You try to be good, skipping the candy and soda and bringing home juice and whole-grain granola bars instead. Believe it or not, sometimes you’d be just as well off with the “unhealthy” snack. Here’s some more advice from dietitian Susan Burke March, MS, RD, author of Making Weight Control Second Nature: Living Thin Naturally and resident nutrition expert for HealthyWage.com.
Buyer beware! Seemingly healthy foods such as yogurt and oatmeal may contain copious amount of added sugars; breads and crackers are often made with heart-unhealthy hydrogenated oils (trans fat). “Miracle” juices and “energy” bars, touted as healthful, are usually just vehicles for added sugars and excessive calories. Consider this representative list of some surprisingly unhealthy foods:
–Yogurt: Plain, low fat or nonfat yogurt is such a healthy food, because it’s a delicious low fat source of calcium, vitamin D and magnesium and protein, but many manufacturers have taken liberties with yogurt! They’ve loaded it up with excess unwanted calories. Consumers are distracted by words like “organic” and “natural” but even these words can’t undo nutritional damage from added sugars, “granola” and nuts – and more. Yogurt should have but two ingredients: milk and live cultures. Stay wholesome by staying simple, and that goes for kids’ yogurts too.
–Tortilla and Taco Shells: Generally low in fat, usually made from corn or wheat, or both…but read the ingredient label first, because many brands are quite high in fat, and are often made with hydrogenated fat, or trans fat (hydrogenated oils). Trans fat can raise bad cholesterol but also lower “good” HDL cholesterol. Search out better-for-you whole-wheat tortilla and taco shells made with canola or other vegetable oils.
–Instant oatmeal: Looking for convenience and nutrition, we make the mistake of reading the front of the package for descriptors such as “wholesome” and “nutritious”. We know not to choose sugary cold cereals but convenience packages of instant oatmeal are no exception. Read the ingredient label first – one teaspoon of sugar equals four grams: some of the “maple” or other favors have more than 12 grams per serving. Buy whole oats, microwave for a minute in a glass dish, stir in a quarter-cup of raisins, cook one more minute, and Sweet!
–Granola: Granola may be “natural” but it’s also a typically calorie-dense food, not nutritionally desirable if it’s full of oil and sugar. Do a little label reading in the grocery store – most flaked or “twig” cereals such as Kashi GoLean list the serving size as 3/4 – 1 cup, for about 150 calories per cup. There is no standardized serving size for cereals, and most packaged granolas’ list the serving size as a mere quarter-cup, with about 160 calories per serving. No one is satisfied with just a quarter-cup of cereal and usually will pour their usual cup – multiplied by four, that’s 640 calories, plus milk! Granolas typically features a good amount of oil plus a number of different sweet ingredients, some which may sound healthful, but again, sugar is sugar, and all of it, maple syrup, cane sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, agave nectar, honey – are recognized similarly by your body, and are all different ways to say more calories! Stick with a high fiber, lower sugar cereal, and if you like granola, use as a topping on a yogurt and fruit parfait (nonfat Greek yogurt and berries).
–“Miracle” Juices: The front of the package appeals to your quest for good health with words like “immune promoting” and “antioxidants”. The front label shows appealing photos of fresh fruit, but like all juice, the proof is in the fiber – and reading the nutrition facts label shows that juice contains just about none. There are no studies that show that drinking juice will prevent disease, and people who are watching their weight need to remember that calories in fruit juice are equivalent to soda – no fiber here, and a very quick way to get excess calories. Eat whole fruit, for more energy and fiber, and save your calories for fullness.
–”Energy” bars: – Another name for “energy” is “calorie,” and most bars are more akin to candy bars than nutritious snacks. The first ingredient is usually refined flour (not whole grain), then sugar, sugar, and more sugar, in a myriad of guises, including corn syrup, molasses, honey and more. For sustainable energy, grab a cup of 100-calorie yogurt and stir a cup of crunchy low-sugar cereal into the cereal; make a fresh-fruit smoothie with nonfat yogurt, milk and berries, or pack a tuna sandwich on whole wheat with an orange (who says you have to have cereal for breakfast? Have lunch for breakfast and breakfast for lunch).
–Microwave popcorn: Popcorn is a great snack, but not when it’s loaded with hydrogenated fat (trans fat), artificial flavors and preservatives. Additives make it high in fat calories relative to volume, and often the microwave popcorn is loaded with hydrogenated fat. Make it better! It’s so easy, with an air-popper: pop up a few cups and enjoy. For a heartier snack, toss the hot popcorn with some grated cheddar cheese.
–Rice cakes: Although they’re somewhat lower in calories than potato or ‘Doritos’ chips, rice cakes offer little in nutritional value and certainly little fiber, and they’re often are high in sodium and sugar (if they’re flavored). Better: whole-wheat pita chips (make your own: slice into quarters, spray with cooking spray and toast) with some hummus or peanut butter.
Shop armed with information to help you read beyond the packaging and make weight-wise choices. And, of course, always shop with a list, never shop when you’re hungry, and read the ingredient label first. These three smart strategies help you keep the focus on healthy, good for you foods (that taste good, too). Making weight control second nature means shopping purposely, refusing to be swayed by advertising, and taking the time to enjoy the flavor of real food! Your payoff will be better taste, improved nutrition and good health.