Wednesday, 24 May 2017

51 'Healthy' Foods that Really Aren't

Health Food Imposter #1: “Digestion-Aiding” Yogurt


You may have seen the commercials advertising some brands of yogurt as a digestive-health aid, but that doesn’t mean you should believe the hype, says Tamara Freuman, a registered dietitian specializing in digestive disorders and weight management in New York City. Many yogurts claiming to be healthy are actually loaded with processed ingredients, sugar and fructose, which are red flags for people with irritable bowel syndrome (they tend to be more sensitive to excess sugar), explains Freuman. And she adds that she’d never recommend these types of yogurts to her clients.
The Better Pick: Freuman recommends Green Valley Organics’ lactose-free yogurt for those with digestive issues. “It's easier on stomachs (digestively), and contains a blend of 10 live and active probiotics cultures for digestive health benefits, has a plain, no added sugar flavor (as well as lower-sugar flavors), and a short, recognizable ingredient list devoid of highly-processed food additives,” she says. Another bonus? Probiotics may help you lose more weight! If you're not a fan of yogurt try supplementing with acidophilus to get the same benefits of probiotics. (It's usually sold in health food stores as a pill or in powder form).

Health Food Imposter #2: Special K Cereal

When it comes to a breakfast of champions, a bowl of Special K is the last thing Freuman recommends eating. Why? “It is incredibly low in satiating fiber (as in, it has zero grams), and is composed almost entirely of refined rice flour, which is among the highest glycemic flours available,” she says. High-glycemic foods spike blood sugar levels, producing a strong insulin response that can lead to a major blood sugar crash not long after, making you hungry again soon after eating, explains Freuman.
The Better Pick: Look for a cereal that contains 100 percent whole grains, with at least 5g of fiber and less than 8g of sugar per serving, says Freuman. Some great tasting healthy choices include Post Grape Nuts (7g fiber, 5g sugar), Fiber One Honey Clusters (13 g fiber, 6g sugar) and Kashi’s Heart to Heart Honey Toasted Oat (5g fiber, 5g sugar). Better yet, Freuman recommends starting your day off with a bowl of steel cut oatmeal with cinnamon.

Health Food Imposter #3: Raisin Bran

This is another cereal that sounds good for you, but don’t let the word ‘bran’ in Raisin Bran fool you. One serving of this cereal packs in 19 grams of sugar per serving (in comparison, a half cup of vanilla ice cream has only 15 grams), says Freuman. And while some of that sugar comes naturally from the raisins, acknowledges Freuman, your body can't tell the difference.
The Better Pick: Freuman recommends making your own, higher-fiber, lower-sugar version instead: Start with a plain bran cereal and then add in some fresh fruit, like berries, for a low-sugar, fiber-filled healthy breakfast.

Health Food Imposter #4: Bottled or Store-Bought Smoothies

“I'm not sure how juice diets and juice fasts became equated with health,” says Freuman, who says she once had an overweight client that would drink fruit smoothies everyday thinking she was being healthy because the label read ‘no added sugar.’ This is very deceiving Freuman says, since fruit juice is pure sugar and devoid of protein and fiber. And forget smoothie shops, she says, where portion sizes are out of control. Many of their power-sized smoothies contain between 95-125 grams of sugar, which is the equivalent of four candy bars, says Freuman.
The Better Pick: Your best bet is to make your own smoothie at home where you can control what goes into it -- all you’ll need is a blender, your favorite fruits and maybe a little ice, water or juice.
If you have to grab something on the go, Freuman recommends trying low-sugar, high-protein, probiotics-rich kefir, a fermented milk drink that tastes similar to yogurt.

Health Food Imposter #5: Frozen ‘Diet’ Dinners

Don’t let clever marketing slogans like ‘farm picked’ on the box deceive you into thinking these are anything more than a low-calorie frozen dinner, says Christina Pirello, author of Cooking the Whole Foods Way: Your Complete, Everyday Guide to Healthy, Delicious Eating and host of the Christina Cooks TV series. “All veggies are picked from a farm, it’s just a meaningless phrase designed to make you think this frozen dinner is somehow fresh from the farm stand, when in fact, it’s anything but,” Pirello says. With ingredients like modified corn starch, onion powder, whey protein concentrate, xanthan gum, mono and diglycerides, these meals have little to do with nature, she says. Sure, they may be low cal, but that doesn't mean they're healthy or anywhere near natural.
The Better Pick: There aren’t a lot of good frozen dinner options out there, says Pirello, so it’s best to make your own meals whenever possible. But if you can't, Pirello recommends buying Amy’s Organics meals. “Amy's is the real deal. They are a family-owned company committed to quality,” she says.

