You’re committed to making better food choices, getting healthier and losing weight. You’re cutting back on fat, avoiding sugar and watching portion size. All that is good news. The bad news? There are traps waiting in many “healthy” food choices — foods that fool you into thinking they’re good for you when they may be the opposite.
Here are 10 common culprits. You don’t necessarily have to avoid them, but you do need to keep your eyes open.
1. Not all chicken sandwiches are created equal
You have a choice between a burger and a grilled chicken sandwich. Isn’t the latter always the better pick? Not necessarily; it depends on how it’s prepared. Nutrition information for a basic chicken sandwich ranges from a low of 320 calories and 5 grams of fat for Subway’s Oven Roasted Chicken Sub to 480 calories and 22 grams of fat for Sonic’s Classic Grilled Chicken Sandwich. (We aren’t even going to discuss cheese and bacon.)
2. Wraps can wrap up a lot of calories
While we’re discussing sandwich misconceptions, let’s tackle the wrap. Have you ever opened the end of a wrap to find layers and layers of folded tortilla? Just putting the contents of a sandwich into a tortilla instead of bread or a bun doesn’t necessarily make it a healthier choice. Average calorie count for a 6” flour tortilla is 93, but that increases to 218 for a 10” tortilla and 356 for a 12” version. Meanwhile, hamburger buns range from about 140 for grocery-store purchased buns to 213 for Arby’s Large Sesame Bun.
3. Frozen yogurt? It’s complicated
This is an easy one, you think; yogurt is a healthy choice, so frozen yogurt must be good for me, right? Well, yes and no. Yogurt in and of itself is fine, and the probiotics it contains are a positive factor, but some yogurts are sweetened to the point that their calorie and sugar counts are surprisingly high. Frozen yogurt is a different animal; it is lower in calories and fat than ice cream, primarily due to using milk instead of cream, but the sugar numbers tend to rise.
4. You don’t need trail mix in the office
Hiking burns 440 calories an hour, according to the Mayo Clinic. At that rate, a person might have an excuse to munch on trail mix. But in everyday life, it’s ridiculous to think of trail mix as being the best of healthy snacks. Take a good look before you buy it: Are there M&M’s included? Chocolate chips? Dried fruits? All those things contain high levels of sugar. A 4-ounce serving (that’s a quarter-cup) of regular trail mix is about 525 calories and 33 grams of fat, according to CalorieLab. Add chocolate candy and the numbers are 550 calories and 36.4 grams of fat. (A comparison that may surprise you: A regular Snickers bar has 250 calories and 12 grams of fat.)
5. Muffins can create muffin-tops
You were in a rush this morning getting to work, and you find yourself perusing the pastries as the barista makes your coffee. Banana-nut muffins: Surely that’s a good choice, right? And a wholesome alternative to, say, donuts? Well, we see your logic there, but the reality is that muffins can pack a ton of calories. A cranberry-orange muffin at Panera is 480 calories, 19 grams of fat; a blueberry muffin at Starbucks is 380 calories and 16 grams of fat; and a honey bran raisin muffin (sounds healthy, right?) at Dunkin’ Donuts is 480 calories and 15 grams of fat.
6. ‘Fat-free’ labels may take you for a ride
Don’t be tricked into thinking that just because a label says “fat-free” that it’s necessarily a healthy option. In fact, when fat is removed from a product, other things have to be added to make it taste good: namely, sugar and salt, in various combinations, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Compare the calories, fat, sugar and sodium levels of a regular product and its fat-free counterpart; you’ll be surprised to see that calorie counts don’t always drop as much as you think they will, while sugar and sodium can increase exponentially.
7. Protein bars deliver a lot more than protein
This product category, which used to be a relatively niche market, has mushroomed and is now sold in a number of ways: as energy snacks, sports nutrition supplements, meal replacements and tools in weight control. And they can be. But you have to be careful about ingredients and nutrition information. Calorie counts vary widely, from about 150-300. Look for a solid protein number (usually eight to 20 grams), low fat and sugar levels, and as many whole ingredients as possible.
8. Salad is not always your BFF
You’re scanning the restaurant menu for healthy options, and you gravitate toward the salads. This makes sense. But there’s a big however coming, and it’s this: Some salads seem innocent but aren’t. Applebee’s Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad, for instance, has 780 calories and 56 grams of fat; Chili’s Caribbean Salad with Grilled Chicken has 700 calories and 27 grams of fat. A salad bar is better, since you control what goes on your plate, but ingredients like sunflower seeds, croutons, raisins, chickpeas, cottage cheese, beans, and olives will drive your calorie count way up. And by the way, all of the above counts are before you’ve added any dressing.
9. A smoothie can be a Trojan horse
Let’s talk about the basic smoothie. You can make one at home with low-fat milk, fresh or frozen fruit and ice cubes, and have a frothy, healthful snack or meal substitute. But a commercial smoothie can also hide a variety of villains that, while good in moderation, add up to high calorie, fat or sugar counts. Ingredients like yogurt or fruit juice can introduce more sugar; soy, protein powder and nuts all take the calorie count up. Smoothie King’s nutritional information, for instance, lists options that range from a low of 180 to a high of 964 calories for a 20-ounce serving.
10. The liquid truth: Vitaminwater, sports drinks and juices
Did you know Vitaminwater has sugar in it? Crystalline fructose and cane sugar are the first two items on the ingredient list after water. Same with Gatorade — sugar and dextrose are the second and third ingredients listed.
Fruit juice that is 100 percent juice is better, but remember that fruit naturally contains fructose, which is a form of sugar. And boxed juices, a parenting staple, are rarely 100 percent juice. Be sure you check labels — some juices contain nearly as much sugar as a soft drink.
So let’s review 10 unhealthy foods disguised as healthy:
- Chicken sandwiches
- Frozen yogurt
- Trail mix
- Fat free foods
- Protein bars
- Vitaminwater, sports drinks & juices
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