Written by: Sarah Haan, Registered Dietitian
There are many foods in today's supermarkets that aren't as good for you as you might think. Before you bite, get the facts on some of these masters of disguise, but remember: All sorts of foods and drinks can fit into a healthy diet when you enjoy them responsibly and within moderation. Just make sure you're reading labels and not being tricked into thinking the foods you're eating are better for you than they really are.
Vitamin-enriched waters put two good things together to make healthiest drink ever, right? Sounds good in theory, but vitamin waters contain far more than their name implies. Yes, they can give you your daily dose of nutrients, just like a multivitamin, but it comes with a side of sugar and calories you may not have known you ordered. A single bottle of vitamin-enriched water usually contains 2.5 servings or more when you read the nutrition label. That means you're consuming more than twice the calories and sugar listed on the label when you drink the whole thing. Water it down: Water should be your drink of choice. If you don't like the flavor of plain water, spruce it up without calories by adding lime, lemon or orange wedges to your glass. Save the vitamin and electrolyte-enhanced waters for long, intense workouts that last 90 minutes or more.
Granola can be deceiving. It appears to be filled with the whole-grain goodness of oats. What's so bad about that? It's what you don't see: all the added fat and sugar that turned those healthful oats into granola. This applies to granola bars, too. They may have a reputation as the optimal snack for healthy eaters, but many are made with added chocolate, sugars, and "chicory root extract," which is mostly inulin, a sugar made from plants that is also a source of soluable fiber. Inulin, which is largely undigestible, adds both sugar and supplemental fiber to make granola look healthier than it is. Get a grip on granola: Not all granolas deserve a bad rap. Read those labels (sugars should not be in the first two ingredients) or make your own so you know what you're eating.
Spinach wraps and pastas definitely add a decorative flair to your meal, but that's about it. The actual amount of spinach in these green tortillas and noodles is trivial compared with what you would get if you added your own spinach leaves to your wrap or pasta dish. This super green is added more for color than for nutrition, and most often, the flour used to make the pasta or wrap isn't whole grain, either. Spruce up your spinach: Add fresh spinach leaves to your pasta dish or wrap if you want to benefit from the B vitamins, fiber, iron and calcium found in spinach. Choose whole-grain (not spinach) pastas and wraps for your meals instead.
It may boast the super food "broccoli" in its name, but this creamy concoction is usually less than soup-er for you. Besides a load of full-fat cheddar cheese, what you won't see is all the melted butter and cream this soup contains. All three of these ingredients are high in unhealthy saturated fats. And just because broccoli is in the name doesn't mean you're getting a serving of vegetables when you slurp down this soup. Slim down your soup: Order a cup instead of a bowl, or make it at home using healthier substitutions like evaporated skim milk and less cheese. Don't forget to add a real serving or two of vegetables to your meal; this soup alone won't help you meet your daily quota.
Veggie chips seem like they would be a much smarter choice than regular potato chips, but it turns out most brands are about equal in calories, fat and nutrients to regular old chips. Consumer Reports states that the main ingredient for almost all veggie chips are potatoes, merely supplemented with vegetable powder or puree. Veggie chips only contain about 10 fewer calories per serving than your average potato chips. Chuck the chips: Snack on fresh, crunchy veggies for fewer calories and more nutrients than veggie chips.
Muffins may look like the perfect breakfast or snack, but in most cases, they're little more than a small cake (i.e. dessert). Not only do they resemble small planets in size, but they are also loaded with calories, unhealthy fats, refined flour and added sugars. Bran muffins can trick you into thinking they are healthful because the word "bran" is in the name, but these monsters can contain 500 calories or more and very little else in the way of nutrition! Blueberry muffins (or other fruity varieties) contain a fraction of a serving of real fruit. Muzzle the muffin top: Share these goodies with a friend and watch your portion sizes. If fruit is what you want, avoid it when it comes in muffin form. You can also make muffins at home and use healthier ingredients to make them more nutritious.
Pretzels, although a better choice than greasy potato chips, provide little more than calories. Yes, you can buy them fat free, but they're also free of any significant amount of vitamins, minerals, fiber or protein. Even pretzels labeled "honey wheat" struggle to pack 1 gram of fiber into 8 twists. If you're crunching on salted pretzels, you could be adding an extra 815 mg of sodium to your diet with each serving. Power up your pretzels: Choose whole-wheat pretzels for more fiber and filling power or pair your twists with some healthy protein (like cheese or peanut butter) to avoid spikes in blood sugar that could leave you feeling hungry and lethargic.
Wholesome yogurt + fruity raisins = yogurt-covered raisins. These must be healthy, right? Wrong. While both raisins and yogurt are nutritious foods, this packaged snack is anything but. The "yogurt" on the outside is far from the yogurt you know from the dairy aisle. Mostly sugar, oil and some dry milk and yogurt powder, that "yogurt" coating is often a source of hydrogenated oil (trans fats), which you'd never find in real yogurt. A single serving (1/4 cup) also contains about 130 calories. Skirt this yogurt: Get more nutrition for your calories by choosing real yogurt, with or without added fruit. You'll save fat and calories and avoid the sugar rush of this snack.
Calorie-free isn't synonymous with healthy. When you'[re downing more than the recommended max of 16 oz of pop per day, you may be doing harm to your body and hurting your healthy lifestyle goals. The carbonated beverage could be displacing much-needed water, which is necessary for hydration, and calcium-rich milk, which provides essential vitamins and minerals. Some sodas could even put you at risk for bone loss. Some research shows that phosphoric acid, found in dark colas, may leach calcium from your bones, increasing your risk of osteoporosis. Ditch the diet: Choose more water, tea and reduced-fat milk, aiming for 64 oz of fluid per day.
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