Health Food Imposter #6: Protein Bars

If you think grabbing a protein bar is a healthy option for a snack or a meal replacement, you may want to reconsider. “Protein bars are all just processed chemicals,” says Garth Davis, M.D. a bariatric surgeon at The Davis Clinic in Houston, Texas and author of The Expert’s Guide to Weight Loss Surgery. Dr. Davis says the body can only handle about 10-15 grams of protein at one time, so eating a protein bar with anything higher than that is a waste. Not to mention, many protein bars contain as much (sometimes more) sugar than candy bars! “I see so many patients that come to see me complaining that they are eating correctly but not losing weight. Invariably, they are using lots of protein supplements,” says Davis.
The Better Pick: Davis recommends sticking with real food instead of bars. He suggests having easy grab-and-go snacks such as a handful of walnuts, an apple or carrots with hummus, or Ezekiel bread with almond butter for a more balanced and satisfying snack.

Health Food Imposter #7: 100-Calorie Snack Packs

Just because a bag of chips or cookies is only 100 calories doesn’t turn it into a healthy food. “Manufacturers and advertisers alike are tuning into the concept of 100-calorie meals and trying to confuse you while working this to their dollar advantage,” says Dian Griesel, Ph.D., a nutritionist and co-author of TurboCharged: Accelerate Your Fat Burning Metabolism, Get Lean Fast. Griesel says packaged foods like these are still high in carbohydrate and fat, and they're easy to overeat. “This will immediately spike your insulin levels, once again putting your body back on the fat storage, depression-oriented roller coaster,” she says.
The Better Pick: Forget pricey snack packs and stick with real food that will fill you up, not out. Griesel recommends any of these 100-calorie-or-less snack ideas: Five fresh apricots, 40 blackberries, a one-inch cube of cheddar cheese, 15 shrimp or one cup of vegetable soup.

Health Food Imposter #8: Sweetened Cranberries

Dried cranberries are only masquerading as healthy food? But how could that be? “One-third of a cup contains about as much added sugar as an 8-ounce serving of regular soda,” says Michelle Dudash, a registered dietitian, chef and author of Clean Eating for Busy Families. Craisins, for example, contain at least 40 percent added sugar, says Dudash, effectively removing them from the "health food" category.
The Better Pick: Skip sweetened dried fruits and grab some plain cranberries, apricots or dates instead. While these dried fruits do include naturally occurring sugar, at least you're getting 100 percent real fruit and all of their nutrients. Raisins, for example, contain almost 20 times more potassium than sweetened dried cranberries, says Dudash.


Health Food Imposter #9: Multi-Grain Bread

Not all multigrain and wheat breads are created equal -- some may not even contain ‘whole’ grains, and be high in sugar and low in fiber, says Rachel Berman, a registered dietitian, member of the American Dietitian Association and director of nutrition for Calorie Count.com. “Read the package for the words "whole grain" to ensure that's what you are getting,” Berman says.
The Better Pick: Berman recommends looking for a product with a label that reads 100-percent whole grain and check the ingredient list. “If the first ingredient is a whole grain (whole wheat, whole oat, whole rye) it's likely a large percentage of that product really is whole grain since the list is organized by concentration,” she says. (Berman likes Arnold’s 100% Whole Wheat Bread).

Health Food Imposter #10: Vegetarian ‘Meat’

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking all vegetarian food is healthy, says Berman. While some brands can be good for you, read nutrition labels carefully when deciding on which option is best for you. “Typically, soy products are highly processed and can contain tons of additives and sodium,” warns Berman.
The Better Pick: If you are in the market for a good meat substitute, Berman recommends looking for a veggie burger that is all natural (she likes Dr. Praeger's) and not too high in sodium (under 500 mg).

Health Food Imposter #11: Turkey Bacon

“Turkey Bacon sounds like a healthier option, but a couple of slices can cost you about 400 mg of sodium and a plethora of unpronounceable ingredients,” says Berman. And depending on what brand you choose, some turkey bacon contains about the same calories and fat per slice as pork bacon, with an even higher sodium content.
The Better Pick: Berman says you are better off sticking with fresh turkey or trying an all-natural brand of turkey bacon like Applegate Farms.

Health Food Imposter #12: Bran Muffins

Store bought bran muffins can pack in between 350-500 calories, and some contain more than 15 grams of fat (hello muffin top). “While they might contain bran, which does has fiber, but it often gets lost among ingredients like butter, sugar and flour,” explains Berman.
The Better Pick: Make lighter bran muffins at home with a pre-made mix like Bob’s Red Mill Bran Muffin Mix and make smaller muffins to control portion size. If you have to grab one on the go, split it in half and share it (or take it home for later) to help reduce the amount of calories and fat you'll take in.

