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4 Supposedly Healthy Snacks That May Do More Harm Than Good
What some so-called healthy foods are hiding under the surface
Not all snack foods are created equal. But you know this. Purported “healthy” snack foods are not all created equal either. They vary a lot in calories, fat, sugar, sodium, carbohydrates and, of course, their basic ingredients. Lately, there are so many loud labels on foods that it has become even more confusing to tell the difference between natural, organic, chemical-free, whole wheat, fat-free, etc. Do these labels mean these foods are reliably healthy? Maybe not. Knowing what foods seem healthy but really aren’t (or at least may not be what they seem) is the first step to knowing what you’re putting in your body and staying healthy!
Sometimes a healthier snack that tends to make us overindulge can be just as dangerous as its unhealthy counterpart simply because it seems healthier than it is. That is the case with veggie crisps. This snack food consists of fried slices of vegetables like sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips and carrots, and is touted as a healthier version of potato chips. And indeed, they are healthier than potato chips: using non-hydrogenated vegetable oil for frying as opposed to the heavier shortening frequently used in making potato chips. But “healthier” isn’t the same as healthy. Veggie chips are also quite high in sodium and it’s hard to consider anything fried a health food. If you are deciding between a few potato chips or a few vegetable chips, go for the veggie chips. But if you’re looking for a healthy food to snack on, opt for the real things (vegetables, of course!).
How can a salad be unhealthy?! We’re not trying to crush your dreams here. Salads are generally a great healthy option, but it’s important to be aware of what you’re putting on it or what comes with it. Sometimes it seems perfectly fine to treat yourself to a bit of cheese, bacon or your favorite dressing with a salad since it’s so healthy to begin with. This is where salads can get dangerous. Be wary of anything made with mayonnaise (like egg, tuna or chicken salads), salad dressings (especially creamy ones), cheeses, croutons, bacon, fried chicken and other meats. Salads usually start out great (lettuce! spinach! tomatoes!) but these added toppings are where they go wrong. Make your salads healthy and delicious by following a few general guidelines; for example, order dressing on the side. This one is a no-brainer but it helps keep the portion under control and lets the natural tastiness of the ingredients come to the forefront. Also, choose lean meats and proteins. Instead of bacon or fried chicken, grilled chicken, tofu or chickpeas are great options to fill you up with fewer calories. Nix croutons and bacon bits as a crunchy topping, and try nuts and seeds that add crunch along with nutrients, instead of empty calories. When you make your own salads at home, you can avoid these ingredients and load up on healthy ones. When you are eating out, make sure to know what ingredients are being used and don’t be afraid to ask questions or do research ahead of time.
Why not order a fruity smoothie to go with your healthy and nutritious lunch? Because: unwanted calories. At chain restaurants, smoothie portion sizes can be huge and added ingredients can add lots of unhealthy calories. If it tastes too good to be healthy, it just might be. Some restaurants even add ice cream, sherbet or sugar. Coffee drinks loaded with milk and sugar aren’t healthy, and it’s exactly the same with smoothies. It’s important to remember to include the calories you drink into your daily totals! The simplest answer is to make your own guaranteed-healthy smoothies at home using fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and other healthy additions.
Granola has become an adjective to describe super-healthy organic types, so it must be the healthiest of the healthy, right? Not exactly. (You saw that coming by now, right?) Just like veggie chips, granola is indeed a healthier option than many sugary cereals but that alone does not make it healthy. Granola tastes great because it has lots of sugar in it, adding lots of calories and not enough fiber. A healthy breakfast should actually have the opposite! Beware of all cereals with this unhealthy balance. The same can be said for cereal and energy bars. While some may have vitamins and healthy ingredients, the sugar and fat content usually outweigh the good stuff. If you’re running a marathon, this might be ok because you’ll need the energy that comes from the sugar and you’ll burn it off. But for our normal lives, high-sugar cereals and energy bars are generally not a good choice. If you’re a cereal fan, opt for one with more fiber and less sugar. To enjoy the taste and crunch of granola without busting the diet, sprinkle just a little on your yogurt and add fruit or nuts.
If you’re trying to stay away from healthy food that’s actually not very healthy at all, don’t be tricked by labels: especially ones that contain these popular healthy buzzwords. Know exactly what these labels mean and what you are looking for, and then you can rely on them (if you are simply trying to eat only organic, for example). But if you just want to eat healthier or are trying to lose weight, you will need to do your homework. Knowing how to read a food label is important. That way, if you check the label of an all-natural item and find out that, while it may be natural, it is actually very high in calories, you may want to avoid this item and opt for something else instead.