21 Foods That Sound Healthy, But Are Not!
Last Updated: May 26, 2016
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Baked, low-fat, multi-grain, gluten-free, vegan. Sometimes our efforts to make healthy choices can end up backfiring in unexpected ways. Low-fat or fat-free can come at the price of sacrificing nutrients, and gluten-free goods can pack just as many calories, sugars and fats as their full-gluten counterparts - if not more! Plus did you know, that many types of bread labeled "multi-grain" and "wheat," are actually made with refined or bleach flour? Here is a list of 21 seemingly–healthy foods that are not actually healthy choices. You might be surprised to find that some of these culprits are foods that you eat on a daily basis.
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MULTI-GRAIN AND WHEAT BREADS
Terms such as "multi-grain," "7-grain," and "wheat" sound healthy on package labels, but the breads inside may not actually be made from heart-healthy whole grains. Many types of bread labeled "multi-grain" and "wheat" are typically made with refined grains. Whole grains, by definition, are foods that contain all the essential parts of the entire grain seed; this includes the bran, germ, and endosperm. Without processing, these components remain intact and provide more protein, fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. How can you be sure you’re getting whole grains? Read nutrition labels carefully. If the first item in the ingredient list is refined flour (it will typically say "bleached" or "unbleached enriched wheat flour"), you are not getting 100 percent whole-grain bread!
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VEGAN BAKED GOODS
Just because a baked good is vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Popular vegan diet books, restaurants and bakeries endorse vegan cookies, cakes and breads as healthy super foods that can be enjoyed as a part of a balanced diet. Vegan products can pack just as many calories, sugar, and fat as traditional baked goods. The problem with vegan baked goods is that consumers see natural ingredients such as evaporated cane juice, agave nectar, vegan chocolate chips, and coconut oil, and make the assumption that these ingredients are healthier than traditional sugar, dairy and flour. Scary fact: commercially-available vegan chocolate frosted cupcakes contain 350 calories, 18 grams of sugar and 22 grams of fat per 2 oz. serving!
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FROZEN YOGURT A.K.A. “FRO-YO” WITH TOPPINGS
Frozen Yogurt has been gaining popularity again in the U.S., and it is now one of the trendiest treats on the block. Commercial fro-yo shops offer self-service machines, jumbo portion sizes, and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink topping bars filled with cookies, candy, and hot fudge. Bottom line: If you frequent the corner fro-yo shop, stick to the smallest portion size and choose real fruit toppings with a tablespoon of roasted almonds or pistachios.
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MOST COMMERCIAL JARRED PASTA SAUCE
Tomato-based pasta sauce is rich in vitamins A and C and delivers at least a serving of vegetables. What’s more, tomato products provide nearly 85% of dietary lycopene, which protects against heart disease and some cancers. But commercially-available brands are loaded with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sodium and fillers. Just ½ cup of Prego Fresh Mushroom Italian sauce has 11 grams of sugar -- the same amount that's in a glazed yeast-raised donut! To extend shelf life and taste, jarred sauces are packed with sodium and ascorbic acid. Some of your favorite pasta toppers pack well over 900 milligrams of sodium per 1-cup serving -- more than a third of daily sodium intake. If you want to reap the nutritional benefits from tomato sauce, make your own with fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic and a touch of extra virgin olive oil.
FAT-FREE SALAD DRESSING
When trying to lose weight, salads can be the perfect lunchtime meal or light dinner. But think twice about topping your salad with fat-free dressing. Many people assume that using fat-free dressing is a healthy choice as they are saving calories. Unfortunately, by skipping a full-fat dressing, you may be missing out on fully absorbing the nutrients found in fresh vegetables. Salads are chock-full of greens, which contain fat-soluble vitamins, essential minerals and antioxidants that protect our bodies from disease, but without the addition of some fat, our bodies are unable to fully absorb the nutrients in salad. A recent study showed that eating fat with your salad significantly increased how many nutrients were absorbed compared to fat free dressing.
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PREPARED SALADS, SUCH AS CHICKEN SALAD OR TUNA SALAD
Speaking of salads… Don't assume that anything with the word "salad" in it is going to be healthy. Prepared tuna, chicken, and shrimp salads are often loaded with hidden fats and calories due to their high mayonnaise and oil content. While a lot depends on portion size and ingredients, an over-stuffed tuna sandwich can contain as many as 700 calories and 40 grams of fat. If you're ordering take-out, opt for prepared salads made with low-fat mayonnaise, and keep the portion to about the size of a deck of cards. Love the idea of eating a tuna salad for lunch but fear the fat? Make your own version at home and include condiments such as Dijon mustard, yogurt, and fresh herbs!