Health Food Imposter #13: Rice Cakes

These little light and airy snacks have made their way into every dieter’s menus because of their low-calorie content. Sadly, while they may be almost calorie-free, they are also devoid of any nutrients (and taste) and aren’t doing you, or your waistline, any favors. “They are straight, simple carbohydrates. They aren't providing you with any nutrition to help keep you satisfied,” says Berman.
The Better Pick: There are plenty of snacks you can munch on without ruining your calorie count for the day. Berman recommends air-popped popcorn. “It’s a whole grain and it's very filling -- you can have 3 cups for under 100 calories,” she says.

Health Food Imposter #14: Margarine

This spread is often touted as the healthier alternative to butter, but is it really? No! “What’s in margarine? Hope you’ve got a minute: Liquid canola oil, water, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, plant stanol esters, salt, emulsifiers (vegetable mono- and diglycerides, soy lecithin), hydrogenated soybean oil, potassium sorbate, citric acid and calcium disodium EDTA to preserve freshness, artificial flavor, DL-alpha-Tocopheryl acetate, and vitamin A palmitate,” says Carol Cottrill, a certified nutritional consultant and author of The French Twist. Whoa, that's a lot of stuff. And while margarine is cholesterol free, says Cottrill, your cholesterol reading has more to do with the mix of fats in your bloodstream rather one particular food.
The Better Pick: Butter. “What’s in butter? Cream and salt. One tablespoon of unsalted butter contains 100 calories, 11 g total fat, 7g saturated fat, 0 trans fat, 30 mg cholesterol and 2mg sodium. Margarine and its 87 calories, 10 grams of fat, and 98 mg of sodium is the clear loser here.

Health Food Imposter #15: Bottled Salad Dressings

You use it on healthy salads and veggies -- how bad can it be? “Look at the label,” says Cottrill. “You’ll find little more than preservatives, hydrogenated fats, fillers and excess sodium. Two tablespoons of bottled dressing add up to 120 calories (who uses just 2 tablespoons?) 12g of fat, 2.5g of saturated fat and 360mg of sodium.” Definitely enough to ruin a healthy meal!
The Better Pick: Cottrill says your best bet is to ditch the bottle and make your own dressing. She recommends trying this simple recipe: In wide-mouth jar mix one part champagne vinegar, two parts extra-virgin olive oil, one tablespoon of mustard and freshly ground salt and pepper to taste. Shake and serve. “It’s simple, delicious health, and free of additives.” If you're looking for something simpler try a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice and olive oil or mix equal amounts of olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dress your salad.

Health Food Imposter #16: Granola Bars

Trying to make a healthy choice at snack time? Skip the granola bars, says Cottrill; you're better off eating a cookie! “A cookie and a granola bar each weigh in at about 170 calories, but if the cookie is homemade you’re much better off,” she says. Most granola bars are high in fat, sugar and filled with high-fructose corn syrup, which one is one of the quickest ways to experience a sugar high followed by a crash, says Cottrill.
The Better Pick: If you need a portable snack, go for a handful of almonds instead. Just one ounce (23 almonds) contains 35 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin E, fiber, the essential fatty-acids omega 3 and 6, zinc, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and their monounsaturated healthy fat keeps you satisfied for hours -- all for the same 170 calories per ounce, says Cottrill.

Health Food Imposter #17: Roasted Nuts

Nuts in their raw form are completely healthy, but the minute they are heated in the roasting process, they lose most of their health benefits, explains Traci D. Mitchell, a certified sports nutritionist based in Chicago, Illinois. Why? “The fat in nuts is largely polyunsaturated. Polyunsaturated fats are extremely fragile and oxidize (go bad) very quickly when they're exposed to air and heat. Oxidized fats are a breeding ground for free radicals, and free radicals damage our body much in the same way rust damages a car.”
The Better Pick: Keep eating nuts, says Mitchell; just go for the raw, unroasted varieties for a healthier option.

