Health Food Imposters
Have you ever thought to yourself, “Is the food I’m eating really as healthy as others claim?” Some foods are packaged to look like they’re good for you when in fact they’re anything but. For those trying to lose weight, here are some health food imposters to watch out for while grocery shopping:
Granola. Granola has long held a reputation for being healthy. It evokes an image of rosy-cheeked hikers exploring the great outdoors. In everyday life, it has become a breakfast or snack staple, as well as a popular topping for yogurt. The problem with granola is that many store-bought brands are made with sugary sweeteners, fillers, and palm and hydrogenated oils that are potentially unhealthy. Did you know a one-cup serving of a typical homemade granola could have as many as 600 calories? While granola does contain some wholesome ingredients like rolled oat, an excessive amount can turn what you thought was a healthy meal into a surplus of calories from sugar, which the body stores as fat. If you absolutely can’t part with granola, limit consumption to a quarter cup and always read the labels on granola products.
Smoothies and Fruit Juices. Fruit smoothies are all the rage. They seem to be a required accessory for anyone wearing yoga pants or spandex. But smoothies can cause trouble if the main ingredient is fruit juice. But wait…Doctors are always telling us to add more fruits to our daily diet, so how can something with fruit be unhealthy? The difference is that fruit juice lacks the fiber contained in solid fruits. Fiber makes us consume at a slower rate and feel fuller faster. Without the fiber, the liquid calories in fruit juice make it much easier to consume an excessive number of calories (some smoothies can have as many as 800 calories depending on size and ingredients). And that’s not even the worst part about fruit juice. If you look at most store-bought fruit juice nutrition labels, you’ll notice that sugar (in its various forms) and artificial flavors are front and center. Natural fruit juice is actually a small percentage of the product. So check the ingredients in that fruit smoothie first. You might also want to consider trying a vegetable-based smoothie. Vegetable-based smoothies are a healthier option and contain far fewer calories and less sugar.
Fat-Free Foods. Many products found in the supermarket come in a “fat-free” variety. For those with weight loss goals, naturally the fat-free products seem to be the most logical choice. But don’t be fooled. When the fat is removed from these foods, it is often replaced with a higher percentage of sugar and artificial fat substitutes to compensate for a loss of flavor. At the end of the day, we wind up consuming a higher number of sugar-laden empty calories with fat-free foods simply because we believe we are allowed to. We also physically feel less full with these foods, and may be unknowingly enabling a sugar addiction. When fat-free food dominated the packaged food industry in the 1990s, it did a huge disservice to the nutritional value of fats. We’ve heard it before, but it is very true. There are “good fats” (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) and “bad fats” (trans fats and saturated fats) The American Heart Association recommends 30 percent of your diet come from good fats. When purchasing fat-free products, check the nutrition label to make sure that it has fewer calories than the regular version and that it isn’t packed with sugars.
Dried Fruits and Nut Mixes. Some dried fruits and nut mixes are great sources of fiber, vitamins, proteins, and healthy fats. The problem is that many store-bought versions coat the fruits with sugar and the nuts with salt. Some brands of trail mix are also packed with flavors from shredded coconut and chocolate, both high in calories. Just a handful of trail mix can easily have over 300 calories. It’s hard to stop at just a handful when the sweet/salty taste of the nuts, fruits, and other flavors complement each other so well. Choose the healthier alternative by buying unsalted nuts and unsweetened dried fruits for your snack. But be sure to watch your portions to stay within your daily calorie limit.
Diet Soda. We’ve all heard about the studies that link the consumption of soda to obesity. So it would seem a wise choice to turn to the zero-calorie, zero-sugar diet soda alternative. Right? Wrong! Diet sodas contain artificial sweeteners, which send signals to the brain that very closely resemble that of natural sugar. That means that the brain responds to the “sweet” signal by telling the body to crave more sweet foods and drinks. But because the brain is receiving the “sweet” signal without the calories, this may cause us to actually consume an even higher number of calories to satisfy our cravings. In fact, research has shown that people who consumed diet soda versus those who did not had a 47% higher increase in BMI after eight year of consumption. There is evidence that diet soda might be useful in the short-term to wean regular soda drinkers off the sugary stuff, but it should not become an every day part of a healthy diet. If you’re looking for refreshment, good old H2O is your best bet.
Developing a curiosity for food’s health benefits will help you to avoid making choices that don’t support your health and weight loss goals. Don’t let your body suffer because of clever packaging, wording, or public misconceptions. Remember, facts are your friends! Always read the nutrition labels on packaged foods to determine if what you’re eating is the real thing or a knock-off that can set you back.