We all know that it can be somewhat tricky trying to figure out which foods to eat and which to avoid when watching our weight. One would think that all the “low-fat,” “low-cal,” “sugar-free” and “gluten-free” labels plastered on grocery store packaging would make finding the right choices a lot easier, right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Food companies often use trends in the diet industry to market their products in a way that will make them more appealing to the dieting consumer, when in fact, the claims they are making are not quite as accurate as they may seem. Here is a list of ten “health” foods you may be better off without.
1. “Wheat” Breads
It can be really tough to know which wheat bread to buy when there is so much to choose from. Whole grain, whole wheat, seven grain, multi grain…the list goes on and on, and not all of these breads are created equal. The trick here is to check the first ingredient. Ingredients such as “wheat flour” or “enriched wheat flour” are not whole wheat, and don’t offer the same health benefits. Look for “whole wheat flour” only as the first ingredient. Also, if the package claims that the bread is “made with whole grains,” it is likely not 100% whole grain. Look for that 100% to be sure.
2. Granola Bars
Not all granola bars are unhealthy, but like wheat breads, you need to read the labels carefully to know which ones to buy. Many granola bars contain sugar and calorie counts close to that of a candy bar, and offer little nutritional value. Look for a bar with 5 to 8 grams of protein, less than 10 grams of sugar, and zero trans fats.
3. Bran Muffins
Think you’re making the smarter choice when you order a bran muffin instead of that frosted doughnut for breakfast? Think again. The typical muffin packs 450 calories or more and around 35 grams of sugar, while a plain glazed doughnut clocks in at around 200 calories and 24 grams of sugar. Neither one offers much in the nutrition department, so opt instead for a breakfast sandwich like Dunkin Donut’s Egg White Wake Up Wrap when on the go.
4. Frozen Diet Meals
Aside from being tiny and unsatisfying, diet frozen dinners really don’t offer the nutritional value that a similar meal made at home from fresh ingredients would. Also, many of these microwaveable meals are packed with sodium. Your best bet is to skip these entirely and prepare fresh meals instead. Sometimes, however, busy schedules get in the way and make cooking at home impossible. If you must go frozen, choose an entrée that’s not quite as heavy on the sodium, and add some extra veggies or fruit on the side for added nutrients.
5. Veggie Chips
Don’t let the word “veggie” fool you. They are still fried, and most of these health food imposters contain the same fat and calorie content as their potato chip counterparts. In fact, many veggie chips are just potato chips made with added vegetable powders. When snack cravings strike, reach instead for carrot and celery sticks with hummus for dipping. If you must have a chip-fix, choose a veggie chip made with sliced vegetables, such as Terra Exotic Vegetable Chips. Since they are made from real vegetables, they retain more nutrients and contain less saturated fats.
6. Coconut Water
Coconut water has become very popular over the last few years, but is it really worth the hype? With zero fat, less sugar than most sports drinks and as much potassium as a banana, coconut water is marketed as a super-hydrating post-workout refresher. And while it certainly is a better choice than sodas or sugary sports drinks, it’s important to recognize that coconut water is not calorie free. An 11 oz. container has about 60 calories, and those calories can add up if you drink more than one per day. So while it won’t hurt to drink coconut water here and there, nothing is a better substitute than good ole H2O.
7. Frozen Yogurt
Contrary to popular belief, frozen yogurt is not some miracle diet substitute for ice cream. In fact, frozen yogurt is made with virtually all of the same ingredients as ice cream, making it just as caloric. The one advantage froyo does have is that it is made with yogurt instead of cream which lowers the fat content a bit, but that doesn’t mean you can eat as much of it as you want. Honestly, if ice cream is what you crave, you’re better off allowing yourself to have a little bit of the real thing in order to avoid overdoing it on the frozen yogurt or eating it as a substitute but not feeling satisfied afterward.
8. Spinach Wraps
As we learned with the veggie chips, putting the name of a vegetable in the title does not make it a healthy food item. Spinach wraps are typically made of refined white flour, and the green color comes from a combination of spinach powder and food coloring. Not only are these wraps no match for fresh spinach, but they fail to offer even one serving of vegetables. Choose a whole-wheat wrap instead, and pack it full of fresh veggies.
9. Rice Cakes
While not technically unhealthy, the problem with rice cakes is that they offer no nutritional value and do little to satiate hunger. Rice cakes have a high glycemic index, which means that they cause a temporary rise in blood sugar levels, leaving you feeling hungry soon after. They can be a good snack option when topped with a blood sugar stabilizer such as almond or peanut butter, but a better combo would be to have the nut butter on whole wheat toast with apple or banana slices.
This is a tricky one, because there are so many different kinds of smoothies on the market. While homemade smoothies are a great option because you can decide what goes into them, juice bar smoothies and pre-blended smoothies can be a little more deceptive. Many contain sugary syrups and juices made from concentrate that offer little of the nutrients found in fresh fruit and lots of added sugars, meaning extra unwanted calories in your cup. Most restaurants and juice bars keep a list of nutritional information behind the counter, so ask if you can look it over before ordering to ensure that you make the right choice. Do the same for the store-bought versions, and note that the serving size listed on the bottle may be less than the whole bottle, so keep an eye on your portions as well.