate-intensity exercise.</li><li><strong>Improved heart health.</strong> According to a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16377300" target="_blank">2012 study</a>, high- and moderate-intensity exercise appears to offer low chance of cardiovascular events, even in those with heart disease. Cardiovascular benefits may include improvements in:<ul><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/diastole-vs-systole" target="_blank">diastolic blood pressure</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/15-ways-to-lower-blood-sugar#TOC_TITLE_HDR_1" target="_blank">blood sugar control</a></li><li>aerobic capacity</li></ul></li><li><strong>Improved mood.</strong> High-intensity exercise may also boost your mood. According to a large <a href="https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jpts/27/4/27_jpts-2014-736/_article" target="_blank">2015 study</a> that analyzed the data of more than 12,000 participants, researchers found a significant link between strenuous exercise and fewer depressive symptoms.</li><li><strong>Lower risk of mortality.</strong> According to a 2015 <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25844882" target="_blank">study</a>, researchers found that vigorous activity may be key to avoiding an early death. The study, which followed 204,542 people for more than 6 years, reported a 9 to 13 percent decrease in mortality for those who increased the intensity of their exercise sessions.</li></ul>
How to Measure Exercise Intensity<p>So, how do you know for sure that you're exercising at a strenuous level? Let's look at three ways to measure the intensity of your physical activity.</p><h3>1. Your heart rate</h3><p>Monitoring your heart rate is one of the most reliable methods for measuring exercise intensity. Exercising at 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate qualifies as vigorous exercise intensity.</p><blockquote><strong><strong>WHAT IS YOUR MAXIMUM HEART RATE?</strong></strong>Your maximum heart rate is the fastest your heart can safely beat. To find out what your maximum heart rate is you need to subtract your age from 220. For example, for a 40-year-old person: <ul><li>220 bpm (beats per minute) minus age</li><li>220 – 40 = 180 bpm</li></ul>To work out at a vigorous pace, you'll want to exercise within 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. For example: <ul><li>180 x 0.70 (70 percent) = 126</li><li>180 x 0.85 (85 percent) = 153</li></ul>For a 40-year-old person, a vigorous training range is 126 to 153 bpm.<br></blockquote><p>You can check your heart rate while you're working out by wearing a heart rate monitor or <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">taking your pulse</a>.</p>
How to Add Vigorous Activity to Your Workout<p>Adding strenuous activity to your weekly workout routine requires some careful planning. Fortunately, many of the activities that you do at a moderate level can easily be performed at a higher intensity.</p><p>One way of incorporating vigorous aerobic activity into your routine is to do a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workout. This type of workout combines short bursts of intense activity — typically performed at 80 to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate — with recovery periods at 40 to 50 percent maximum heart rate.</p><p>To sustain this level of training, consider following a 2:1 work to rest ratio. For example, a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/treadmill-weight-loss#hiit" target="_blank">treadmill workout </a>or outdoor running session could include:</p><ul><li>running at 9 to 10 mph for 30 seconds</li><li>followed by walking at 3 to 4 mph for 60 seconds</li><li>alternating this work-to-rest ratio for 20 to 30 minutes</li></ul><p>Playing a fast-paced sport like soccer, basketball, or racquetball is another effective way to add strenuous activity to your fitness routine. Participating in <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-a-spin-class" target="_blank">cycling classes</a> or swimming laps are other ways to build more strenuous exercise into your workouts.</p>
Safety Tips<p>Before you turn up the intensity on your workouts, it's important to keep the following safety tips in mind.</p><h3>Check with your doctor</h3><p>If you have a health condition or you haven't been active in a while, make sure you talk to your doctor before you start a high-intensity exercise routine. Your doctor can advise you on a safe level of exercise or how to become more active in the safest way possible.</p><h3>Build up the intensity slowly</h3><p>Going from low- or moderate-intensity workouts to vigorous exercise requires time and patience. While you may be ready to jump in with both feet, the safest way to add more vigorous exercise is to do it in bite-size increments. Pushing yourself too quickly can result in injuries and burnout.</p><p>For example:</p><ul><li><strong>Week 1:</strong> Swap out one moderate-paced cardio session for a HIIT workout.</li><li><strong>Week 2:</strong> Swap one moderate-paced session with a HIIT workout, and also add a circuit strength training session to your weekly routine.</li><li><strong>Week 3 and 4: </strong>Repeat weeks 1 and 2 before you start adding more high-intensity exercise to your weekly routine.