9 "Healthy" Foods to Skip

by in Healthy Tips, May 13, 2009

The word “healthy” can get tricky. Lots of foods get labeled good-for-you or may seem low-cal, but they’re anything but. Here are 9 of the biggest offenders.

Full of fruits and veggies, a smoothie can be a dieter’s delight…sometimes. The main problem is the BIG containers. A 32-ounce Aloha Pineapple smoothie from Jamba Juice maxes out at 570 calories per serving; the same size Cherry Picker smoothie from Smoothie King comes in at 660 calories. That’s too much for a small snack or even a main meal. Mix in sweetened yogurt or sherbets and your calories from sugar and fat go up more. Not all smoothies are bad and there are lighter options available — check menus carefully and stick to the smallest sizes. Best option of all: make your own.

Some salads — especially at restaurants — come topped with mega-calorie, high-fat ingredients (heavy dressings, cheese, croutons and even fried chicken). For example, a Southwestern Cobb Salad from Chili’s has 1,080 calories and 71 grams of fat. McDonald’s Premium Caesar Salad with Crispy Chicken (and dressing) has 520 calories and 35 grams of fat. Look out for words like “crispy” and “creamy”. Ask the waiter to put dressing or cheese on the side.

Even if it’s “whole grain” or “full of bran,” many muffins are super-sized, sugary messes. A simple Blueberry Muffin from Dunkin Donuts has more than 500 calories, 16 grams of fat and 51 grams of sugar! Low-fat ones aren’t always better — a Blueberry-Apricot one from Starbuck’s has almost 400 calories and 47 grams of sugar. If you need a grab-and-go breakfast, opt for an English muffin or even half a bagel with a light spread. Bake your own bran muffins and keep them in the freezer (up to a month).

Fat-Free Cookies
Fat-free cookies and snack cakes may be lower in fat than the original versions, but it almost always means they’re higher in sugar and have just as many calories. Plus, manufacturer’s often replace the fat with preservatives and other food additives to make them taste more like the “real thing.” And “fat-free” isn’t a green light to eat the whole package — keep portions of all baked goods small.

Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter
Many of my clients think they’re saving calories by using this in their PB&J. It’s actually higher in sugar than the regular version and still contains hydrogenated oils (bad for your waistline and your heart). Stick to 1-tablespoon servings of an all-natural peanut butter. Peanuts may be fatty, but they’re healthy fats.

100-Calorie Packs
What good is a 100-calorie pack if you eat 3 at a time? Many foods in these packs are low in nutrients and high in sugar, which leaves you hungry after eating them. You’re paying extra for the additional packaging, too. Buy in bulk and make your own pre-portioned packets of trail mix, popcorn and whole-wheat pretzels.

Sure, many granola mixes contain whole grains, dried fruit, nuts and seeds — all healthy foods. In some combos, however, they’re calorie and fat overloads (1 cup can have almost 600 calories!). Keep portions small, and mix granola with a lower-calorie, whole-grain cereal. Some granolas and boxed cereals marketed as “healthy” have loads of added sugar. Read labels and if sugar in the top 3 ingredients, move on. Nature’s Path makes some that I love.

Enhanced Waters & Sports Drinks
Just because “vitamin” is in the name doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Infused waters and other enhanced drinks are loaded with synthetic vitamins and sugar (more than 8 teaspoons per bottle!). Even the low-cal versions coming out now are just as sweet thanks to a combo of sugar and artificial sweeteners. As for sports drinks, they do contain electrolytes and combat dehydration, but they also come with calories (a 32-ounce bottle has 200). Don’t sabotage a workout by downing liquid calories while you exercise. These drinks are for serious athletes (think: at least an hour of strenuous exercise 6-7 days a week). Opt for water — add a splash of lemon juice for a kick.

Low-Fat Salty Snacks
Choosing pretzels, soy crisps or baked chips over greasy potato chips is smart, but it’s not a license to snack endlessly. These snacks have empty calories and little-to-no fiber, which leaves you hungry. Eat them occasionally (yes, everyone likes a little crunch sometimes) and watch portions. Or combine them with something more satisfying — and nutritious — like fruit, nuts or a low-fat yogurt.

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Comments (48)

  1. Jason says:

    Those 100 calorie packs are the worst. I suppose one isn’t bad if you need a sweet to round out a meal. They just have so little actual nutrition in them though. Worst of all, they really aren’t very filling. A 100 calorie fat free yogurt will do more to stave off hunger. I’d rather blow 150 calories on a Fiber One bar or eat two servings of baby carrots.

  2. stephanie says:

    the two servings of baby carrots is good…but fiber one bars are full of sugar and preservatives. opt for a lara bar that is only made with dried fruits and nuts! and i totally agree they aren’t filling at all!

  3. Quelle says:

    Those 100 calorie packs are a lifesaver for me. If my blood sugar gets too low, I snack on one in between meals. But only 1. I never go more than 1 because that's all I'll put in my purse when I go to work. And I can't eat fruit or hard candy when my blood sugar goes down because of stomach problems.

    Otherwise I agree with this whole list!

  4. Kristine Brabson says:

    I’d add those energy/snack bars to the ever-growing list, too. We’ve done posts on them before — only a handful seem to be worth the calories and aren’t just sugary treats.

  5. Saranne Riccio says:

    I agree with Jason, Lara bars are the perfect quick food! They are all natural no preservatives and filling. No more than 4 ingredients in each bar. A must for a person on the go!

  6. Donita Mason says:

    Look for snack bars that are certified low-glycemic so that you don’t cause an insulin spike. Some Mojo bars are low-glycemic plus Usana Health Sciences has 3 delicious snack bars that are way low.

  7. Gina says:

    Sometimes I just have to have something sweet. The 100 calorie packs come in to the rescue. I don’t eat them every day, but just knowing that they are there when I need them tames the cravings. I love the Hostess mini chocolate cupcakes, chocolatey and satisfying!

  8. Those 100 calorie packs have trans fats they use partly hydrogenated oils as ther main ingredent, I make my own this way I know what’s in them.

  9. Connie says:

    Cant understand why all those so called “healthy alternative margarines” get past dietary guidelines. Full of transfats, just eat healthy butter! Fat is your friend {to quote Suzanne sommers} in moderation!My arteries clog just reading the labels.

  10. Krikri says:

    Hi Dana :

    Yes, the term healthy may have been overused, especially in the culinary industry. Almost every food is labeled as healthy. This leaves many consumers confused. Your list of offenders helps a lot.

    Your note on Salads is very important. Veggies can be dangerous depending on how it has been prepared. An example been the Southwestern Cobb Salad from Chili’s. Another common practice with manufacturers is to present Fat-Free Cookies as if nothing has been added to them. You were right about the fact that they may “replace the fat with preservatives and other food additives to make them taste more like the “real thing”.

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