Some health-food masqueraders can fool even the savviest shoppers or people who pride themselves on their nutritional know-how. Those foods might be higher in fat, sugars, or calories, or lower in nutrients than you would think. Or they might have all sorts of stuff added to them that you don’t need.
The solution: keep in mind that just because a food is sold in a health-food store or section of the supermarket doesn’t mean it’s healthful. Here are 12 foods that may seem good for you but aren’t necessarily healthful. Plus, there’s advice on truly healthful alternatives from several nutritionists.*
1. Vegetable chips— These chips don’t count as a serving of veggies and could be high in calories and fat. Have some air-popped popcorn or dried veggies instead. Look for no added fat, salt, or anything else.
2. Applesauce— Sweetened applesauce can have a lot of added sugar and calories.Unsweetened varieties can have half the calories. You can add some cinnamon to sweeten it up, or have a whole apple instead with extra fiber as a bonus.
3. Granola cereal— There are about 400 calories in just a cup or 800 in a bowl. Have a bowl of an airy, oat-based cereal, like Cheerios, with a sprinkling of granola on top for extra crunch.
4. Trail mix— One cup can contain almost 700 calories! And because it’s a tasty finger food, it’s easy to overeat. Try air-popped popcorn instead.
5. Turkey hot dogs— A lot of turkey hot dogs are high in fat and they might contain high levels of sodium and nitrates. A turkey breast sandwich on whole grain bread is a better choice. But if you crave the hot dog, go for the version with the least fat.
6. Vitamin-infused waters— They’re often loaded with sugar and sometimes caffeine. Try plain old water, with a squeeze from a lemon, a lime, or orange slices.
7. Wrap sandwiches— They’re usually enough for two people–high in calories and sometimes high in fat, with the tortilla alone at 300-400 calories. Have a sandwich on whole-grain or whole-wheat bread.
8. Banana chips— Yes, they’re made from healthful bananas, but they’re usually fried in coconut or palm oil–unhealthy sources of saturated fat. So there can be 210 calories and 13 grams of saturated fat in a serving. Just have a banana. It’s half the calories and no fat.
9. Bran muffins— Many bran muffins are huge with two servings in one muffin, often loaded with fat, sugar, and calories. Instead, have a bran cereal with low-fat milk and fresh fruit.
10. Frozen yogurt— It has a health halo, but it’s high in sugar. Frozen yogurt generally has more sugar and less protein and calcium than plain yogurt. Beware of bottled smoothies too.Choose a light yogurt that’s lower in fat and calories than frozen yogurt, or a Greek yogurt with live active cultures.
11. Fruit snacks— The amount of fruit in these snacks is often less than 10 percent. They are mostly just sugar. Try dried fruit like apricots or raisins, which contain more nutrients.
12. Couscous— Regular couscous is processed and refined, like white pasta, with little nutritional value. Buy whole-wheat couscous, or choose a whole grain like quinoa or brown rice.
* Nutritionists whose advice is cited include: Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association; Leslie J. Bonci, M.P.H., director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; Catherine Christie, R.D., chair of the department of nutrition and dietetics at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville; Tara Gidus, R.D.; and Elisa Zied, R.D.