"Healthy" Foods That Actually Are Not

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Love sipping that smoothie or crunching on granola? Some seemingly healthy foods can be diet disasters. Learn about some healthy substitutions instead.

Smoothies, granola and many other foods, most people think of as “healthy,” may present hidden dangers or may not be healthy at all. Whether it's unwanted ingredients or foods high in carbs, often from added sugars, some items just don’t belong in a diet.

Sorting Out “Healthy” Foods: Read Before You Eat

When eyeing up a piece of fruit or steaming a head of broccoli, you don't have to wonder about an ingredients list. But when you're choosing prepared, processed or packaged foods, you will need to pay close attention to the labels. Even if it’s touted as “healthy.” Balancing carbohydrates as part of a healthy diet means knowing the nutrition facts about everything you eat.

Start with Carbs. Absolutely read the nutrition labels and look at the total carbohydrates for everything you eat. It’s not enough to just look at the total grams of sugar in a food item because there are usually other carbs too, such as starches and fiber. The up side is that fiber isn't digested, although it aids digestion, so you can deduct the fiber count from the carb total of any food you're considering.

Tally up the Salt and Fat. Watching the amount of sodium and fat in your diet isn’t as critical as the amount of carbohydrates, but it's still important in distinguishing healthy from not-so-healthy foods. If high blood pressure isn't an issue for you, limit salt intake to less than 2,300 milligrams daily, which is less than a teaspoon. If it is a concern for you, 1,500 milligrams a day is the max. Most people get too much salt through processed foods. For instance, a can of soup can bring anyone close to his or her daily salt maximum. And if salt has been added to canned veggies, they won't be as healthy as you thought. Always choose low or no sodium options.

Likewise, the general rule on fats is that less is better. No more than 60 grams a day is best. Minimize saturated fats, typically those from animals, such as in butter and lard. Stay away from trans fats, which are chemically altered fats, often used to preserve the shelf life of foods. However, some healthy fat should still be part of your diet. Look for unsaturated fats, which are found in vegetable and plant based oils.

Keep Count of Calories. When examining the calorie count in a portion of a food. Fewer calories are certainly better, but it's more important to watch the carbs and fat. If you're diligent with these, you’ll be making good choices about calories, too.

Not-So-Healthy Foods to Keep Out of Your Diet

Here's a sampling of foods that are often considered “healthy” but that are actually loaded with a less-than-ideal amount of carbs:

Fruit Juice. There’s nothing in "juice" but sugar. Most people don’t think about juice as a food, but a 16-ounce glass contains 60 grams of carbohydrates, which is as many as should be in an entire meal. Even worse, all of the healthy fiber in fruit is removed during the juicing process. Eat a piece of whole fruit instead.

Energy or Protein Bars. These snack foods are often jam-packed with the wrong things, like calories, fat and carbohydrates. Cereal bars are a little better, but usually still too high in sugar and carbs to be included in a healthy diet. Have a bowl of high-fiber, whole-grain cereal with fat-free milk instead.

Granola. Think of granola as whole grains gone awry. Most granola is sweetened with sugar or honey. If dried fruit has been added, you're getting even more carbs in the mix. Dried fruit can be a good source of fiber along with carbs, but save it as a snack rather than using it as a topping on another source of carbs. Like juice, granola is a source of concentrated carbs, so a small serving can add up to br too much carb per serving. If you want some crunch, add a handful of nuts to a salad instead.

 

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Fruit-on-the-Bottom Yogurt. Because it's made from milk, yogurt also has carbs. If you add sweetened fruit puree, you've pretty much negated the protein and calcium value of the yogurt. Instead, top fat-free plain Greek style yogurt with a handful of berries or ½ cup of fresh or frozen fruit chunks.

Smoothies. Most smoothies start with a base of multiple servings of pureed fruit, then ice cream or whole milk and sugar are added. Because just one piece of fruit is equal to one serving of carbs, that store-bought smoothie can cause a carb overload. When you have a hankering for a smoothie, make one at home so you can control the carb content. Use frozen chunks of fruit, fat-free milk and ice. Remember that you can enjoy a reasonable portion and save the rest in the fridge for later.

"Low-fat" packaged foods. Often low-fat versions of foods that are naturally fatty. Most are made with added sugar to replace the flavor lost when the fat was reduced. These foods are typically more expensive and less tasty. If you do not have any other option than the packaged food, then portion control is key.

Flavored Oatmeal. Check out the labels of popular varieties of oatmeal and you'll see that the value of its fiber is lost in a swirl of added sugar and other unwanted ingredients. Instead, buy plain oatmeal and flavor it yourself with a pinch of cinnamon or a bit of vanilla bean.

Whenever you're unsure of whether something is truly a healthy food or not, always read the label and count the ingredients.

Contributing Source: Everyday Health