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REDUCED-FAT PEANUT BUTTER
Reduced-fat peanut butter is not necessarily a healthier version of regular peanut butter. Both regular and reduced-fat peanut butter contain about the same amount of calories, but the reduced-fat version has significantly more sugar. Some may ask, isn't it healthy to cut out some fat in your diet? Not in this case. Regular peanut butter is a natural source of the "good" monounsaturated fats. In the past few years, research has shown that individuals who include nuts and nut butters in their diets are less likely to develop type II diabetes and are protected from heart disease. The verdict? Look for a natural peanut butter with an ingredient list that contains no added oils, cane sugar, or trans fats. Better yet, find a store where you can grind your own, or make your own nut butter at home.
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Energy bars are the perfect pre-workout snack, right? Not so fast. Many energy bars are filled with high fructose corn syrup, added sugar, and artery-clogging saturated fat. In addition, energy bars are often laden with synthetic ingredients we can’t pronounce. Some energy bars (particularly meal replacement ones) contain more than 350 calories each ― a bit more than "snack size" for most people. If you are grabbing a snack on-the-go, choose wisely: try one-quarter cup of trail mix, or 1.5 oz. of low-fat cheese and three to four small whole-grain crackers. If you must reach for an energy bar between work and the gym, opt for a version made with dried fruit, nuts, and whole grains and avoid chocolate-coated bars, which tend to be higher in sugar, fat and calories.
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Most bran muffins, even those sold at delis and coffee shops, are made with generally healthy ingredients. Bran is rich in fiber, omega three fats, protein, vitamins and minerals. The problem with today’s commercially available bran muffin is the portion size. Many muffins sold in stores dwarf the homemade muffins made a generation ago. A random sampling of some coffee and restaurant chain bran muffins showed that many topped 350 calories apiece, and that's before any butter or jam. In addition, the bran muffins at a popular bakery chain contain 600mg of sodium ― roughly one-third of a day's maximum. Even a healthful food, if over-consumed, can be not-so-healthful. Enjoy your bran muffin, but eat half, and save the rest for an afternoon snack. If you want to save money and calories, bake your own muffins using mini-muffin tins.
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Most smoothie chains and coffee bars start out with good intentions and healthy ingredients. Smoothies often begin with a “base” of blended fruit, yogurt and low-fat dairy. The problem with this seemingly-healthy option is disproportionately large serving sizes (the smallest size available is often 16 oz.) combined with added sugar, ice cream, and flavored syrups. Commercially-available smoothies often include a half dozen add-in ingredients. The resulting combination racks up a hefty amount of fat and sugar that can reach anywhere from 500-600 calories!
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Turkey is an excellent source of lean protein and a good choice for a speedy lunch or dinner, but many packaged turkey slices are loaded with sodium, preservatives, and nitrates to extend shelf life. One 2-ounce. serving can contain nearly one-third of the maximum recommended daily sodium intake. A diet high in sodium has been shown to increase high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. If you love turkey wraps, roll ups and sandwiches make sure to buy low-sodium varieties or opt for fresh turkey slices. If you can't roast your own turkey, the best rule of thumb is to find a brand with less than 350 milligrams of sodium per 2-ounce serving.
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FOODS LABELED "FAT-FREE"
It’s essential that we all continue to remind ourselves that fat-free does NOT mean calorie-free. Fat free foods often lack flavor. To give them more tastiness, food companies pour in other ingredients such as added sugar, thickeners, and sodium. Always check the nutrition labels when buying packaged foods. Remember when it comes to fat, not all sources are created equal. “Good” fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats improve blood cholesterol and increase satiety. The overall composition of a food is just as important as its fat content, so check to see how your favorite foods compare in total calories, sodium, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Of course, it’s also important to remember that there are many very healthful naturally fat-free foods, including most fruits and vegetables.
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RESTAURANT BAKED POTATOES
Sure, a baked potato in its natural state (that is, sans toppings) is a healthful food. Potatoes are naturally rich in vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. Additionally, a medium-sized baked potato contains only about 160 calories. But if you're eating out in a restaurant, don't assume that the baked potato is the healthiest choice on the menu. Many restaurant-style baked potatoes can come "fully loaded" with butter, sour cream, cheese, bacon bits, and other goodies that can add up to around 600 calories and 20-plus grams of fat. Ask for a plain baked potato, and get one or two small toppings on the side. If you’re really craving an old fashioned baked potato with all the fixings, try making your own healthful baked potato meal at home by adding chopped cooked chicken, chives, a tablespoon of light cheese and a dollop of Greek yogurt!