</li></ul><p>It's also a good idea to space out your vigorous workouts throughout the week. Try not to do two strenuous sessions back-to-back.</p><h3>Don't forget the recovery time</h3><p>Your body requires more time to recover from a vigorous workout compared to a low- or moderate-intensity session.</p><p>To help your body recover, make sure to always include a cooldown and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/static-stretching" target="_blank">stretch routine</a> after strenuous physical activity.</p><h3>Stay hydrated</h3><p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-health-benefits-of-water" target="_blank">Staying hydrated</a> is especially important when you're exercising hard. Not drinking enough fluids can affect the quality of your workout and make you feel tired, lethargic, or dizzy. It may even lead to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/dehydration-headache" target="_blank">headaches</a> and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/pain-relief/how-to-stop-leg-muscle-cramps" target="_blank">cramps</a>.</p>
The Bottom Line<p>Turning up the intensity of your workout sessions can be an effective way of boosting your overall health and fitness. It's also an easy way to save time when trying to fit a workout into your day.</p><p>To play it safe, always start slow and pay attention to how your body feels.</p><p>While vigorous exercise offers many health benefits, it's not appropriate for everyone. If you have a health condition or you haven't been active in a while, make sure to talk with your doctor before working out at a more strenuous level.</p>
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In January 2015, food sales at restaurants overtook those at grocery stores for the first time. Most thought this marked a permanent shift in the American meal.
Solving the Age-Old Problem of Spoiled Cheese<p>People have eaten pasta and cheese together for hundreds of years. Clifford Wright, the doyen of Mediterranean food history, says <a href="http://www.cliffordawright.com/caw/food/entries/display.php/topic_id/16/id/105/" target="_blank">the first written recipe</a> for macaroni and cheese was created in the court of the king of Naples in the 13th century, while <a href="https://food52.com/blog/9916-the-history-of-macaroni-and-cheese" target="_blank">the first reference</a> in an English language cookbook likely appeared in Elizabeth Raffald's 1769 book "The Experienced English Housekeeper."</p><p><span></span>An internet search for macaroni and cheese recipes will turn up over 5 million hits, but many still prefer to get theirs in a box – the kind with pasta that comes in shapes ranging from shells to Pokemon characters, accompanied by a packet of powdered cheese sauce.</p><p>Boxed macaroni and cheese was one outcome of the quest for ways to keep cheese longer. Some cheese gets better as it ages – a well-aged cheddar is one of life's delights – but once most cheeses hit their prime, <a href="https://www.dairyfoods.com/articles/91548-how-to-maximize-cheese-shelf-life" target="_blank">they tend to quickly go bad</a>. Before household refrigeration became common, many retailers wouldn't even stock cheese in the summer because it spoiled so quickly.</p><p>Processed cheese solved this age-old problem.</p>
When Natural Was Nasty<p>Today, food that's simple, pure and natural is <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-was-french-cuisine-toppled-as-the-king-of-fine-dining-66667" target="_blank">all the craze</a>, while <a href="https://apnews.com/c06a1200807c4b82a03452d08d480692" target="_blank">disdain for processed foods</a> is practically a credo among sophisticated consumers.</p><p>But when Kraft's different forms of processed cheese came out, they found widespread acceptance despite their strange textures. The fact that it wasn't natural didn't seem to bother consumers at all. In fact, as international food historian Rachel Laudan <a href="https://online.ucpress.edu/gastronomica/article/1/1/36/93394/A-Plea-for-Culinary-Modernism-Why-We-Should-Love" target="_blank">has noted</a>, back then, "natural was something quite nasty." She describes fresh milk as warm and "unmistakably a bodily secretion." Throughout the history of cookery, most recipes aimed to transform an unappetizing raw product into something delightful and delectable.</p><p>So for most consumers, processed foods were a godsend. They kept well, tended to be easily digestible and, most importantly, they tasted good. Many of them could be easily prepared, freeing women from spending entire days cooking and giving them more time to pursue professions and avocations.</p><p>In some ways, processed foods were also healthier. They could be fortified with vitamins and minerals, and, in an era before everyone had access to mechanical refrigeration, the fact that they kept well meant consumers were less likely to contract diseases from spoiled, rotten foods. Pasteurization of dairy products virtually <a href="https://www.the-scientist.com/foundations/rethinking-raw-milk--1918-65126" target="_blank">eliminated diseases like undulant fever</a>, while foods processed and canned in large factories were less likely to harbor food-borne illnesses that could crop up due to faulty or improperly sanitized equipment used by home canners.</p>
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