How many times have you gone to a restaurant, glanced at the menu full of creamy pastas, potatoes and pizzas before boldly stating to the waiter, “I’ll have the salad.”? Probably more than a few times, right? (It’s okay, we do that too, and sometimes we lovingly refer to them as Big Dumb Salads.) But did you ever stop to think about what, exactly, is IN that salad? Was it loaded with cheese, creamy dressing, croutons and things containing the word “crispy”? Chances are…that salad wasn’t as healthy for you as you may have thought.
It’s easy to think that certain foods marketed as “healthy” or “fat free” will, indeed, help make you…fat free. But many of these foods can contain higher levels of sugar, carbohydrates and chemicals that can work against you when you’re trying to stay on track. Here’s a few of the main offenders to look for.
As much as we love a mango fruit smoothie, it isn’t necessarily healthy just because it has fresh fruits in it. Think about it: If you eat an apple, you eat just one, right? And how many apples do you have to use to get a large cup of fruit juice or a smoothie? Probably more than one—which can really top the charts when it comes to sugar and calories. And many of these smoothies also include other added sweeteners, flavors and high-fat milk products.
Granola and trail mix
Oatmeal? Good. Dried fruits? Good. Nuts? Good. What’s not to like about a big bowl of granola, or a few handfuls of trail mix? If you read the nutritional labels on these products, you’ll discover that the serving sizes are typically smaller (around ¼ cup) and the calories, fat, sugar and carb content can quickly skyrocket if you eat bigger portions. It’s wise to measure these foods and to be cautious when purchasing varieties that include chocolates, candies and other junk foods.
Gluten free, vegan, organic, low-fat
Whether it’s promoted as “gluten-free,” “vegan” or “organic,” it’s no secret that these buzzwords are marketed to dieters looking for healthier choices. Unfortunately, these marketing tactics can work and we buy into the idea that cutting gluten from our diets will make us shed a few pounds—or that eating “low-fat” versions of foods like peanut butter will save hundreds of calories. While we hate to be the bearer of bad news…that fat-free ice cream probably isn’t going to be much healthier for you than the full-fat version.
A good way to avoid falling for the buzzwords: Read the label. Is the organic, low-fat, gluten-free version of that pasta really much different than its contemporaries? Probably not. Instead, try making something like spaghetti squash pasta!
This one is kind of a bummer. Many breads trick us with their “wheat” label, because we’ve been conditioned to think wheat bread is better for us than white bread. This isn’t automatically true; unless a bread specifically says “100-percent whole wheat,” it is most likely white bread with a small percentage of wheat flour mixed in.
Frozen diet meals
As appealing as it is to have a prepackaged, low-calorie and fat-free meal ready to throw in your lunch bag, most of these low-calorie “healthy meals” are filled with sodium, preservatives, and filler carbs with only a few sprigs of veggies. The better idea is to plan out your own weekly lunches and throw them in the freezer on a Sunday so you can grab and go!
Fruit cocktail/canned fruits
Fruit is an important part of our diets. So it makes sense to be able to buy it prepackaged, chopped, and ready to eat, because it’s just fruit, right? Well…unfortunately, these snacks are packed with sugary syrups and preservatives, offering little to no health benefit. You’re better off sticking with fresh fruits.
Not all protein bars are created equal. Some of them can be very beneficial when used as a supplement before or after a workout, but it’s important to read the labels before buying; many of these bars have higher sugars than proteins! If a bar has more than 200 calories and 8 grams of sugar, you may want to skip it. Also be cautious of bars with chemicals listed as the primary ingredients. Yuck!
While it’s nice to think that we can stock up on “health foods” to jumpstart our healthy diet plans, a lot of these products contain very unhealthy ingredients with clever marketing slogans that make us think they’re good for us. The best thing you can do is become a professional label reader! Keep your calories, serving sizes, sugars and carbohydrates in check—if the ingredients are primarily chemicals and preservatives, you may want to add that product to the “unhealthy” list. Fresh fruits, veggies and homemade snacks are the best bet for staying in tip-top shape.
Author: LivingWell PDX Blog
Adventist Health is committed to creating a healthier Portland community.