Health Food Imposter #18: Trail Mix

With ingredients like nuts, dried fruit and a few pieces of chocolate, trail mix can be healthy a choice. The trouble with the trail mix is how much we tend to eat of it, says Rania Batayneh, a certified nutritionist, eating strategist and owner of Essential Nutrition for You in San Francisco, California. Three tablespoons of trail mix typically contains 160 calories, 10 grams of fat, 9 grams of sugar and 5 grams of protein, Batayneh says. But who eats just three tablespoons? It’s easy to eat as much as a full cup, which can set you back about 850 calories and a whopping 50 grams of fat! Plus, a lot of packaged trail mixes also contain more than just raisins and peanuts – they add artificial coloring, beeswax and oil, Batayneh says.
The Better Pick: You are better off making your own mix with nuts, dried fruit and dark chocolate chips and then ‘bulk’ it up with high-fiber, unsweetened cereal or popcorn, so you can eat a little more of it, says Batayneh.


Health Food Imposter #19: Instant Oatmeal Packets

Oatmeal is a healthy food, as long you pick the right kind. The problem with instant oatmeal is that it has been processed, so it’s broken down more quickly in your body, says Batayneh. As a result, it has a higher glycemic index, which leaves you with unstable blood sugar levels. A lot of instant oatmeal is also flavored, meaning it probably contains artificial flavorings and a lot of sugar, she explains.
The Better Pick: Batayneh recommends sticking with plain oatmeal and sprinkle in some blueberries, cinnamon, walnuts or a little maple syrup to add some flavor. And switch from instant packets to microwavable steel cut oatmeal for a breakfast that is still quick to make, but less processed.


Health Food Imposter #20: Spinach (or Other 'Veggie') Boxed Pasta

Sorry, just because the pasta is green doesn’t mean it can count as your vegetable, says Batayneh. “These pastas often contain negligible amounts of vegetables (spinach is the last ingredient in one major brand), and in fact, only contain spinach mostly for coloring purposes,” she says.
The Better Pick: Eat your veggies in their natural form to get all their nutritional (and fiber) benefits, recommends Batayneh. Make your own spinach pasta: Cook some whole-wheat pasta and stir in some raw spinach just before serving for a true spinach pasta dish.

Health Food Imposter #21: Gluten-Free or Organic Cookies

“Phrases like ‘gluten-free’ and ‘organic’ are health halos, meaning that they make consumers believe the product is healthier and less caloric than its regular counterparts,” says Batayneh. The truth is, organic or gluten-free cookies contain just as many calories, fat and sugar (sometimes more), and you may be more likely to eat more of them thinking they're healthy or nutritious, she says. “But a cookie is a cookie, no matter what adjective comes in front of it.”
The Better Pick: If you are craving something sweet, have a little dark chocolate for a dessert with more antioxidant power. If you really need a cookie, stick with the serving size and enjoy every bite. If you can, make your own cookies with whole-wheat flour and other natural ingredients to cut down on artificial ingredients and/or trans fats that can end up in packaged cookies.

Health Food Imposter #22: Yogurt Covered Raisins

“They sound like the perfect snack -- vitamin-rich dried fruit and protein-packed yogurt -- but the so-called “yogurt” on these raisins isn’t yogurt at all; it’s a coating made of oil, sugar and yogurt powder,” says Batayneh. “What’s more, the oil is often partially hydrogenated, which means those yogurt-covered raisins contain trans fats.” Yikes!
The Better Pick: Eat the real deal instead, recommends Batayneh. “A quarter cup serving of yogurt-covered raisins contains 130 calories, 5 grams of fat, 19 g sugar and 1 gram of protein, while a 3/4 cup serving of nonfat Greek yogurt has 100 calories, 7 grams of sugar and 18 grams of protein, leaving you plenty of caloric room for a sprinkling of raisins or blueberries.”

Health Food Imposter #23: Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter

Anything with less fat seems like it would be a healthier choice, but in reality, it’s not, says Karen Graham, SmartNutritionbyKG.com a registered dietitian and member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Reduced-fat peanut butters are usually junk. Often when they remove the fat from a product they have to manipulate the ingredients to make up for the lost flavor and texture, so manufacturers usually replace the fat with sugar.” Plus many brands use ingredients like corn syrup solids and hydrogenated vegetable oil, Graham says.
The Better Pick: “Avoiding fat is not always the best way to be healthy,” says Graham. “Eating food in its most natural state is.” For the healthiest option, she recommends choosing an all-natural peanut butter that lists ingredients like peanuts and maybe a little salt, but that’s it.

Health Food Imposter #24: Non-Dairy Ice Cream

Hoping that switching to that non-dairy version of your favorite ice cream flavor will slim you down? Don’t count on it. “Non-dairy ice cream means no dairy,” says Graham. “It does not mean no fat, no sugar or no calories.” If you compare non-dairy ice cream with the regular stuff, most are similar (some are even higher) in terms of their fat, calorie and sugar content. Non-dairy ice creams brands aren't healthier, they're just better for those of us with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance, Graham says.
The Better Pick: If you are lactose intolerant, or just truly want a healthier version of ice cream, consider slicing some ripe bananas and freezing them, then use a blender to turn them into your own frozen treat. You can additional mix-ins, like frozen strawberries (no syrup), to flavor your "ice cream."

