Saturday, June 9, 2012

11 Not-So-Healthy 'Health' Foods

Just because something is labeled "smart" doesn't mean it's an intelligent choice. Arm yourself with knowledge to avoid these sneaky saboteurs.
- By Madeline Vann, MPH; Excerpt from

Fruit juice and a bran muffin for breakfast; a Caesar salad for lunch; a protein bar snack; and a turkey burger with all the fixings for dinner. Sounds like a reasonably healthy day, right? Not so fast. All of these foods have a healthy reputation, but they all have something else in common, too: They’re hiding the types of sugar, fat, and calories that can bust your diet or even lead to weight gain.

Protein Bars and Shakes: Unsatisfying Snacks
If you’re short on time or you work out a lot, meal replacements loaded with protein may sound like a great idea, but these so-called health food options can quickly turn into diet traps. “They are marketed with trendy nutrition names like ‘gluten free,’ ‘organic,’ ‘dairy free,’ ‘low fat,’ and ‘natural,’ but they are a scapegoat for healthy eating,” says Manuel Villacorta, RD, author of Eating Free: The Carb-Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Embrace Your Hunger, and Keep the Weight Off for Good. Besides their often-high sugar and fat content, you might end up eating far more protein and calories than you need. “Some can have up to 300 to 400 calories, and people eat two at a time," he notes. And, because "they are also not so satisfying," he says, he recommends whole foods instead. For great snacks that are better than a bar and clock in at less than 200 calories, he suggests 5 ounces of nonfat Greek yogurt with a cup of berries, apple slices with 2 tablespoons of nut butter, or a hard-boiled egg and whole-wheat crackers.

Granola: Sugar Overload
More than any other food, granola has tricked the diet industry into thinking it’s healthy, when really those organic, all-natural whole grain and nut mixes are packed with calories, fat, and sugar. Just a quarter-cup serving of granola can easily have upwards of 130 calories, not to mention at least 4 grams of sugar and 5 grams of fat. To get the crunch you crave, make your own healthy mix to skip out on added sugars. Measure your portions carefully, and sprinkle granola on top of yogurt instead of eating it alone.

Dried Fruit: Sugary Saboteur
Dried fruits are great sources of concentrated vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but — and it’s a big but to avoid — you have to limit your intake because you’re also getting very concentrated calories and sugar. Consider prunes, which are dried plums: Just one cup of prunes contains more than 400 calories and 45 grams of sugar while one cup of fresh plum has just 76 calories and 16 sugar grams. Plus, when you eat fresh fruit you get the added water content that can help you feel full.

Sushi Rolls: Beware of Sodium
In theory, sushi rolls are almost perfect — protein in the form of seafood (often from healthy fatty acid sources such as salmon and tuna) combined with seaweed, veggies, and a small amount of rice. If you ate sushi in the traditional small quantities along with some miso soup, you’d actually be doing well for both nutrition and diet. But modern sushi rolls are a little more dangerous: Many varieties, such as tempura rolls, come fried or topped with mayo and cream cheese. Plus, soy sauce contains excess sodium, and all the white rice can cause blood sugar spikes in people with diabetes. When eating sushi, it’s best to stick to brown rice rolls, fresh veggies, and no sauce.

Caesar Salad Calorie-Bomb
Romaine lettuce, the foundation of Caesar salad, is richer in vitamins and minerals than iceberg lettuce, so that’s a good start. But look past the leaves, and you’ll see plenty of diet trips, such as high-fat dressing, calorie-rich cheese, and fatty croutons. Just because you ask for dressing on the side when you order your salad doesn’t mean you’re spared all the excess calories, says Villacorta, adding that a fully-loaded Caesar can top 800 calories. Instead, top your greens with grilled chicken strips and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

High-Calorie Fish Sandwiches
Fish is often touted as a low-calorie superfood (in fact, the American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week), but once you fry that fish, slather it in high-calorie tartar sauce, and slap it between two slabs of white bread or a buttered roll, you’ve more than negated any health benefit you might see. Opt for grilled fish or chicken on an open-face sandwich or a fish taco loaded with salsa and vegetables — hold the sour cream and cheese!

Margarine: Hidden Trans Fat
Margarine can be a better choice than butter, particularly for people who are concerned about their heart health. But not all margarines are created equal: Many stick forms contain hidden trans fat, which can be even worse for your heart than the saturated fat in butter. When choosing a stick, go for the brand with the lowest levels of fat and cholesterol. If you’re at risk for heart disease, choose a brand that has been fortified with plant stanols and sterols, which can help reduce bad cholesterol levels.

Sugary Fruit Juice
A drink that's 100 percent fruit juice sounds like a healthy way to check off your daily fruit needs. The problem is, even if you’re drinking unadulterated juice (not a juice drink, a diet trap with tons of added sugar and sometimes barely 10 percent real juice), you’re missing out on the fiber and the nutrients available only in the whole food, especially fruits with edible peels. In general, experts advise that only a third of the 2.5 cups of fruit you need each day should come from juice. And moderation matters for this health food. Serving sizes for store-bought juice in bottles and at juice bars and cafes are out of control, says Villacorta, and if you’re not careful, you can add hundreds of calories to your daily diet through juice. He suggests scaling down your fruit juice servings to one 4-ounce glass a day, or skip fruit juice entirely and just eat the real thing.

Fat-Filled Bran Muffins
Store-bought and cafĂ© muffins may seem like a healthy food choice, but too often their whole grains are lost in a sea of oversized portions, sugar, sodium, and fat — a resounding diet trap. To add insult to injury, some store-bought muffins skip out on the whole-grain ingredients and many don’t contain enough to counteract the sugar and fat in your diet anyway. You can keep your muffins from becoming a diet trap by making them yourself and boosting the fiber fill-up with oat bran and ground flaxseed — just refrain from using supersized muffin tins to maintain diet portions.

Needless Nutrition Waters
Although it seems intuitive to combine two components of healthy nutrition — water and vitamins — into one package, brand-name vitamin or nutrition waters might not be the best choice for your body or your budget. Dietitians generally recommend a varied diet as the best way to get good nutrition, in part because your body may not be able to absorb vitamins as effectively without other dietary elements such as small amounts of fat and the fiber. That’s why a big mixed salad with a touch of homemade dressing is the health food choice to get your vitamins and minerals — and just plain water from the tap will do for hydration. Know that some nutrition waters may not even contain all the vitamins you need for the day, and be doubly aware to avoid any that contain sugar (and calories) — a diet trap to steer clear of.

Diet-Busting Turkey Burgers
Turkey is generally thought of as a fit and trim alternative to red meat, but depending on the cut and preparation, a burger can easily have more fat than a lean cut of beef, not to mention the calories from the bun you save when you just eat a cut of meat. Look for the leanest ground turkey available at the store, or go completely meatless and try veggie burgers. Regardless of your patty preference, go light on the condiments, layering vegetables onto a whole-grain bun or lettuce wrap instead of cheese and mayo .

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Cheers Eights & Weights!

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