Baked, low-fat, multi-grain, gluten-free, vegan. Sometimes our efforts to make healthy choices can end up backfiring in unexpected ways. Low-fat or fat-free can come at the price of sacrificing nutrients, and gluten-free goods can pack just as many calories, sugars and fats as their full-gluten counterparts – if not more! Plus did you know, that many types of bread labeled “multi-grain” and “wheat,” are actually made with refined or bleach flour? Here are 21 seemingly-healthy foods that are not actually healthy choices. You might be surprised to find that some of these culprits are foods that you eat on a daily basis.
1 MULTI-GRAIN AND WHEAT BREADS
Terms such as “multi-grain,” “7-grain,” and “wheat” sound healthy on package labels, but the breads inside may not actually be made from heart-healthy whole grains. Many types of bread labeled “multi-grain” and “wheat” are typically made with refined grains. Whole grains, by definition, are foods that contain all the essential parts of the entire grain seed; this includes the bran, germ, and endosperm. Without processing, these components remain intact and provide more protein, fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. How can you be sure you’re getting whole grains? Read nutrition labels carefully. If the first item in the ingredient list is refined flour (it will typically say “bleached” or “unbleached enriched wheat flour”), you are not getting 100 percent whole-grain bread!
2 VEGAN BAKED GOODS
Just because a baked good is vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Popular vegan diet books, restaurants and bakeries endorse vegan cookies, cakes and breads as healthy super foods that can be enjoyed as a part of a balanced diet. Vegan products can pack just as many calories, sugar, and fat as traditional baked goods. The problem with vegan baked goods is that consumers see natural ingredients such as evaporated cane juice, agave nectar, vegan chocolate chips, and coconut oil, and make the assumption that these ingredients are healthier than traditional sugar, dairy and flour. Scary fact: commercially-available vegan chocolate frosted cupcakes contain 350 calories, 18 grams of sugar and 22 grams of fat per 2 oz. serving!
3 FROZEN YOGURT A.K.A. “FRO-YO” WITH TOPPINGS
Frozen Yogurt has been gaining popularity again in the U.S., and it is now one of the trendiest treats on the block. Commercial fro-yo shops offer self-service machines, jumbo portion sizes, and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink topping bars filled with cookies, candy, and hot fudge. Bottom line: If you frequent the corner fro-yo shop, stick to the smallest portion size and choose real fruit toppings with a tablespoon of roasted almonds or pistachios.
4 MOST COMMERCIAL JARRED PASTA SAUCE
Tomato-based pasta sauce is rich in vitamins A and C and delivers at least a serving of vegetables. What’s more, tomato products provide nearly 85% of dietary lycopene, which protects against heart disease and some cancers. But commercially-available brands are loaded with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sodium and fillers. Just ½ cup of Prego Fresh Mushroom Italian sauce has 11 grams of sugar — the same amount that’s in a glazed yeast-raised donut! To extend shelf life and taste, jarred sauces are packed with sodium and ascorbic acid. Some of your favorite pasta toppers pack well over 900 milligrams of sodium per 1-cup serving — more than a third of daily sodium intake. If you want to reap the nutritional benefits from tomato sauce, make your own with fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic and a touch of extra virgin olive oil.
5 FAT-FREE SALAD DRESSING
When trying to lose weight, salads can be the perfect lunchtime meal or light dinner. But think twice about topping your salad with fat-free dressing. Many people assume that using fat-free dressing is a healthy choice as they are saving calories. Unfortunately, by skipping a full-fat dressing, you may be missing out on fully absorbing the nutrients found in fresh vegetables. Salads are chock-full of greens, which contain fat-soluble vitamins, essential minerals and antioxidants that protect our bodies from disease, but without the addition of some fat, our bodies are unable to fully absorb the nutrients in salad. A recent study showed that eating fat with your salad significantly increased how many nutrients were absorbed compared to fat free dressing.
6 PREPARED SALADS, SUCH AS CHICKEN SALAD OR TUNA SALAD
Speaking of salads… Don’t assume that anything with the word “salad” in it is going to be healthy. Prepared tuna, chicken, and shrimp salads are often loaded with hidden fats and calories due to their high mayonnaise and oil content. While a lot depends on portion size and ingredients, an over-stuffed tuna sandwich can contain as many as 700 calories and 40 grams of fat. If you’re ordering take-out, opt for prepared salads made with low-fat mayonnaise, and keep the portion to about the size of a deck of cards. Love the idea of eating a tuna salad for lunch but fear the fat? Make your own version at home and include condiments such as Dijon mustard, yogurt, and fresh herbs!
7 REDUCED-FAT PEANUT BUTTER
Reduced-fat peanut butter is not necessarily a healthier version of regular peanut butter. Both regular and reduced-fat peanut butter contain about the same amount of calories, but the reduced-fat version has significantly more sugar. Some may ask, isn’t it healthy to cut out some fat in your diet? Not in this case. Regular peanut butter is a natural source of the “good” monounsaturated fats. In the past few years, research has shown that individuals who include nuts and nut butters in their diets are less likely to develop type II diabetes and are protected from heart disease. The verdict? Look for a natural peanut butter with an ingredient list that contains no added oils, cane sugar, or trans fats. Better yet, find a store where you can grind your own, or make your own nut butter at home.
8 ENERGY BARS
Energy bars are the perfect pre-workout snack, right? Not so fast. Many energy bars are filled with high fructose corn syrup, added sugar, and artery-clogging saturated fat. In addition, energy bars are often laden with synthetic ingredients we can’t pronounce. Some energy bars (particularly meal replacement ones) contain more than 350 calories each ― a bit more than “snack size” for most people. If you are grabbing a snack on-the-go, choose wisely: try one-quarter cup of trail mix, or 1.5 oz. of low-fat cheese and three to four small whole-grain crackers. If you must reach for an energy bar between work and the gym, opt for a version made with dried fruit, nuts, and whole grains and avoid chocolate-coated bars, which tend to be higher in sugar, fat and calories.
9 BRAN MUFFINS
Most bran muffins, even those sold at delis and coffee shops, are made with generally healthy ingredients. Bran is rich in fiber, omega three fats, protein, vitamins and minerals. The problem with today’s commercially available bran muffin is the portion size. Many muffins sold in stores dwarf the homemade muffins made a generation ago. A random sampling of some coffee and restaurant chain bran muffins showed that many topped 350 calories apiece, and that’s before any butter or jam. In addition, the bran muffins at a popular bakery chain contain 600mg of sodium ― roughly one-third of a day’s maximum. Even a healthful food, if over-consumed, can be not-so-healthful. Enjoy your bran muffin, but eat half, and save the rest for an afternoon snack. If you want to save money and calories, bake your own muffins using mini-muffin tins.
10 STORE-BOUGHT SMOOTHIES
Most smoothie chains and coffee bars start out with good intentions and healthy ingredients. Smoothies often begin with a “base” of blended fruit, yogurt and low-fat dairy. The problem with this seemingly-healthy option is disproportionately large serving sizes (the smallest size available is often 16 oz.) combined with added sugar, ice cream, and flavored syrups. Commercially-available smoothies often include a half dozen add-in ingredients. The resulting combination racks up a hefty amount of fat and sugar that can reach anywhere from 500-600 calories!