‘Healthy’ Foods That Aren’t

Beware of foods that may misguide you on your path to a healthier lifestyle.


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The New Year is the perfect time to reflect on the year past and to think about making positive changes for the year ahead. Many of us will resolve to lose weight and eat healthier. But beware. Noshing on so-called healthy foods is not necessarily healthy. We assume that many foods are healthier than they are because the food industry bombards us with buzzwords like “whole-grain” or “low-fat” or “organic.” “Take the example of gluten-free,” says Marianne Carter, director of the Delaware Center for Health Promotion at Delaware State University in Dover. “People who don’t even know what gluten is feel if it’s gluten-free it must be healthier and that’s not always the case. It’s all in the marketing.”

Here are 10 potential diet-busters that may not be so worthy of their good-for-you reputations:

1. Low-fat muffins
These breakfast favorites—even those labeled low fat—can pack a whopping 400 calories or more. That puts them right up there with a large chocolate cupcake with icing. For a muffin that won’t give you a “muffin top” try baking your own using ingredients like oat bran, whole-wheat flour, ground flaxseed, cinnamon, nutmeg and applesauce.

2. Diet soda 
Research shows that diet soda is not only bad for our teeth, it sets us up to crave more sweet treats. A better sip: carbonated water infused with chunks of fresh fruit or cucumber slices.

3. Fruit Juice 
A 4-oz. serving of OJ at breakfast won’t derail anyone’s diet. The problem comes in when people overindulge thinking it’s a healthier alternative to soda. “The 12-oz. glass of juice and the 12-oz. glass of soda are going to be very similar calorie-wise,” says Carter. Better to nosh on a piece of real fruit. Not only will it fill you up, it will give you the fiber and nutrients not contained in pasteurized juices.

4. Granola 
This “healthy” breakfast treat is actually packed with sugar and fat. A half-cup serving contains about 226 calories and about 16 grams of sugar. For a healthier crunch, try regular raw oats drizzled ever so lightly with honey or agave.

5. Yogurt 
Beware the flavored varieties. They often contain as much sugar and calories as your typical chocolate pudding. Better to opt for plain yogurt and add fruit or sweeten with honey, agave or nectar.

6. Dried fruit 
Snacker alert: a piece of dehydrated fruit is a fraction of the size of the original yet the two pack the same number of calories and amount of sugar. If you must indulge, pay special attention to portion size and choose unsweetened varieties.

7. Trail mix  
Prepackaged brands have taken more than a few liberties with the ingredients adding salty nuts, sweetened dried fruits and assorted candies to create a decadent dessert. Blaze your own trail with a mix of low- or no-salt raw nuts, sugar-free naturally dried fruits and pumpkin or sunflower seeds.

8. Low-fat peanut butter  
The full-fat option is actually healthier. Most reduced-fat versions are loaded with sugar, salt and additives to compensate for the fat that’s been removed. The natural stuff also contains plenty of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Then there’s the possibility of over-indulgence. “If you buy a product that you perceive to be healthier like the low-fat peanut butter, the tendency is to think you can get away with eating more and that defeats the original intent,” says Carter.

9. Reduced-calorie salad dressing 
Here again, some fat may be a good thing. Researchers at Purdue University found that many of the nutrients found in salads are fat-soluble so they are best absorbed by oil-based dressings. In addition, many of the low-fat options are loaded with sugar and sodium to compensate for the lack of oil. Better to spritz your greens with an oil mister to get the benefits without the calories.

10. Wraps 
The biggest danger of sandwich wraps is their size. A 13-inch tortilla can deliver around 300 calories. Pack it with meat, cheese, condiments and fatty sauces and you could be set back 1,000 calories. The solution? Choose fillings wisely and eat half the wrap. Take the other half home for another meal.

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