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 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.
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.