Grocery stores, retail shops and restaurants all boast signs declaring “natural” or “healthy” foods, but are these pricy items in fancy packages actually good for you? It all depends on the details. Let’s look closer at some that may surprise you.
While it seems like a healthy addition to your morning yogurt or oatmeal, many store-bought granolas are very high in sugar. Some of that sweetness comes from fruit, but most is added sugar used to sweeten the oats. Eating excess amounts of added sugar is linked to increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, obesity and certain types of cancers. Making your own granola is easy! Farmer’s markets often have truly natural options without any added sugars or processed ingredients. When shopping, read the fine print and look out for sneaky sugars like agave, cane sugar, organic cane syrup.2.
2. “Veggie” Chips
Bags that have pictures of vegetables on the front seem like healthier options than regular potato chips, but turning those bags around reveals that they don’t contain many veggies at all. Most “veggie chips” are made from corn or wheat flour with some vegetable starch added for color and flavoring. For real veggie chips, make sure the ingredients list only contains vegetables such as sweet potatoes, parsnips, and taro root. They’re easy to make at home! Thinly slice your favorite veggies like beets or sweet potato and bake on parchment paper with a touch of grapeseed, coconut or other high heat oil and your favorite spices for a quick and healthy snack.
3. Energy Bars
Energy bars tend to have lots of sugar, adding to their high calorie amounts. While some bars contain calories from healthy sources like nuts and fruit, the total amount may be higher than you think. Some bars we may consider a perfect snack are meant to be meal replacements. If the bar has more than 250 calories, add a piece of fresh fruit or some raw veggies and consider it to be your main meal on the go. For snacks, look for smaller portioned bars with just a few, food based ingredients like cashews and dates, at around 100-200 calories.
4. Meat Replacements
We know that too much red meat can raise your risk of heart disease and certain cancers, but meatless options can be highly processed and not necessarily healthier. Reducing meat intake is a key behavior for adopting a healthy lifestyle, but go for a minimally processed approach by adding in nuts, seeds, tofu, edamame, beans and legumes for protein. Making your own black bean burger or seeking one out at the store that’s made from whole grains and beans is a much healthier choice over a meatless burger made from isolated soy proteins and a long list of ingredients you can’t pronounce.
Sushi is made with lean fish and plenty of veggies, so it is definitely a healthy option. However, be careful what kind of fish is used: tuna, mackerel, seabass, and yellowtail are all high in mercury, which in excess can be bad for the kidneys and nervous system. Opt for veggie-based choices, salmon, eel, clam, and crab, which are much lower in this contaminant.
6. Gluten-free foods
Cutting out gluten—a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye—has gained popularity recently as a way to lose weight. But gluten-free products are not any lower in calories than regular snacks. They lack gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, which can irritate the digestive system for people with certain health concerns like celiac disease. Cutting out gluten can absolutely help alleviate gas, bloating and many other symptoms in those who are intolerant, sensitive or allergic. But going gluten free will not necessarily help you lose weight - just look at all the gluten-free cookies, cakes and snack foods available!
7. Multi-grain bread
These breads may look more nutritious than traditional “white bread”, but unless the label says “100% Whole grain” the bread could contain any amount of white flour. Make sure the first ingredient listed is whole grain flour and read the entire list to scan for preservatives and additives you simply don’t need.
8. Reduced Fat Peanut Butter
Despite the label sounding somewhat healthier, reduced-fat peanut butter contains the same number of calories.. What?! This is because the natural fat helps peanut butter taste oh so good. To make up for this loss in taste when the fat is taken out, lots of sugar is usually added. Keep in mind the fat in peanut butter is in fact healthy, so it doesn’t need to be reduced in the first place! Eating healthy fats like those found in nuts may help to reduce the risk for heart disease and certain cancers.
9. Yogurt Cups
Yogurt can be a healthy snack, but it can be also be very high in added sugars. The fruit you find at the bottom of the cup is typically sweetened with white or other processed sugars. Yogurt with mix-ins can be even worse when it comes to sugar. Your best bet is to buy plain Greek yogurt and add your own fresh fruit and nuts for plenty of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals without all the excess sugars.
10. Fruit Juices
Fruit juices such as orange juice, apple juice and cranberry juice seem better alternatives than other beverages but they actually fall under the sugar sweetened beverages category, containing on average 20-30 grams of sugar in just one serving. Instead of purchasing the juice, eat the fruit. Eating the whole fruit instead allows you to taste the sweetness along with consuming the soluble fiber that helps decrease cholesterol and help you feel fuller longer. Want another option - try making your own fresh juice or smoothie to help eliminate any added sugars.
These “unhealthy” foods are fine to have every once in awhile and can still fit into an overall healthy eating plan depending on how much or how often you choose to include them. The key here is being informed by reading the labels, then turn the package around and see what’s included in the ingredients, this is where the truth lies.