I would say one of the things that frustrates me the most in the world of ‘health food’ is all of the products that give the impression of being ‘healthy’, when in fact they are far from it! It literally breaks my heart when I see people trying to put an effort towards eating ‘healthier’ and they choose products/foods that ‘seem’ healthy, but in reality they are probably doing more harm than good!
I decided to do a post on this subject to shed light on the truth about many of the foods that are ‘hiding’ behind health food labels, but in reality are high in saturated fat, sugar, and empty calories.
I could go on forever about this subject, but instead I chose to compose a list of a few of the foods that are often mistaken for being healthy. (Of course, there are many more than what I listed here, but these are the one’s that I’ve seen to be the most common). I then followed each item with a few tips on how to pick a ‘truly healthier’ alternative!
Instead of: A Muffin- (average muffin: 500 calories/25 g fat/35 g sugar)~Despite the healthy-sounding names—bran, banana-walnut, blueberry, cran-orange—muffins are little more than a glorified mini cake. Many muffins have as many calories as a Big Mac, and as much sugar as a large bottle of soda!
Try this instead: A Breakfast Sandwich~ With nearly half the calories and total fat- and more than double the protein- a breakfast sandwich is a much better choice!
Instead of: A Smoothie: (average smoothie: 500 calories/100 g sugar)~ Despite the fact that they may contain fruit, many fruit smoothies are loaded with tons of added sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, which means they have just as many calories and sugar as a milkshake!
Try this instead: A 100% No Sugar Added or Light Fruit Smoothie ~ The key here is to know what is going into the smoothie! Look for nutrition information, or a list of ingredients, and be sure that the base is either low fat milk or plain yogurt instead of ice cream or sherbet, and that no sugars or fruit juices are added to the fruit.
Instead of: Chicken Cesar Salad with Dressing (or any salad with full-fat dressing for that matter!)~ (average salad with dressing: 600 calories/ 60 g fat)~Caesar salads are particularly dangerous because of two of it’s main ingredients: The creamy Cesar dressing, and the large helping of croutons. Both are loaded with saturated fat and empty calories, and both have very little ‘nutritional’ value. Even a side Cesar salad (with dressing) could be up to 500 calories!
Try this instead: Chicken Salad with Veggies and Dressing on the Side~ Asking for dressing (and even the croutons) on the side could save you as much saturated fat and calories as you could have in an entire meal! The best options are usually anything lower in fat, or a balsamic vinaigrette (but remember to steer clear of creamy dressings~ generally speaking!) From there, only use as much as you need, or try dipping your fork in the dressing before each bite!
Instead of: A Wrap Sandwich~ (average wrap: 700 calories/ 45 g fat/ 80g carbs)~This may surprise a lot of people, but wrap bread is often worse than a bun or ‘regular’ sandwich bread! The reason being is that a wrap is often larger than traditional bread, and is generally made with white flour (which is a fast-burning carbohydrate, aka no nutritional value and no sustained energy). In addition, wraps are generally larger and can hold more food, which generally means they are packed with more cheese, dressing and meat than a typical sandwich.
Try this instead: A sandwich on a whole wheat bun or whole grain bread~A sandwich on a whole grain bun offers a great balance of fat, complex carbohydrates (which give you sustained energy), and protein, plus having a bun instead of a huge tortilla provides some much-need portion control. (Tip: ask for dressing on the side, or an alternative low fat/ low-cal condiment instead of dressing).
Instead of: Starbucks (or any other brand) Blended Coffee Drink- (average blended coffee drink: 400-600 calories/ 25 g fat/ 4)~People stopping off at Starbucks for a quick pick-me-up leave with a meal’s worth of calories under their belt when they order this dubious drink. The latte packs just 100 fewer calories than a Whopper with a blood-sugar spiking mix of whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and high-fructose corn syrup.
