It's ok to admit, we've all done it. We've all fallen victim to poser foods at one point or another. You know those foods we thought were healthy, but it turns out, really aren't. You think you're making a smart choice only to be tripped up by a phony: a candy bar in a protein bar's clothing. So next time your stomach starts grumbling, think before you eat, read all labels and keep the following in mind.
Organic food may be preservative and pesticide free, but that doesn't mean it's automatically a health food. There are plenty of high calorie, high sodium and high-fat organic food items at the store. We are often blinded by the organic tag and forget to look at the ingredients or nutrition label. We tend to equate organic with healthy or low-calorie. The truth is, an organic cookie is still a cookie and organic calories still add up.
Bran muffins are often thought of as a healthy breakfast option. It's true that bran, the hard outer layer of grain is quite healthy.Bran is rich in dietary fiber, essential fatty acids, protein, vitamins and minerals. However the standard bran muffin is far from a health food.
Bran muffins (like most muffins) are full of sugar and refined flour. Both work to spike your blood sugar, which sets you up for the inevitable sugar crash wherein you feel sluggish and find yourself craving more simple carbohydrates, and the cycle begins again.
Granola...the word itself conjures up the very idea of health and wellness. Unfortunately the reality is quite different. Granola cereal is full of fat and calories. Most granola contains significant amounts of saturated fat and sugar. In fact, granola is one of the most calorie-dense cereals on the market. A typical 2/3-cup serving has 220 calories and 17 grams of sugar, or the equivalent of 4 teaspoons of sugar. And the reality is most of us eat more than just 2/3 cup at a time. Granola bars are in this same category. For example, a Quaker Oats True Delights bar has nearly the same calories and fat as a Snickers bar. The truth is, most granola bars are really candy bars swathed in healthy-looking wrappers.
While a traditional salad, a bowl full of raw vegetables, is indeed a healthy food choice, most salads are not "traditional." Many people add high calorie/fat items into their salads such as cheese, dressings, etc. The worst offenders are fast food salads. You think you are making the smart choice by choosing a salad over a cheeseburger, but sadly when it comes to fast food salads, it's the salad that is the unhealthy choice. For example, a Wendy's Mandarin Chicken Salad has more fat, calories and sugar than Wendy's Double Stack Cheeseburger!
Smoothies seem like a smart, healthy choice but not all smoothies are created equal. A small all-fruit smoothie won't sabotage your diet, but the typical fast food smoothie will. These smoothies tend to be more than just fruit blended together. For example, one 24-ounce Jamba Juice Banana Berry smoothie contains 480 calories. That's the same amount of calories found in 12 glazed doughnut holes. And a 24-ounce serving of Jamba Juice's Peanut Butter Moo'd Smoothie has 770 calories and 20 grams of fat! It's really just a milkshake with a healthier name.
Fruit juice is often touted as a healthy alternative to soda. And in some ways it is a better choice than soda as far as caffeine and additives go. But when watching one's calories and sugar intake, juice is just as culpable as soda. A fruit in juice form lacks many of the nutrients and fiber found in fresh fruit. A glass of juice is also higher in calories and less satisfying than a piece of fresh fruit. For the juices that aren't 100% juice, what you're really getting is fruit flavored sugar water in fruit labeled container.
Dried fruit has a lot of the same issues that fruit juice has: fruit in any other form than fresh tends to be low in fiber and nutrients, and in this form, much higher in calories. For example, 12 small pieces of dried mango have 320 calories. That's the same amount of calories as 2 apples, 15 grapes, and half of a small cantaloupe. Among the worst offenders in the "seemingly healthy but really aren't category" as far as fruit goes are banana chips. One cup typically provides 300 calories, 20 grams fat, 18 grams saturated fat, and 19 grams sugar. Not sure how any of us can really believe that bananas fried in oil and sugar are healthy but we try.
Sugar gets a bad wrap as far as our health goes, but honey isn't the innocent sweetener we think it is. Honey is just as bad for our teeth and waistlines as sugar. And in fact, honey may be worse: there are 25 calories in a teaspoon of honey compared to just 16 calories in a teaspoon of sugar. Just because something is labeled "sweetened with honey" doesn't mean it's "sweetened healthier."
Frozen yogurt seems like a healthier option than ice cream, but it's not. While frozen yogurt does tend to be lower in fat than most ice cream, most nonfat "original" or "plain" (typically the lowest-calorie flavor at most frozen yogurt shops) is still full of sugar: a 16-ounce cup weighs in at 380 calories and 76g of sugar and that's before adding any toppings. And if you think that choosing "all natural" frozen yogurt will save you some fat and calories, think again; they're all pretty comparable. Pinkberry, one of the leaders of the "real" frozen yogurt movement's fat-free vanilla contains 116 calories, 0g of fat and 20g of sugar per half cup. While Ben & Jerry's frozen yogurt is basically on par with 130 calories, 1.5g fat and 16g of sugar in half a cup of their vanilla frozen yogurt. Proving once again that natural doesn't always mean healthy.
Veggie Sticks or Puffed Veggie Snacks
Despite including "veggies" in the title these types of snacks are nothing more than super salty munchies. If you look at the ingredient list for these snacks, potato flour tends to be the first ingredient. Vegetables are much lower on the list. These snacks also tend to have more sodium - up to twice as much - than traditional potato chip counterparts.
Just as there are certain foods we tend to associate with health and wellness so are there labeling terms. Marketers know certain words evoke different feelings in us as consumers and market to us accordingly. While the regulations are getting more stringent, there are still some food labels that can be quite deceiving. Some common food labels we think are healthy but really aren't:
The FDA regulates the phrases "sugar free" and "no added sugars," so products that contain a whole bunch of added sweeteners, like many breakfast cereals, claim to be "lightly sweetened" to give the impression of less sugar. This just means they are lightly sweetened compared to a giant bowl of sugar.
Made with whole grain
Multi-grain, cracked wheat and stone-ground sound healthy but the reality is, products that have these labels are made with refined wheat or corn flour. Unless the ingredient label lists whole gain as the number one ingredient and it says "100% whole gain" on the packaging, just know that you're not really getting anything healthier than white flour.
All Natural or No Artificial Ingredients
Natural doesn't necessarily mean good for you; there are lots of things found in nature that aren't healthy. And "contains natural flavors" or "no artificial ingredients" on a box doesn't mean what's in the box is free of preservatives, additives or nasty chemicals.
We as consumers need to be aware of what we're buying and what we are putting in our bodies. When we eat a candy bar or a bowl of ice cream, we logically know we are indulging and respond accordingly. It's important to realize that when we eat a granola bar or bowl of frozen yogurt, we are basically doing the same thing, indulging. We shouldn't fool ourselves into believing we're eating health food when we're not.
The key to a healthy lifestyle is not to eliminate these foods completely but instead to understand and be aware of what we are eating. We need to remember that just because something is labeled a certain way or packaged in green, recycled paper or otherwise marketed as a health food, doesn't mean it is a healthy food. We need to be aware of those poser foods: foods we think are (or want them to be) healthy but really aren't.
Author: Sue Ridgeway