Health Food Imposter #25: Flavored Almond Milk

Almond milk can be a healthy, non-dairy alternative, especially since it’s fortified with calcium and vitamin D, says Graham. But it’s the flavored almond milk you need to watch out for -- vanilla almond milk contains as much as 15 grams of sugar per serving, which is more than a serving of chocolate ice cream, says Graham.
The Better Pick: Graham suggests sticking with plain, unsweetened varieties to keep this non-dairy alternative to milk a healthy choice.

Health Food Imposter #26: Frozen Yogurt

If you thought switching from ice cream to frozen yogurt was better for your health (and waistline), think again. “Frozen yogurt is no healthier than ice cream,” Graham says. While some brands are lower in fat than ice cream, many are higher in sugar. And what about those new fro-yo chains that claim their product contains "live active cultures" that are good for your digestive health? “The truth is, frozen yogurt is not a viable source of active cultures; between the extreme temperatures, the shelf life and the manufacturing process of the frozen yogurt, it is highly doubtful that any of those bacteria exist upon ingestion,” she says.
The Better Pick: if you really want ice cream, satisfy your craving with a serving of the real deal. Dr. Oz recommends buying slow-churned varieties – which have about half the fat of premium ice cream.

Health Food Imposter #27: Canned Soups

While some soups can be full of veggies, canned soups aren’t always your best option. The average cup of canned soup packs in a whopping 1,000 milligrams of salt (that’s almost half your recommended sodium intake for the day), says Cottrill. Many canned soups also include artificial preservatives such as monosodium glutamate, also known as MSG. It's probably wise to stay away from MSG -- it's been known to cause reactions including headaches, tightness in the chest, nausea, rapid heartbeat and drowsiness, Cottrill says.
The Better Pick: Cottrill recommends making your own soup at home to control salt content and eliminate the need for preservatives altogether. But if you just don’t have time to make your own from scratch, look for brands like Amy’s Organics that offer low-sodium options sans preservatives.

Health Food Imposter #28: Microwave Popcorn

Popcorn can be a healthy, low-cal snack says Cottrill. The problem with microwave popcorn is that depending on the brand and flavor you choose, prepackaged kernels may contain high levels of sodium and sugar, she says. “And the latest concern in microwave popcorn involves perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical coating on the inside of microwave popcorn bags that may be carcinogenic, and diacetyl, a chemical used in some artificial butter flavorings, which has been linked to lung problems in workers at microwave popcorn factories,” she says.
The Better Pick: Steer clear of any potential carcinogens and chemicals by creating your own healthy version with some popcorn kernels and a paper bag, suggests Cottrill. For about 3 1/2 cups of popcorn, pour 3-4 tablespoons of kernels into a standard lunch-size brown paper bag. Fold over the top of the bag and microwave it for about one to two minutes (it’s done when the popping slows down) and then add your own seasonings. If you prefer a packaged option, try Newman’s Own Organic Unsalted Pop’s Corn, with an ingredient list of only two words: organic popcorn. Pop it and add your own toppings.

Health Food Imposter #29: Flavored or Vitamin Water

Judging by their advertisements some enhanced waters sound like they are as good for you as a multivitamin! Don’t be swayed into thinking these flavored versions are good for you though, many contain artificial flavorings, sweeteners, sugar or even caffeine, says Cottrill.
The Better Pick: Save your money and stick with plain old water. With zero calories and no artificial ingredients, it will always be superior to its enhanced cousin, Cottrill says. And if you need to add a little kick to your water, try sparkling water with a sprig of fresh mint or a splash of lime juice to perk it up without adding calories or artificial ingredients.

Health Food Imposter #30: Banana Chips

Banana chips sure sound like they’d make a healthy snack, but nutritionally they are far inferior to their original fruit source. “Banana chips don’t contain the same nutrients that bananas do, plus they're fried,” says Cottrill. That makes one ounce of these healthy-sounding chips about 147 calories. A medium banana only has 105.
The Better Pick: “Keep it real,” says Cottrill. Stick with a plain banana to get fiber, potassium, vitamin C and a lot less calories and fat.

