Baked, not fried.
Low fat or no fat.
Light, lite or low-calorie
Americans have an ongoing love affair with healthy-sounding – or at least healthier-sounding – foods. They are even willing to pay more for them. For instance, a small order of Burger King’s new Satisfries, which claim to have 40 percent less fat and 30 percent fewer calories than regular fries, is $1.89, compared with $1.59 for regular fries.
According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, nine out of 10 Americans said that they were eating a “somewhat” “very,” or “extremely” healthy diet. In the same study, 43 percent of the respondents said they drank at least one sugary drink a day, and only 30 percent said they eat the recommended five or more servings of fresh fruit or vegetables daily.
When you keep in mind these discrepancies and combine them with the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) latest figures that show that more than one-third of American adults are obese, you realize that either most of us are in a state of denial or are making food choices based upon some serious misinformation.
If Americans are confused about healthy eating, it is with good reason. For example, everyone from the Food and Drug Administration on down has made fats the villains of the food industry. So it goes to reason – sort of – that if you are limiting your fat intake, you are “eating healthy.” The trouble is, many Americans are replacing perfectly healthy foods that contain some fats with unhealthy foods that contain unhealthy fat substitutes.
While limiting your intake of man-made fats, like trans-fats and refined polyunsaturated fats, is a good choice, some saturated fats found naturally in meat, dairy, certain oils and tropical plants such as coconuts, are essential to your health. Plus these foods typically contain the same amount of calories as their counterparts. It’s important to keep in mind that “fat-free” does not mean “calorie-free.” Just because a label says fat-free, it is not a health food. In fat-free salad dressing, for instance, manufacturers replace those fats with less healthful ingredients, such as sugars and high-fructose corn syrup.
The same problem is happening with misleading labels about sugar, salt and cholesterol. To help you make better informed choices, we’ve put together a list of 10 foods that are marketed and largely regarded as being healthy that are surprisingly unhealthy.
1. No-fat milk: Real milk has many valuable nutrients, including calcium and Vitamins D, A, E and K. When dairy companies remove the fat, these benefits are removed as well. Some dairies put Vitamin K back into skim milk, but then the vitamin is not in its natural form. When you opt for low-fat milk, such as 2 percent, you can get those nutrients plus conjugated linoleic acid in a natural state.
2. Fat-free or reduced-fat peanut butter: The fat in regular peanut butter, a combination of polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fats, is actually pretty good for you. These alternative versions replace the fat content with extra sweeteners and empty carbs. Instead of worrying about the fat content, look for peanut butter that lists peanuts as its only ingredient and monitor your serving size.
3. Reduced-fat veggie chips: A chip made out of vegetables. How could that be unhealthy? The answer is: the same way making a chip out of potatoes can be unhealthy. Potatoes in their natural state are good for you, too. Vegetable chips are just as salty as their potato counterparts. Some also have added sugars. Check the labels of these “healthy” chips. Many companies are adding food coloring to potato starch to make the chips looks like they are made with vegetables. These chips aren’t much better for you than that bag of Lay’s right next to them on the store shelf.
4. Ramen noodles: The package photo shows noodles and vegetables in a steaming broth. It looks like a healthy option at an inexpensive price, but a package of ramen noodles is a nutritional nightmare. Without the fresh steamed veggies (which, of course, are not included) or a source of protein, eating ramen noodles is like eating a bowl of salt.
5. Muffins: Muffins, especially bran muffins, somehow got a reputation as a healthy choice for breakfast. Loaded with calories, fat and sugar, eating a store-bought muffin is like eating a large slice of store-bought cake. If you enjoy a fresh muffin now and then, why not bake a batch of them yourself, so that you can control what is in them and, most importantly, the portion size.
6. Granola: Similar to muffins, granola has been marketed as a healthy food for breakfast and for snacking. Depending on its ingredients, however, it can be as bad for you as downing a plate of cookies. With whole grains, seeds and nuts, granola can offer good nutrition, but watch for common add-ins like chocolate chips or even sugar-coated fruit. Use strict portion control to not get a calorie or sugar overload.
7. Veggie Patties: Opting for a vegetable patty instead of a beef burger sounds like a healthy choice, but many frozen versions have a complicated list of fillers, including gums, yeast extract and cornstarch, used to achieve a burger-like appearance. Once again, check the label. You’ll want to see some vegetables leading the list of ingredients, not soy protein and wheat gluten.
8. Smoothies: A large fruit smoothie from one of those mall stands can offer up as much sugar and calorie content as an entire meal. Most store-bought smoothies start out well with a base of blended fruit and low-fat dairy. Large serving sizes combined with added sugar, ice cream or sherbet can make them a high-calorie dessert-type extravaganza. Try making a smoothie at home using a base of plain yogurt and adding fresh fruit.
9. Frozen Yogurt: Regular yogurt contains live, active cultures that can help maintain the “good” bacteria in your digestive tract. However, most commercial frozen yogurt has been heat-processed, which kills these beneficial cultures. Soft-serve yogurt is low in fat but is high in sugar. In addition, many people add high-calorie toppings to frozen yogurt that more than make up for any healthy benefits of having yogurt rather than ice cream. Try choosing a small serving of low-fat plain frozen yogurt and stick to fresh fruit as a topping.
10. Fast food salads: “I’ll just have a salad” is a statement that reveals in our culture that someone is on a diet. Eating a salad at many fast food restaurants, however, can be just as bad for you as eating a burger and fries. Many fast food salads have calorie-laden add-ons such as cheese, dried fruit and croutons as well as rich, sugary salad dressing. In terms of nutrition and calories, you’d be better off ordering a small burger and a small order of fries.
You have made many positive changes in your lifestyle and your eating habits. Continue to use your discernment in choosing healthy food choices for your family. Keep in mind that food is always at its healthiest in its most natural state and for everything else, become an informed label-reader.