We trust the brands we have come to know and love over many years. Some of us maintain vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, raw, or organic diets - all in the name of a healthy lifestyle. But even when we try to do the "right" thing we occasionally (or often) fall into the allure of packaging and clever marketing. Here are a few examples of foods that we may think are good, healthy choices, when actually, we'd be wise to limit them in our daily diets.
Fruit on the Bottom Yogurt
Yogurt has been called a health food for many moons and yes, authentic, cultured, plain yogurt is pretty good stuff. A great source of probiotics and protein, plain yogurt can be pretty darn healthy. The problem is that unless you are buying organic, plain Greek-style lowfat or full fat yogurt, you are likely getting way too much sugar and not enough nutrition. One of the most popular yogurts on the market with oodles of flavors to choose from as well as "light" options is full of not so healthy ingredients: modified corn starch, aspartame, and sugar to name a few. The regular version of this most popular yogurt contains 26 grams of sugar and 5 grams of protein. Compare that to 23 grams of protein and 6 grams of sugar in our favorite organic lowfat Greek yogurt and it's a totally different food. Yogurt can be a good choice when you know what you are getting, so read labels, choose plain (lowfat or full fat) and add a little of your own fresh fruits and nuts and you'll be good to go.
Lowfat Frozen Yogurt
Most frozen yogurt is simple loaded with sugar and little nutrition. Again, here it is best to go simple and plain (or tart). Add your own fresh fruit or nut toppings, read labels for ingredients you can't pronounce or ask to see the list of ingredients from the frozen yogurt shop. Tart yogurt is usually your best bet and most often contains the probiotics that give yogurts it's healthy reputation.
Gluten Free Pasta
The gluten-free craze has certainly caught on, which is a good thing for the increasing percentage of the population who are gluten intolerant. Most pastas, by nature, are pretty devoid of significant nutrition. The gluten free versions of pasta, often made from rice or corn, it's not that these pastas are bad, per se, it's just that they often lack fiber, protein or anything of substance. If you're gluten intolerant and craving spaghetti and meatballs its fine to have some rice spaghetti, but you can also use shredded zucchini or just go easy on the pasta, heavier on the tomato sauce and extra veggies.
Granola (cereal and bars)
In spite of its "hippie" roots and crunchy reputation, granola isn't always as natural and healthy as most make it out to be. We are not here to say granola is bad news (although some brands are). The problem with many brands of granola is that it is laden with too much fat (sometimes the unhealthy kind) and sugar. Some of the conventional commercial brands contain high fructose corn syrup and trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) that can sabotage the best of intentions to eat well. Sugar makes up 1/3 of the calorie content in some brands of granola and most brands of granola are extremely calorie dense, roughly 300 calories for a half-cup serving. Look for brands that contain organic oats as the first ingredient and sweetener much further down the list. Better yet, make your own with a few simple ingredients like oats, raw almonds or walnuts, cinnamon, safflower oil, and honey. Skip the dried fruit and add fresh fruit if desired. Go for a 1/3 cup serving, rather than ½ cup (or more, which is usually the case).
100% Fruit Juice
If you've been listening to the news lately you may have heard reports that fruit juice is now being considered as bad as soda. Some say if you are putting fruit juice in your child's sippy cup, you may as well be putting Pepsi in there. Here's the scoop. Once considered a "health food" 100% fruit juice is getting a bad rap because, well, it's basically 100 % sugar. Juice contains a lot of calories without the nutrition that a whole fruit or vegetable contains. Fiber, for example, is virtually absent in juice (unless it has been fortified after the fact). Because there can be some vitamins and minerals in juice, the best recommendation is to limit consumption to about 6 ounces a day. This can and should be diluted in water (about 50/50 concentration).
We're talking about packaged and processed veggie chips here, not the kind you might make at home using actual vegetables. Be sure to read the ingredient list on any packaged food item that you buy. Just perusing the shelves at the local grocery store the other day we decided to take a look at the ingredients on the veggie chips. The only thing veggie-like on there was potato flour, spinach powder, and beet juice for coloring. Once the chips are processed, there is very little vegetable in the final product. Veggie chips often contain a high amount of fat and salt as well, so leave the packaged veggie chips at home and save your money for a nice mandolin so that you can thinly slice your own veggies for delicious homemade chips. Try sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, zucchini and of course kale.
One recent study from the University of Miami neurology department concluded that people who drink diet soft drinks on a daily basis may be at increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and vascular death. Other studies have shown that people who drink diet soda increase their risk for metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and actual weight gain. Aspartame, the most commonly used artificial sweetener in diet soda, has been linked to headaches, anxiety disorders, moodiness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), slurred speech and loss of taste.
Rice cakes used to be considered a health food and for a long time they were pretty much the only choice for gluten-intolerant individuals when it came to an alternative to the peanut butter sandwich. These days, gluten-free fare has come a long way and there are good choices and not so great choices when it comes to rice cakes. Some of the more natural brands for example, may use organic rice and/or whole grains and actually contain a gram or two of fiber. But the truth is that rice cakes have very little nutrition and some of the fancy flavored versions contain extra sugar and salt. A quick glance at a popular conventional brand reveals added corn syrup solids and modified food starch. Compare that with an organic version that contains just organic whole grain brown rice, organic wild rice, and sea salt and you can see there are some choices that are better than others. The key is to put a little protein on top like turkey and avocado, tuna fish, hummus, or nut butter.