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If you're going for a leisurely walk or doing some light housework, skip the sports drinks. While most sports drinks do contain important electrolytes (like potassium and sodium) necessary for those who are doing intense workouts or endurance training, you don't need a sports drink to fuel light activity. Nutritionists and industry experts agree that sports drinks are only beneficial during high-intensity exercise when your workout exceeds one hour. Many sports drinks contain 125 calories and nearly 15 grams of sugar or more per 20-oz. bottle. Spare yourself the extra calories and opt for plain water or a calorie-free beverage to keep you hydrated. Stick to this rule of thumb: only drink sports drinks when you are training for an endurance event, and don’t gulp sports drinks outside of activity — the extra sugars will be converted to fat, which won’t help your performance or your waistline.
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Granola typically starts with nutritious ingredients: rolled oats, dried fruit, and a healthful dose of fat from nuts and seeds. The problem is that most of the whole grain goodness and fiber is coated in sugar, honey, and molasses and then baked in oil to deliver the crunchy texture and taste we all love. A traditional 1-cup breakfast serving can pack nearly 600 calories and 20 grams of sugar before adding milk or yogurt. With the addition of gourmet ingredients such as coconut, chocolate, and roasted almonds, some commercial brands deliver as much as 25 grams of fat per serving! If you can’t live without the crunch of your favorite granola clusters, try using this whole grain as a condiment and simply sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of granola on top of Greek yogurt or hot oatmeal to give it an added crunch.
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BOXED RICE PILAF
Whole grains that cook in less than 90 seconds can be enticing. Brown rice, long grain rice, and other grain products are an essential part of a heart healthy diet. Whole grains like these are a good source of vitamins and minerals. Plus, complex carbohydrates have been linked to reducing diabetes and some cancers. Although boxed rice appears healthy and low in fat, just wait until you read the sodium content stunner! Spice packets, which accompany instant grains, can contain as much as 800 mg of sodium – almost half the daily recommended sodium intake. Excess sodium in the diet increases blood pressure and contributes to excess fluid in the body. A better choice? Cook a batch of whole grains on Sunday and add your own chopped garlic, onion, spices, and seasonings. You can portion out servings for the week in containers, so you have a quick, healthy whole grain side dish.
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Many dieters turn to soup as a convenient method to control calories and reduce portion sizes. In fact, research shows that eating soup (a low-density food) can promote fullness and help facilitate weight loss. The trouble with canned soups is that even when labels proclaim “100% natural, low sodium, and reduced fat” health-savvy consumers still need to check the nutritional information and ingredients for sodium and fat content, as well as artificial flavors and preservatives. Some childhood favorites contain as much as 800 mg sodium per serving, and the actual serving size is only half of the can. To include soup as part of your healthy diet, you can choose to make your own from scratch to control the amount of sodium, or if you must choose a canned soup, always select one that is a reduced sodium, broth-based variety, over bisque and chowder style soups.
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Gluten-free means good-for-you, right? Wrong! Gluten-free cookies, crackers and baked goods are often loaded with refined grains such as oat or rice flour, sugar and fat. Now it’s even possible to buy Betty Crocker cookie and cake mixes in gluten-free varieties, but other than removing gluten from the recipe, they don’t trim the fat, calories or sugar in any meaningful way. The best bet is to stick with natural gluten-free foods like fruits and vegetables, nuts, lean proteins, and nonfat or low-fat dairy products. When buying gluten-free baked goods and crackers, make sure you read the labels and avoid those that are rich in sugars or saturated fats.
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Sure, diet soda is calorie-free, but there’s no evidence that drinking diet soda will help you lose weight. In fact, some believe that drinking diet soda may increase your desire for sweets and may trip up your body’s natural mechanisms that help control your hunger and appetite. Using diet soda to satisfy your sweet tooth may train your brain to crave more sweets. Consequently, when you eat a naturally sweet food, like some strawberries or a banana these treats may not taste sweet enough.
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If you are one of the people scouring the grocery store snack aisle to make sure your potato chip choice is “baked” not fried, you might be surprised to hear that the fried chips may actually be a better choice. Here’s why: While baked chips do reduce the fat content of chips, they don’t offer as big of a calories savings as you might expect. In fact, many chips that say that they’re baked have just 20 fewer calories compared to their fried full-fat counterparts. In addition, because fat is filling, you may actually eat more calories when enjoying baked chips because they provide a higher carbohydrate to fat ratio than fried potato chips. When we believe we’re making a healthier choice, we often eat larger servings.
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Most of us fall short of the 25-30 grams of fiber recommended daily. You may be surprised, however, to hear that resorting to fiber-fortified foods is not a great solution to this problem. There are an increasing number of packaged products including cereals, snack bars, and crackers that are made with refined grains with man-made fibers added to them. Most of these products’ packages display claims about the high fiber content. Unfortunately, research suggests that some of the fibers manufacturers are adding to their products may not provide the same health benefits as natural fiber that comes naturally in whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, fruits and vegetables.
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