Most days, I think I’m doing OK in the healthy eating department. And then I look at a nutrition label. Too often, common wisdom or the internet machine make dubious health claims that get accepted as fact. Health foods trends are everywhere, but just because they have been marketed as healthy doesn’t mean they are.
None of these foods are inherently unhealthy, but they aren’t as healthy as their reputations would lead you to believe. If I’m working hard on staying healthy, then I want to know that I am making the most informed choices possible.
A sugar by any other name. Just because it is natural doesn’t mean it is healthy. Sure, it isn’t refined like white sugar and it is a great vegan alternative for honey, but it is still glucose. Switching to agave doesn’t save you if you’re looking to reduce your sugar intake.
We all know that fruit is good for us, but dried fruit isn’t the healthiest choice. As fruit dries, the sugars concentrate (part of what makes it so tasty!). Many dried fruits also have added sugar to make them sweeter. The worst offenders are banana chips – they are both fried and sweetened. If you are looking for dried fruit, choose unsweetened or freeze-dried varieties.
They’re oh so tempting. A mix of almost healthy ingredients. Sweetened yogurt. Granola. Fruit with sugary syrup. Maybe even chocolate. While they’re better than an ice cream sundae, parfaits are best left as a treat rather than a regular meal.
Whole Grain Muffins
People started to realize that muffins weren’t always the healthiest choice when nutritionists revealed that bran muffins aren’t the best choice. But somehow, we still seem to think that they are healthier than donuts (spoiler: they aren’t always). Often, they are just cupcakes without frosting. Sometimes they are glazed and really are cakes. Being “whole grain” doesn’t absolve them of their other nutritional sins. You’re better off eating this for dessert and choosing a protein-rich option for breakfast.
Coconut oil has been touted as the best thing ever for everything from baking to hair care. It’s used in vegan baking and just about everything paleo. But then the American Heart Association said it was bad for you. Here’s the deal: it isn’t a magic cure and you shouldn’t drink it for breakfast, but it is tasty. It’s a saturated fat (but not the worst one out there). Use it judiciously and you’ll be just fine.
They sound like a good idea. Vegetable chips rather than potato chips. But that carrot is still fried and salted. The minimal carb savings doesn’t really make these chips healthy.
Granola bars of my youth were sweet, chocolate filled treats enjoyed after swim meets. These days, bars are everywhere. They are gluten-free, soy-free, whole-food vegan delights. Essentially, they are meals in a bar. And that’s actually the problem. If you are eating them it’s easy to forget just how nutrient dense they are. They’re great for an occasional lunch on the run, or when you need a pre- or post-workout boost, but they aren’t necessarily the best snack.
Mmmm, froyo. It’s made an unbelievable comeback. And while the original, tart, plain frozen yogurt topped with fresh fruit might be a great choice for a healthy treat, most flavors aren’t that. Many are filled with sugar to cut the edge of the tartness. Add to that a toppings bar filled with candy and hot fudge, you really are just having a slightly tart ice cream sundae. Totally acceptable weekend date. Not a great choice for a healthy snack.
You’re out running errands and want a healthy snack so you slide up to the juice bar at your local healthy grocer and order a smoothie. $9 later you may have drunk as many calories as a milkshake. Ingredients like nut butter, chocolate and sweetened juices can up the calorie count quickly. Make smoothies at home so you can always choose the best ingredients or enjoy a smoothie as a better for you milkshake alternative.
Gah! My healthy living dreams are crushed!
It’s ok if you were surprised, its even ok to eat all these things. Just remember it’s important to understand what is in all the foods you are eating. Knowledge is power and with this knowledge, I’m going to keep sipping this killer smoothie I picked up on the way home today.
Mary Fran Wiley is a well known gluten-free and positive living blogger from Chicago where she writes Curiouser and Curiouser, maintains the Chronic Positivity Project, and has been featured in Allergic Living Magazine, Care2.com and Today.com.