Eating healthy has never been so confusing. Low-fat, sugar-free, all natural — what's the deal?
Fancy packaging and convincing advertising makes it tricky for hungry customers when it comes to eating well (and who doesn't want to be healthy?). In fact, 64% of customers are influenced by healthy food products, according to the Institute of Food Technologists. And eight out of 10 adults have made some effort to eat healthier within the last year. But with so many options and so little time, it's hard to tell what's actually good for you and what's just a health fad.
Take Kind Bars for instance; the FDA sent the nutty snack company flack, accusing it of mislabeling its products as “healthy” — but the government agency believes the bars are too fatty to be considered so, according to NPR.
But don't stress about your next grocery shopping trip just yet. Mashable spoke to three nutritionists — holistic nutrition counselor Jennifer Schonborn, dietitian Jennifer Calo of Compass Nutrition, and dietitian Lauren Thomas of Nutrition Energy — to get the scoop on which foods are actually not as healthy as they appear, and what to replace them with. Prepare yourself for some major trust issues.
You might want to rethink those bits of crunchy goodness that make your yogurt more interesting.
“People think of granola as healthy because they think whole grain, but the problem with granola is that it tends to also have a lot of sugar and its often cooked with oil or butter and some kind of fat,” Jennifer Schonborn tells Mashable. Between the fat and the sugar, granola is a calorie-dense food. For example, a normal serving of Nature Valley's Oats ‘n Honey granola is half a cup and will run you 210 calories. And, Schonborn says, most of us don't stop at just half a cup — no judgement here, it's difficult to do.
“The energy is a quick kind of false energy from the sugar,” she adds. “The best way to get real sustained energy is to be eating minimally processed, whole natural food that don’t have added sugar.”
2. Smoothies or juice
One of the biggest health fads going on right now is in liquid form. You know, those expensive and refreshing kale juices and smoothies.
“When you juice fruit, you strip out the fiber, causing a more rapid spike in blood sugars and insulin levels,” Jennifer Calo tells Mashable. “Juicing multiple fruits at once is definitely too much sugar from the fructose.” To be more satisified, Calo insists people eat a salad or a pear or apple with its skin still on, and to spread out fruit and veggie intake throughout the day.
“My motto is ‘Do not drink your calories',” she says.
3. Skinny Cow Ice Cream
Coming in a variety of ice cream styles, this lower-calorie and -fat ice cream alternative seems too good to be true. Calo doesn't recommend them to clients because of how many chemicals are used in the frozen treats. On top of the hard-to-pronounce ingredients (Propylene Glycol Monostearate?!), artificial sweeteners could lead consumers to crave more sweet things, which basically undoes the whole point of a low-cal dessert.
4. Flavored yogurt
One of the first products Schonborn steers clients away from is flavored yogurt, a popular snack for adults and children. So what's the problem with a little bit of strawberry? The amount of added sugar. Stonybrook's organic Greek nonfat individual cup of yogurt has 17 grams of sugar. For comparison, a single serving of Haagen-Dazs strawberry ice cream has 20 grams. “[It's] basically eating glorified ice cream that has a few beneficial bacteria in there,” she says.
Instead, purchase plain yogurt and sweeten it up with honey or maple syrup — Schonborn says you'll never add as much sugar as the flavored options — and throw in some fresh fruit.
5. Chicken cooked in restaurants
When we think of healthy protein, chicken often comes to mind. However, Schonborn warns clients when eating out at restaurants that those chicken dishes could possibly be loaded with calories from being cooked in large amounts of butter and oil and accessorized with lots of salt and cream. The Cheesecake Factory, she points out, is a major culprit of this. Its healthy-sounding lemon-herb roasted chicken is around 1,250 calories.
She would rather clients cook chicken at home, which keeps the health level under control and then makes chicken a great source of protein.
6. Energy/snack bars
When you're in a rush, you're probably tempted to grab one of the many varieties of energy bars — Cliff, Luna, Fiber One — to keep you full.
Calo compares many energy bars to candy bars. “They often have a chocolate or yogurt coating (think Special K) and contain a ton of chemicals and artificial sweeteners,” she says. “Fiber One granola bars for example contain about 20 ingredients, some including corn syrup, sugar, food dyes, and palm oil.” And they don't even make up for it with enough minerals and vitamins. Instead, the best snack options are fresh fruits, raw nuts and natural nut butters.
7. Vitamin Water
Something with the word “vitamin” in the name sounds like a good bet, right? Calo says otherwise — and compares it to soda.
Most Vitamin Water flavors have upwards of 31 grams of sugar, which is almost eight teaspoons of sugar. If good ole regular water is boring you, she recommends seltzer water or adding a lemon or lime to boost flavor.
8. Reduced-fat peanut butter
Peanut butter is known for being high in protein and calories, so some might be tempted with the option of reduced fat. Well, don't be.
According to Calo, natural full-fat peanut butter is your best bet, since reduced fat actually has added sugar to make up for taste.
9. Agave syrup
We all know that too much sugar is a major no-no. However, replacing actual sugar with a product like agave nectar might satisfy your sweet tooth but not your health. According to Thomas, these natural sweeteners are still sugars with the same concerning amount of calories as normal sugar and honey (60 calories per tablespoon). “If you are monitoring your blood sugar and/or weight, it is best to reduce all sources of sugar, even the natural options,” she recommends.
“If seven grain is healthy, 12 grain must be even better, right? Not quite!” Thomas says. Multi-grain just means that there are two or more grains present in the pasta or bread. It has nothing to do with how refined the flour base used is, and if it's white, that means it has been stripped of most of its nutrients.
Instead, look for 100% whole wheat, which means that all of the grain kernel has been used so you're getting as much fiber and nutrients as possible.