While so many food manufacturers are using buzzwords to label their foods with “natural ingredients,” “organic,” “simple,” real,” the marketing of “health” foods can win us over every time. However, these foods that may seem healthy are often quite deceiving. Remember to always look at ingredients and keep in mind the fewer the ingredients (and ones that you actually recognize), the better.
Top Ten Culprits
Prepared Salads – Don’t assume that anything with the word “salad” in it must be healthy. Prepared tuna salads, chicken salads, and shrimp salads are often loaded with hidden fats and calories due to their high mayonnaise content. While a lot depends on portion size and ingredients, an over-stuffed tuna sandwich can contain as many as 700 calories and 40 grams of fat.
Energy Bars –Many energy bars are filled with high fructose corn syrup, added sugar, and artery-clogging saturated fat. Also, some bars (particularly meal replacement varieties) contain more than 350 calories each―a bit more than “snack size” for most people. It is a good idea to fuel up with a mix of high quality carbs and protein before an extended workout or hike if you’re looking for a pre-workout energy burst.
Bran Muffins – Most bran muffins, even those sold at delis and coffee shops, are made with generally healthy ingredients. The problem is portion size. Even a healthful food, if over-consumed, can be not-so-healthful. Enjoy your bran muffin, but just eat half, and save the rest for an afternoon snack.
Smoothies – Even in most smoothie chains and coffee bars, smoothies start out pretty healthful. Most have a base of blended fruit and low-fat dairy. But disproportionately large serving sizes (the smallest is often 16 oz.) combined with added sugar, ice cream, or sherbet, can add up to a high-calorie treat. A smoothie can be a great way to start the day or to refuel after a workout. Just remember to account for the calories you drink when considering what you’ve consumed in a day. For the most economical and healthy smoothies, consider making your own.
Frozen Diet Entrees – These are typically loaded with sodium. And while they may be low in calories, they’re also low in nutrients and usually use refined grains. These frozen meals are a great example of quick convenient food that provides no bang for your nutritional buck.
Fat-Free Labels – People think that “fat-free” means “calorie-free,” so they tend to eat more than usual. Also, sugar replaces the fat in these products for taste and substance, so you’re still getting a high number of calories and carbs.
Packaged Trail Mix – Trail mix is a highly convenient snack and the fact that it typically contains plenty of nuts and dried fruit tends to create the impression that it is a healthy addition to your diet. Most trail mix products, however, often contain sugar-covered nuts, yogurt-coated raisins, and corn syrup. As a result, just a couple of servings of trail mix could easily lead you to consume as many as 600 calories, a hefty amount of trans fats, and excessive amounts of refined sugars.
Light Yogurt – People often gravitate toward the low-fat or light yogurt shelf in the dairy section because the promise of reduced fat content implies that these yogurts will be helpful for those who want to lose weight. This isn’t true because the lack of fat tends to create yogurt that tastes bland. In an attempt to compensate, yogurt manufacturers will often choose to heap a lot of extra sugar into their products, or using artificial sweeteners, creating a much more palatable yogurt at the cost of selling an unhealthy snack.
Microwave Popcorn – Popcorn is a low-calorie snack that is also filling. Unfortunately, microwave popcorn, the most convenient way to make this healthy snack, is really bad for you. The culprit, in this case, isn’t one of the big three (salt, sugar, and fat), but rather a chemical called diacetyl. Diacetyl is a natural product that, in combination with acetoin, gives butter is characteristic flavor. It is added to almost all artificial butters, including those used in microwave popcorn, to give them a “real-butter” taste. Diacetyl, though natural, can also be dangerous.
Dried Fruit – If you dry fruit at home and eat it immediately, then dried fruit is fine. After all, it contains vitamins, fiber, and minerals. If you buy it off the shelf, then you may run into problems, the first of which is sugar. Sugar is added to dried fruit to make it taste better. Over time, as natural fructose breaks down, dried fruit loses its flavor. To combat this, companies add sucrose (table sugar) to improve flavor. Unfortunately, they add so much that dried fruit is a major source of carbohydrate intake. Fresh fruit is a much better option, even to homemade dried fruit – it contains more fiber and volume, so you won’t eat as much.
*Please be aware that this article is not a diagnosis, prescription or recommendation for any individual. Before starting food and/or exercise programs, or using any vitamin or supplement, you should always talk it over with your doctor. He or she may have specific recommendations or warnings depending on your health and the other medicines you take.