Do you feel virtuous for eating only gluten-free bread and low-fat ice cream? If so, you may have fallen victim to the so-called “health halo” effect. By seductively designing food labels, the food industry can lead even the most health-conscious consumer astray, tricking them into believing something is healthier than it truly is simply because it’s marketed as “whole-grain” or “organic” or “low-fat.” Below, we shed light on 12 foods that perhaps aren’t so deserving of their good-for-you reputation.
Granola often gets pegged as the ultimate health food, but wrongfully so. This breakfast treat is chock full of sugar and oil, which explains why it’s so darn tasty. A serving of granola contains 226 calories and 16 grams of sugar—and that’s assuming you stick to the recommend half-cup serving. For a healthier parfait, mix yogurt with a sprinkle of Kashi GoLean Crunch or, better yet, raw oats and a drizzle of honey.
Smoothies get a lot of hype in the health world, but not all smoothies are created equal. You know those store-bought smoothies, the ones that claim to have “3 servings of fruit” and all the vitamins and minerals you need in a day? Unfortunately, these “smoothies” are basically sugar water with overstated health benefits. Many bottled smoothies are loaded with the same sugar content as a soda—nearly 60 grams in a single bottle! Your best bet is to whip up a smoothie at home containing fresh fruit, veggies and yogurt and/or milk.
Snackers, beware: Trail mix is a snack binge waiting to happen. Although it’s relatively healthy in moderation, trail mix can pack a hefty caloric punch, especially when the mix is loaded with sugary goodies like chocolate chips or M&M’s. A handful of trail mix can pack as much as 300 calories, and you can easily inhale twice this amount when you’re mindlessly eating on the couch. So bottom line? It’s okay to munch on trail mix every now and then, but be sure to adhere to the recommended portion size.
Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter
Whatever you do, steer clear of icky reduced-fat peanut butter varieties; most reduced-fat versions are loaded with sugar and fillers to make up for the removal of fat. You’re better off spreading full-fat peanut butter, which contains plenty of good fats (you know, the heart-healthy, monounsaturated kind). Because peanut butter is calorie-dense, though, be sure to limit yourself to a two-tablespoon serving.
At the coffee shop, forgoing a donut in favor of a blueberry muffin seems like a virtuous choice, when really it’s just the lesser of two evils. The sugar, fat and calories found in a typical bakery muffin—even the ones billed as “low-fat”—lodge this item in more of the “cupcake” category than the health food category. For a slimmer baked good, opt for homemade muffins using healthy ingredient swaps like flaxseed, whole grain flour and applesauce. Here’s a great recipe for low-sugar, homemade blueberry muffins.
Frozen Diet Entrees
For time-pressed individuals, pre-portioned frozen entrees seem like a great way to get a healthy meal in a pinch. But many pre-made dinners are sodium and trans-fat bombs, not to mention heavily processed and filled with strange preservatives. This doesn’t mean you can’t eat TV dinners; just choose your options carefully. Scour your freezer section for all-natural frozen food brands, like Amy’s Organic and EVOL Foods. These brands are committed to using only top-notch, natural ingredients and minimizing preservatives.
By now, you should know that just because something is labeled “diet” doesn’t mean you should put it in your body. Although calorie-free, diet soda can wreak havoc on your health in numerous ways—by destroying tooth enamel, priming your body to crave sweets, and even setting you up for weight gain. For a smarter sip, try carbonated water infused with chunks of fresh fruit or slices of cucumber.
Loaded with protein, calcium and probiotics, yogurt seems to be the ultimate healthy snack. But here’s the kicker: many flavored yogurts are packed with added sugars, enough to make them as sweet as your typical dessert. Rather than reaching for sugar-packed flavored yogurt, go for plain, low-fat yogurt and sweeten it naturally with add-ins like honey, agave nectar or jam.
While dried fruit can be a good alternative to chips and candy, tread carefully. Dried fruit is calorie-dense, and because it lacks the water content of real fruit, it doesn’t fill you up quite as quickly, making it easy to overeat. Plus, some dried fruit has added sugar to make it more flavorful. Stick with unsweetened dried fruit when possible, and try to adhere to the recommended portion size so you don’t go overboard.
If you think you’re doing yourself a favor by chugging a glass of OJ every morning—it has vitamin C, after all, right?—think again. Most fruit juices are loaded with sugar (almost as much as a candy bar!) and devoid of nutritional value. Your best bet is to nosh on piece of raw fruit instead—you’ll get a healthy dose of fiber and nutrients not found in pasteurized juices.
Low-Calorie Salad Dressing
Dousing your lettuce in low-fat dressing effectively cancels out the health benefits of your salad greens. Why? Because most bottled low-fat dressings—although lower in calories—don’t unlock the full nutrient potential of salads. A study out of Purdue University found that many of the nutrients found in salads are fat soluble, so they are best absorbed by olive oil or canola oil-based dressings. Aside from being less nutritious, many low-fat dressings are often loaded with excess sugar and sodium to compensate for the lack of oil. Opt for homemade salad dressings made with olive oil, vinegar and spices.
At the sandwich counter, wheat wraps seem like a solid choice. But most of the tortillas themselves are ginormous, clocking in at 300 calories or more—and that’s not counting the meat, cheese, mayo and other fillers that are packed inside of them. All together, that seemingly healthy “wrap” can set you back 700 calories or more. Your solution? Stick with half a wrap and pair with fruit or a small side salad.
The gluten-free craze has spread like wildfire the past few years, but it’s safe to say that “gluten-free” is not synonymous with “healthy.” Although people assume that gluten-free baked goods are healthier and less caloric than regular-old pastries, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, many gluten-free goods rely on extra sugar, oil and refined flours to make up for the changes in texture and taste. But if you’re bent on going gluten-free for dietary reasons or need to medical reasons, don’t despair! It is possible to bake gluten-free in a healthy (and tasty!) way. Try these gluten-free almond brownies for a wholesome indulgent-tasting treat.