Health

Wow, It's Insane These Things Used to Be Called 'Healthy'

Published On 10/07/2016 Published On 10/07/2016
seemingly healthy foods
Oren Aks/Thrillist

Stop! Drop that banana -- it's deadly! Just kidding; bananas are actually good for you. But I got you for a second, didn't I? Welcome to the last hundred or so years in personal health information -- a time when cure-alls were touted, consumed, and discredited on countless occasions.

So let's dig into a few really dumb things that people used to think were healthy… but first, DROP YOUR LACROIX! It's destroying your enamel! (Sorry, that one's somewhat true.)

SnackWell's

SnackWell's? More like SnackHELL'S. (YES, GOT IT!) Launched in 1992 during the zenith of the fat-free craze, SnackWell's were considered healthy desserts because they don't contain fat. (Never mind that fats are actually good for you.) The problem? The very first ingredient on the list is sugar. "I fell prey to this," says dietitian Molly Kimball with a sigh. "At the time, I was in high school, and we were like, 'This is the best thing ever.' But it was horrible. We were pouring sugar into our bodies, thinking we were doing a good thing."

Shockingly, SnackWell's are still on the market, and they still have just as much sugar as a Chips Ahoy! cookie. "SnackWell's weren't even that good," Kimball points out. Ah, the follies of youth.

White pasta

We've definitely seen some weird diets come and go. White-flour pasta isn't even near the top of that list, but it was definitely de rigueur for dieters of yore. "In the 1980s, you'd have plain pasta with marinara sauce," if you were trying to eat healthy, Kimball says. "Certainly no olive oil, because of the fat."

Another white substance that was big in the '80s

Yep, COCAINE. Marketed as an ingredient in health elixirs from the mid-19th to early 20th century, its advocates included such luminaries as Sigmund Freud, Sarah Bernhardt, Queen Victoria, Thomas Edison, and Popes Leo XIII and Pius X -- Pope Leo XIII even awarded the Vatican medal to a cocaine-infused wine. I mean, cocaine is obviously a stupid way to get healthy, but these popes were so metal that I'm not going to judge them.

Sports drinks

Sports drinks like to call themselves things like "fuel for athletes," which definitely sounds cool. The only problem with that slogan is that although endurance athletes do need electrolytes, conventional sports drinks don't supply enough to make them a worthwhile choice. "They'll need more electrolytes than what they get," Kimball says. Most popular sports drinks are "just sugar, water, and artificial colors," she adds.

For everyone else, the scant amount of electrolytes isn't necessary, and the sugar contains a bunch of empty calories that negate the effects of the physical activity you’re recovering from. So basically, nobody benefits from drinking this stuff.

"You do need electrolytes, but not through a sports drink," Kimball says. "You can get them from a KIND bar, half a turkey sandwich, even a fold-over peanut butter and jelly sandwich has natural sodium. V8 juice or coconut water are natural sources of electrolytes, and coconut water has a lot of potassium."

Frozen and low-fat yogurt

Remember how froyo was cool in the 1980s, then it sort of died out, and then a bunch of chains named after berries and fruits brought it back, and everyone was like, "Hey! This tart, unflavored frozen yogurt MUST be good for us, because it tastes like nothing!" Yeah, no.

"Sugar is still the drawback," Kimball says. "The tangy flavor doesn't seem as sweet, like chocolate or vanilla, but it's still just as high in sugar. Four ounces of frozen yogurt has about 100 calories. Four ounces of Blue Bell ice cream has 170 calories. But you aren't getting 4oz when you go to a frozen yogurt shop. That larger amount is around 500 calories."

Kimball prefers Halo Top ice cream. "Half a cup has 60 calories, and it has that same creamy, rich mouthfeel as regular ice cream," she says. "But if you really like frozen yogurt, just get a kids cup."

Kimball doesn't endorse those cups of low-fat yogurt that are sold in the dairy aisle, either. "They're ridiculous sugar loads," she says. "They have six times more sugar than protein. Go with a plain Greek yogurt."

SlimFast shakes

"SlimFast has 18g of sugar, not much protein (10g), and two types of artificial sweeteners," Kimball says. "So they're more sugar than anything else. If you actually read the ingredients, you would not want to drink this stuff."

Margarine

Margarine is an emulsified blend of vegetable oils, water, and sometimes milk. It was created because people were under the impression that saturated fats were bad, Kimball says. "But margarine is high in trans fats, doesn't melt well, and doesn’t taste good," Kimball says. "It's the opposite of natural." Many contemporary margarines have done away with trans fats, but it's still worth checking the labels.

Cigarettes and speed as weight-loss tools

"People used to smoke to keep their weight down," Kimball says. A 1930s advertisement for Lucky Strike even promised its cigarettes protected throats from irritation. "Doctors would prescribe diet pills and thyroid medication to people who didn't have hypothyroidism," she adds. Prescription amphetamines? Won't someone think of the children… and how much better behaved they would be if they were dosed with what's basically meth?  Oh wait, somebody did. Just goes to show you that you can't believe everything you hear when it comes to health advice.

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Missy Wilkinson is a paragon of health, by mid-19th-century standards. Follow her on Instagram @nowlistenmissy.

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