Some of the rules of a healthy diet are fairly obvious -- steer clear of fast food joints, say "no" to fried foods, and keep the chips and cookies to a minimum. Unfortunately, eating smart involves more than just avoiding notoriously unhealthy foods.
Lurking behind the facade of words like "organic," "fat-free" and "natural" is a whole slew of foods that can kill a diet and pack on the calories. So here's a warning for any well-intentioned healthy eater: Just because it sounds nutritious, doesn't mean a food is actually good for you.
Lurking behind the facade of words such as 'organic,' 'fat-free' and 'natural' is a whole slew of foods that can kill a diet and pack on the calories.
The biggest pitfall with a salad is ruining a veggie-filled meal with hundreds of calories in dressing. "Check the label," advised Keri Gans, a registered dietitian and author of "The Small Change Diet." Oftentimes the dressing with a salad at a restaurant has more calories than a candy bar. "Order dressing on the side," Gans said. "You should not be putting more than 60 calories of dressing on a salad."
Blending fruit with frozen yogurt sounds like a sure-fire healthy snack. But Tara Miller, registered dietitian and founder of Achieve Balance Wellness and Nutrition Counseling, warns against too much of a good thing. "People think that because it's fruit, it's healthy," she said. Yet most smoothies -- especially the ones sold at specialty shops -- are 16 to 32 oz. and contain too many servings of carbohydrates. So keep it small, and try to add vegetables to your smoothies whenever possible.
3. Soy Milk
Both soy and almond milk are great options for those who are lactose intolerant. But many people regularly grab the vanilla or sweetened varieties of these drinks, ignoring the excess sugar and paying attention only to the healthy connotations of the word "soy" or "almond." If the sweetened versions are all you can tolerate, though, Miller recommends avoiding the added sugar by mixing a teaspoon of vanilla flavoring into the unsweetened kind.
Granola is a food that most people consider an uber-healthy breakfast choice. But granola can also be very high in sugar and low in fiber, says Gans. "When you look for granola, you need to read the label carefully," she said. "Not all granola is created equal." Make sure the cereal or granola you're choosing from the store shelf has a minimum of 4 or 5 g of fiber.
You're rushing to get to work on time and dash into the nearest coffee shop to pick up a quick breakfast. In the name of health, your eyes are drawn to those bran muffins on display beside the donuts. But don't let the word "bran" or "yogurt" trick you when it comes to muffins, cautions Miller. "Think of them more in the donut category," she said. Bran muffins often contain extra fat, necessary to hold the bran together. And the fat-free versions usually contain extra sugar to compensate for the reduced in mouthfeel and flavor.
This one might be surprising since the tuna, salmon and other fish commonly found in sushi is about as lean as it gets. Yet when you factor in the cream cheese of your Philadelphia roll or the mayonnaise in most spicy tuna rolls, the calorie count skyrockets. Portion size matters, too, says Gans. Stick to three rolls or less, and choose brown rice when possible.
7. Turkey Brugers
When a burger craving hits, the calorie-conscious person often turns to a turkey burger as the second-best option. But be careful, warns Gans. "If you have a turkey burger made with dark meat and skin, it can be higher in calories than a sirloin burger," she said. If you're at a restaurant, ask whether the burger has dark meat and turkey skin ground into it. At the grocery store, it's a bit more straightforward: Check the label and pick a lean meat with less than 10 g of fat per serving, Gans advises.
8. Frozen Meals
There's a whole section of frozen meal options that are quick and easy to make and boast low calorie counts. Yet many are also packed with sodium, says Angela Ginn, registered dietitian and owner of the nutrition counseling service Learn-2-Live. "Frozen and prepared foods can often have a day's worth of sodium," she said, which is roughly 2,300 mg per day.