Eating healthy isn’t always easy. And, let’s be honest, it’s downright hard to be on a diet. Filling your cabinets with foods that are healthy options and diet-friendly takes both time and money (and not just a little). Dieting is an investment in your health and the health and happiness of the people you love. It’s an investment in your future. But you know what is even harder than being on a diet? Being on an unsuccessful diet and not knowing why it hasn’t been working. I can imagine few things more irritating and genuinely stressful.
Living a healthy lifestyle has become a huge trend in America and there has been no shortage of marketing ploys to take full financial advantage of that trend. It’s almost impossible to walk down an aisle at a grocery store and not come across at least a dozen food products that claim to be ‘lean,’ ‘healthy,’ or ‘slimming.’ And most of those products are just the opposite: unhealthy (some are very unhealthy).
In an effort to decode the food labels of products that claim to be healthy, I asked registered dietitian Tamara Duker Freuman what to be on the lookout for as I check off items on my grocery list and am tempted by the promises of the tricky advertising on food labels. “Most, if not all, marketing claims are deceptive. If they have to tell you the food is healthy, it's not. The best litmus test is to read the ingredient list: if it’s more than 5 ingredients long, be VERY wary. If it is longer but you recognize all the ingredients as actual foods you could buy in the supermarket and keep in your pantry, it’s probably still OK. But if it’s long and full of long, chemically-sounding names that you can't pronounce or don't recognize, it's not likely to be a healthy food,” says Freuman.
Freuman lists several not-so-healthy foods masquerading as diet-friendly:
Yogurt: Yogurt in its purest form is a very healthy food, rich in satisfying protein, bone-building calcium and usually replete with probiotics-- friendly bacteria that colonize your gut and perform all sorts of useful functions. But the vast majority of yogurts on the market are LOADED with added sugar (both in the form of cane sugar as well as high fructose corn syrup), unnecessary additives to modify the texture, artificial preservatives and artificial colors. Plain yogurt should have about 11g of natural milk sugar (lactose) in a standard 6oz container. Anything beyond that is added... and some of the most popular yogurts out there have 26g or more of sugar in that serving size! (That's about 4 teaspoons, when the average woman should only have ~6 teaspoons total per day!) I recommend that my clients pick a plain yogurt and sweeten it themselves (with fruit)
Granola: Granola is usually loaded with sugar, and sometimes fat as well. Most people also don't realize that a standard "serving" of granola is only a meager 1/4 cup, and they go way overboard with portions, so the calories add up fast. An easy substitute is Grape Nuts... they're higher in fiber and should have at least 1 tsp less sugar per 1/4 cup serving. Sprinkle some on your low-sugar or plain yogurt, and that double swap could save you 5-6 teaspoons in a single snack!
Dried fruit: Dried fruit, while a great source of vitamins and fiber, is a very concentrated source of sugar! Even small portions can really spike that blood sugar and pile on the calories real fast. Fresh fruit is always a better choice... it's mostly water and fiber, so you'll fill up faster and on fewer calories.
Multi-grain crackers: "Multi-grain" crackers and breads DO NOT mean "whole grain." A bread could have multiple refined grains--and most products using this label usually do. Multiple refined grains are no better for you than just one. Unless a bread or cracker claims it is 100% WHOLE grain, it's probably not much healthier than the garden variety white bread.
Freuman also recommends that we be extra suspicious of the "100-calorie pack" food trend. “Most of the 100-calorie snack packs are some combination of white flour and sugar, which aren't going to satisfy anyone's hunger for very long and will just leave you jonesing for more white flour and sugar an hour after you eat them. While the enforced portion control is certainly preferable to eating these same snacks straight out of a family sized bag, the most generous thing I will say about this trend is that these 100-calorie packs may be less bad for you, but they're not actually healthy/good for you. I could think of so many more nutritious ways to spend 100 calories.”
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