Try this instead: A ‘Light’ version of you favorite coffee drink~ These days there are a lot more options that allow you to customize your drink without loosing the flavor! If you ask for skim milk, or sugar free/no syrups you can have a similarly great-tasting drink that won’t take the place of an entire meal! (And don’t forget to Hold The Whip… Yes…This is coming from ME~ The whip cream queen! The reason I say this is because Starbucks does not use a can of ‘light’ aerosol whip cream (like I do)…They use the heavy full fat whip cream that can add up to 100 calories and 11g fat to your drink!)
Instead of: A Sports Drink, or Vitamin Water~ (average per bottle: 150-200 calories/35 g sugar)~ Sure, you may get a few extra vitamins, but ultimately, you’re paying a high price for sugar water hiding behind a ‘health food’ label!
Try this instead: Vitamin Water 10, So Be Lean, or any other “light” version of your favorite sports drink~These ‘lighter’ versions of the vitamin drinks have all the same vitamins and nutrients, without all of the added sugar and calories. Another bonus about most of these light drinks, is that most of them are being sweetened with ‘natural’ sugar alternatives such as Stevia!
Instead of: ‘Fat Free’ Flavored Yogurt (average 1 cup serving: 200 calories/ 27 g sugar)~You wouldn’t start your morning with a can of Coke, would you? Then you should pass on these sugar-packed yogurt cups since they contain as much sugar as a soft drink. Almost all of the “fruit” flavors come from artificial flavors and high-fructose corn syrup.
Try this instead: 0-2% Plain Greek Yogurt or Plain Low-Fat Yogurt (no sugar added)~ Yogurt and fruit can be a great way to start your day, especially when it has a good amount of protein ~(I LOVE Greek Yogurt and it is packed with protein!) The key with yogurt is to check the nutrition label, and be sure to pay close attention to the sugar content! I have found that the best thing to do is to buy plain low fat yogurt and sweeten it yourself by mixing in a teaspoon of your favorite natural sweetener such as stevia, agave nectar, honey, or a handful of fresh or frozen berries!
Instead of: Anything that Claims to be “Diet” (Fat Free/Sugar Free/etc.)~ So here’s the deal- when fat and/or sugar comes out of a product, 9 times out of 10 a company will add sugar, fat or artificial flavors and sweeteners back IN…In order to make it taste better! In addition, most foods with reduced fat or sugar still contain the same amount or even more calories than ‘regular’ foods. What also people think they can eat more of the foods that are labeled ‘diet’, so they end up eating the same amount of calories as the regular version to begin with!
Try this instead: Foods with “Healthy’ Fats, or Foods Sweetened with Natural Sweeteners~Try to fill your diet with foods that are ‘unprocessed’ and are flavored with natural sweeteners and fats. Or try eating the foods you really ‘love’ such as a bowl of full-fat ice cream as a treat, just be sure to use portion control! Of course, there are some foods that are ‘better’ choices when they are fat free or no sugar added versions of the ‘real deal’, but in my opinion, everything in moderation, (and portion control) is the key to true balance!
The bottom line is~ you need to learn about and KNOW what’s in the foods your eating! After all, it’s your body and your Health! You don’t need to be extreme about it– and everything in moderation is key–but in the same respect, it’s foolish to be ignorant of what your eating, and just go by what ‘looks‘ or ‘sounds‘ healthy!
A great place to start is to begin checking nutrition labels and get familiar with the list of ingredients of the foods you’re eating. Be sure that there’s a good balance between the fat, carbohydrates, protein and sugar and don’t forget to check the serving sizes and calories!
The next step is to start being mindful of the food your eating ‘outside’ of your home…You can do this by simply going online before you go out to eat and checking the ‘nutrition info’ of the meals they offer, (many restaurants have the nutritional facts of their meals right on their websites now!)
Also, don’t be afraid to make special requests such as ‘dressing on the side’ or ‘no butter on the veggies’ … The way I see it is that you are paying good money to eat out, so you should be able to ask for it how you would like it! (Nicely of course! :))