Health Food Imposter #31: V8 Juice

Could've had a V8? Better that you didn't. One glass of V8 vegetable juice 20 percent of your recommended sodium intake for the day, says Cottrill. While V8 juice does contain vitamins and minerals, it has zero fiber -- one of the main benefits of eating vegetables.
The Better Pick: While V8 does make a low-sodium option, it doesn't improve its fiber content and it's still processed and canned. Cottrill recommends eating the actual tomatoes, carrots, beets, spinach, watercress, parsley, lettuce and celery found in V8 in their original form to get in some great nutrition and fiber too. And studies show that boosting your daily produce intake can help keep extra pounds at bay, so skip the glass and grab a fork instead.

Health Food Imposter #32: Fruit Juices

With labels like “no added sugar” and “all natural,” fruit juices seem like a healthy hydration option, but many are loaded with additives, sugar and excess calories -- some of them aren't much better than soda. Even if you stick with 100 percent juice you could end up consuming too many calories and sugar (even though it’s naturally occurring), says Cottrill.
The Better Pick: Eat the actual fruit instead! Think of it this way, says Cottrill: “To produce an 8-ounce glass of juice, three to four apples are needed. Each of these apples contains about 3.75 grams of dietary fiber, for a total of about 12-15 grams, all of which are lost in the production of clear apple juice.” If you consumed the actual apples instead, you’d take in an extra 12-15 grams of fiber, which could double your daily average fiber intake, she says.

Health Food Imposter #33: Bottled Green Tea

You’ve probably heard all about the health benefits of green tea -- it’s great for weight loss, rich in antioxidants and good for your heart. But with SoBe Green Tea packing up to 61 grams of sugar per bottle and Lipton’s Diet Green Tea full of belly bloating artificial sweeteners per bottle, most bottled versions aren’t necessarily a healthy pick.
The Better Pick: Brew your own cup or look for bottled versions like Honest Tea, which contain only 18 grams of sugar per 16.9 ounce bottle (the equivalent of about one tablespoon of honey). “Green tea is a great source for natural energy as it contains anti-oxidants and contains zero calories on its own," says Batayneh.

Health Food Imposter #34: Pretzels

This salty snack food may be lower in fat than potato chips, but they are basically empty calories that won’t really satisfy you, says Cottrill. “The lack of healthy fat in pretzels leads to a lack of satiety, which may explain the tendency to devour the entire bag.” Not to mention, she says, one serving provides nearly a quarter of the sodium a person needs each day.
The Better Pick: Snack on some raw nuts instead! “They offer a variety of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, plus they pack some protein and fiber, and just a few will keep your hunger pangs in check,” she says.

Health Food Imposter #35: Vegetable Chips

While some veggie chips are lower in fat and calories than regular potato or tortilla chips, they still aren’t a health food, says Matilde Parente, M.D., a physician, biomedical consultant and author of Resveratrol. They may be made from vegetables but a chip is still a chip, and these veggie versions can still pack in plenty of sugar, salt and fat per serving. Plus, you might be likely to overindulge because you believe they're healthier than real potato chips.
The Better Pick: For a true healthy snack, Parente recommends ditching chip-type snacks altogether and eating real vegetables instead. “Grape tomatoes are easy to pack, neat to eat, sweet and loaded with nutrients.” If you need something crunchy, Parente suggests munching on some fennel slices for a crisp and refreshing snack.

Health Food Imposter #36: Sun Chips

The bag reads "30 percent less fat with 18 grams of whole grains" -- sounds like a healthy snack, right? While better than most potato chips, these still aren’t nutritional superstars, and again, it's easy to eat more than one-ounce serving (which has 140 calories and 6g fat). “Assuming many people will consume two servings at a sitting (a reasonable assumption), do you really think it's good to consume nearly one-fifth of your daily value of fat in a crunch-through that lasts about five minutes?” asks Parente.
The Better Pick: Parente recommends sticking with real food snacks instead of a lower-cal chip: “Jicama sticks have a great crunch -- sprinkle them with a bit of a flavored salt and you'll still get far less sodium than what you'd typically eat in chips.” Even better? Try some unsalted nuts for a more protein-packed (read: satisfying) snack.

Health Food Imposter #37: Pop Chips

Their nutritional profile is almost on par with Sun Chips (though original flavor Pop Chips actually contain slightly lessfiber), but these little bite-size chips still pack in a nice wallop of sodium (190 mg) per serving. They may be lower in fat and calories, but they are still a mindless snack food, says Parente.
The Better Pick: Parente suggests sprinkling a smoked, spiced or herbed salt on fresh, crunchy vegetables instead. “You'll use less salt because they are so flavor-dense, and get all the natural food goodness.” Parente loves Salt Works’ Smokehouse Trio. “A little goes a long way,” she says.

Health Food Imposter #38: Breakfast Cereal Bars

Many brands tout whole grains, real fruit and fiber on their labels, but are they really a healthy choice for breakfast? Not exactly. These bars are more of a convenience food, and shouldn’t be considered healthy, says Parente. One look at their nutritional info and you'll see low amounts of protein, fiber, 10-12 grams of sugar, plus a long list full of artificial flavors and ingredients.
The Better Pick: Don’t let your nutrition suffer in the name of convenience. Parente recommends grabbing fiber filled fruits like bananas or apples along with a handful of peanuts or a hardboiled egg instead of these packaged bars for a travel-friendly breakfast.

Health Food Imposter #39: Whole-Grain Pop Tarts

Sorry kids, just because they have the words" whole grain" is in the title doesn’t mean Pop Tarts suddenly became good for you. “We need to wean ourselves from these mouth-fillers that aren't really foods, whose packaging includes words or images that get us to believe we are eating something healthy,” says Parente. Despite 5g of fiber, Parente says Pop Tarts still fall into a category she calls "food-like substances" that can’t substitute nutritious food. Parente points out, for example, that strawberry Pop-Tarts contain zero potassium and vitamin C, compared to the 150 mg of potassium (74 percent the daily recommended amount of Vitamin C) in a half a cup of real strawberries.
The Better Pick: Would you serve your child a candy bar for breakfast? Two Pop Tarts have about 26 grams of sugar -- most candy bars have between 19-30 grams! Skip the Pop Tarts and start your kids’ day off right with a serving of real strawberries, or all-fruit, low-sugar fruit spread and whole-grain toast instead.

Health Food Imposter #40: Coconut Milk

This is a tricky one, as coconut milk does have some health benefits, but it's also high in fat food. Just two ounces of regular coconut milk contains 11 grams of fat, says Holly Kistler, a registered dietitian for BistroMD. If you plan to use coconut milk for cooking, Kistler recommends sticking with the light version to save on fat. If you're considering it as milk replacement, keep in mind that coconut milk doesn't have the same healthy dose of protein that cow’s milk does, Kistler says. And watch out for flavored coconut milk beverages -- many can include a lot of added sugar.
The Better Pick: If you need a non-dairy alternative to milk, Kistler recommends trying unsweetened almond milk instead, as it’s a lower-fat, lower-calorie option.

Health Food Imposter #41: Splenda (Plain or with Fiber)

“Although there haven’t been any conclusive long-term studies on Splenda, short-term studies have found that heavy use resulted in shrunken thymus glands, an enlarged liver and kidney disorders in rats,” says Batayneh. Many experts believe that the use of artificial sweeteners can actually cause weight gain, by training your taste buds to crave even more sugary tasting foods and drinks. And the added fiber Splenda is not a benefit, says Batayneh. “That just encourages unhealthy eating habits: Consumers are misled and taught to get their fiber from sugar, as opposed to whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts.” Bad idea.
The Better Pick: Go for honey instead -- it's all natural! While it has about 44 calories per tablespoon, it has a low glycemic index compared with other sweeteners.

Health Food Imposter #42: Skinny Cow Chocolate Bars

“Skinny Cow Chocolate Bars contain fewer calories, fat and sugar than standard candy bars, but that’s because they’re smaller in size,” says Batayneh. And while their smaller size does help with portion control, they contain some pretty unhealthy ingredients like hydrogenated oils – a.k.a. trans fats -- as well as microcrystalline cellulose (wood pulp), high-fructose corn syrup and other additives, preservatives and chemicals, she says.
The Better Pick: Indulge your sweet tooth with a serving of real chocolate ice cream (perhaps slow churned?) or a few squares of dark chocolate instead, recommends Batayneh.

Health Food Imposter #43: Corn Syrup-Free Ketchup

More data is needed to analyze the long-term effects of high-fructose corn syrup consumption, says Kistler. But if you are looking for ways to cut back on it, be aware the ketchup just uses regular sugar instead. (Pretty much all ketchup contains some form of sugar). Don’t be fooled into thinking that anything sans high-fructose corn syrup is better for your body.
The Better Pick: Try an organic brand like Annie’s Naturals, which has sugar content similar to other brands (2g per tablespoon), but has an ingredient list you can pronounce.

Health Food Imposter #44: Reduced-Sugar Syrup

Yes, reduced-sugar and sugar-free syrups contain fewer calories and sugar than regular varieties, but they also pack a lot of unhealthy and unnatural ingredients, Batayneh says. To make up for the missing sugar, many contain a mix of artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols to add thickness, and caramel color -- which has been shown to cause lung, liver and thyroid cancers in mice -- and plenty of preservatives, she says.
The Better Pick: Batayneh recommends going with the real stuff instead. Although the term “natural” in unregulated by the FDA, natural is better in this case: Real maple syrup is the best there is. Yes it contains sugar, but it’s also full of immune boosting nutrients like magnesium and zinc.

Health Food Imposter #45: Lunchables

Another kid-friendly product, these pre-packed lunch trays seem harmless enough. At first glance. Look closer, says Mary Hartley, a registered dietitian and online nutritionist at AskMaryRD.com. “Lunchables are convenient, but full of additives; the ham is ‘chopped and formed.’" Gross. That's just the beginning – it has a long list of other unnatural (sometimes unpronounceable) ingredients that aren’t any better, Hartley says. “Plus they cost a fortune. Is lunch that hard to make?”
The Better Pick: Pack your own lunchables. Chances are you’ll save money and pack more nutrition into your child’s lunchbox. If your kid loves the fun factor of Lunchables.

Health Food Imposter #46: Vodka Sauce in a Jar

“The problem with pink vodka sauce is the cream; a particular sauce may contain a lot or a little,” says Hartley. “Add vodka and cheese and it will always have more calories than a simple red sauce.” Check the labels -- several jarred options we found listed 11 grams of fat (or more) per four ounce serving, which can easily turn your pasta dish into a high-calorie, high-fat meal.
The Better Pick: Hartley recommends shopping for spaghetti sauces that are low in sodium and saturated fats and high in vitamins A and C. Or, make your own with low-sodium, canned crushed or diced tomatoes.

Health Food Imposter #47: Spinach Tortilla Wraps

These sound healthy in theory, but they aren’t even close to the real thing, says Hartley. “If you are looking for the nutrients in spinach -- vitamins A, B, C and lots of minerals --don’t expect to find them here,” explains Hartley, who says spinach wraps are made of white flour and colored with blue dye No. 1 and yellow No. 5, with just a sprinkling of powdered spinach.
The Better Pick: Hartley recommends going with a 100 percent whole grain wrap instead for a higher fiber count. You can use fresh spinach to wrap to make it even healthier.


Health Food Imposter #48: Whole-Grain Boxed Mac n’ Cheese

“With 5 grams of fiber per serving, compared to only one gram in the original, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese made with 50 percent whole grains is an improvement in the fiber department,” says Hartley. But don’t let that trick you into thinking it’s suddenly become a healthy food. “Macaroni and Cheese [from a box] is still a highly processed food loaded with too much salt and yellow dye (to make that orange cheese). Each box contains 2.5 servings, so a whole box has 650 calories and 1475 mg of sodium. That’s way too much for anyone, especially a kid,” she says.
The Better Pick: If you must eat Mac ‘n Cheese, use skim milk, less butter and eat the recommended portion with at least half a plate full of vegetables, suggests Hartley. Or better yet, make your own from real ingredients, not orange cheese.

Health Food Imposter #49: Blue Corn Chips

You may have heard it’s a good idea to eat a "rainbow of foods," but don’t let that persuade you into thinking blue corn chips count towards that goal, says Batayneh. Blue corn chips are salted and fried just like regular corn chips, and can contain similar amount of calories and fat.
The Better Pick: If you really want a healthier alternative to tortilla chips, snack on some whole-wheat pita chips to add some fiber to your crunch.


Health Food Imposter #50: Baked Beans

Beans, with their healthy doses of fiber and protein, are a healthy addition to any meal, Batayneh says. Unfortunately, baked beans are a messy mix of pinto beans, sugar, syrup and molasses with an unnecessarily high calorie counts, she says.
The Better Pick: Stick with unadulterated pinto beans instead, Batayneh recommends. “They contain 40 fewer calories per and 23 grams of sugar per cup.” And their fiber and protein helps you feel full longer.

Health Food Imposter #51: Gluten-Free Pizza


Chains like Domino’s pizza are coming out with gluten-free versions of their signature dishes, but does that mean you should order one the next time you're in the mood for a slice? “Unless you have a gluten intolerance, there’s no reason to spring for gluten-free pizza,” Batayneh says. “Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and a number of other grains that is responsible for the springy texture found in bread and pizza crust. To make up for the loss of texture and taste, food manufacturers add in sugar, fat and other additives. The end result? Your gluten-free pizza may contain more calories, sugar and fat and be more processed than the original version,” she says.
The Better Pick: If you're in the mood for pizza, order thin crust with veggies on top for a truly healthier option. Better yet, make your own at home with whole-wheat pizza dough.

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